Let the games begin
Locals head to Israel for ‘Jewish Olympics’
July 10, 2013
This year, the largest delegation ever to travel from the United States to compete in an International Olympic Committee-sanctioned event will take part in the 19th Maccabiah Games in Israel, from July 17 to 30.
By that measure alone, Team USA’s victory is assured; after all, said Jeff Bukantz of Montville, general chair of Maccabiah USA’s organizing committee, their success is measured not by wins, but by “how many feet land in Israel.”
Often called “the Jewish Olympics,” the Maccabiah takes place every four years in Israel and is the largest event sponsored by the Maccabi World Union and the third-largest international sporting event in the world, after the Olympics and the World University Games.
Established in 1932, the Maccabiah Games are “dedicated to the values of fair play, mutual respect, victory of body, intellect, and the pursuit of excellence” and aim to “emphasize the centrality of the State of Israel in the life of the Jewish people.” While in Israel, the participating Jewish athletes, coaches, and support personnel have opportunities to tour the country, meet its people, and take part in cultural events.
This year, more than 1,100 American-Jewish athletes and coaches comprise Team USA. Overall, there will be nearly 8,000 participants from 80 countries, comprising 82 teams in six divisions competing in 31 different sports. The Maccabiah games are the third-largest multi-sport event, following the Olympics and the World University Games.
“It’s going to be nuts,” said Bukantz, 55, a veteran of more than 30 years in international competition, including previous Maccabiah Games and Olympics, in a phone interview with NJ Jewish News. “It’s been two years of nonstop travel and meetings, conference calls and e-mails, overcoming disasters…. It’s been an incredible challenge to try to make decisions.”
Bukantz has been a fencer his entire adult life. He participated in four Maccabiah Games beginning in 1981, following in the footsteps of his father, Dan Bukantz, who won a gold medal in the foil in 1950. The younger Bukantz earned a gold in the epee in 1985 but, he said, “it didn’t count because it wasn’t the medal my dad had won.” He achieved that goal with a gold in the 1989 Games. He has also served as captain for the U.S. fencing team in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. So he is in a unique position to compare the quadrennial events.
“When you walk into the opening ceremonies at the Olympics, you’re proud of yourself and your accomplishments,” he said. “When you walk into the Maccabiah Games, it’s a little bit different because how often are you going to be in a setting with anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 people, all of whom are on the same side?”
He has also seen a marked change in security since he was able to sneak into the Olympic Village as a 15-year-old at the 1972 Munich games, during which 11 Israeli athletes were massacred by Palestinian terrorists. “Security has always been strong in Israel, whether you see it or not,” he said.
Athletes are lodged by country at the Olympics but at the Maccabiah, it’s by sport. “You make life-long friends at Maccabiah,” said Bukantz. Nevertheless, they are still serious about why they’re in Israel. It is not “a Kumbaya experience,” Bukantz said. “It’s very competitive. The will to win is just the same as in the Olympics.”
Still, there is a sense of shared culture and history that differentiates these games. Bukantz praised the members of the masters division, who are required to sponsor an open athlete as part of their own participation. “It’s a sort of circle of life thing.”
Bukantz pointed out the U.S. delegation had increased by almost 200, from 930 in 2009 to 1,100 this year. At a recent send-off program, he was asked how many medals the team had won at the previous Games.
Every time that question comes up, he said, neither he nor Maccabi USA executive director Jed Margolis knows the answer. “Our success is not measured by how many medals we bring home, but rather by how many feet land in Israel.”
The home team
AMONG THE CONTINGENT of American athletes and other personnel from the Greater MetroWest area:
Raiye Adeleye, 22, Maplewood, open water polo. Experience: four years varsity, Occidental College; 2010 National Champions (Division III); first team All-SCIAC Conference, second team All-American, Academic All-American. First time Maccabiah participant.
Andrew Brown, 25, Montclair, men’s open volleyball. Experience: Gold medal at the 2011 Pan American Maccabi games in Brazil; head coach at Saint Peters University (Div. I) women’s volleyball program. First time Maccabiah participant.
Chad Fiedler, 23, Randolph, open triathlon team captain. Experience: five years; former president, Drexel University triathlon team, and former race coordinator, Northeast Collegiate Triathlon Conference. First time Maccabiah participant.
Tal Finberg, 17, Livingston, juniors ice hockey. Experience: nine years; First Team All-Star Northern Conference 2013; New Jersey Devils NJ Public High School Player of the Month, February 2013. First time Maccabiah participant.
Lisa Fischman, 28, Bloomfield, open women’s basketball assistant coach. Experience: college and professional (Israel); member of the gold-medal U.S. Maccabiah team, 2005.
Jack M. Goldberg, 18, Short Hills, youth men’s soccer. Experience: 14 years, including three years as captain at Millburn High School; NJ Group 4 State championship team. First time Maccabiah participant.
Max Gould, 17, Maplewood, juniors fencing. Experience: three years; Star-Ledger All-State team, 2012-13. First time Maccabiah participant.
Matthew Halpern, 34, Caldwell, Ten-Pin Bowling: Experience: almost 30 years, including league and tournament play at local, state, national, and international level. Participated in the 2009 Maccabiah Games; seven medals in Maccabiah competition.
Ilana Kamber, 16, Short Hills, fencing (women’s sabre). Experience: Four-plus years; national and international events include Senior World Cups, U.S. National Championships, and Pan-American Championships. First time participating at Maccabiah Games.
Josh Lewis, 23, Montville, track and field (100m, 200m, long jump). Experience: nine years, including Montville Township High School and Monmouth University; member of silver medal 4x100m team at the 2009 Games.
Darren Milun, 38, Succasunna, men’s open cycling. Experience: three years competitive bicycling; member of the men’s open swimming team at the 1997 Maccabiah Games; earned silver medal in 4x100M relay.
Barbara Rosenbaum, 71, Livingston, masters swimming. Experience: 15 years competitive swimming. Participated in 2009 Maccabiah games; won gold for 50M breast stroke; silver and bronze for freestyle, butterfly, backstroke, and breast stroke individual and relay events.
Drew Rosenberg, 19, Short Hills, open men’s soccer. Will be playing soccer next year for Northwestern University. Competed in 2009 Maccabiah Games with the junior boys team.
Jenny Scherl, 17, South Orange, women’s open squash. Experience: women’s squash team captain for two years at Lawrenceville High School. Attending Yale in the fall and expects to play on school team. Member of the girls soccer team at the 2009 Games.
Emily Seelenfruend, 22, West Orange, Paralympic basketball. Experience: 20+ years; member of American team which won a gold medal at the 2011 under-25 women’s team international competition; four-year member of University of Alabama team, which won the championship for three consecutive years (2009-11). First time Maccabiah participant.
Phyllis Shelkowitz, 63, Livingston, open table tennis. Experience: 50 years. First time Maccabiah participant.
Cara Silverman, 23, Roseland, open field hockey. Experience: 14 years, including West Essex High School and University of Connecticut; named to the Big East All-Tournament team in 2010, All-Big East Second Team, 2009 and 2010. Participated in 2009 Maccabiah Games.
Spencer Weisz, 18, Florham Park, youth men’s basketball. Experience: four-year varsity at Seton Hall Prep; Essex County Player of the Year, 2013; will continue basketball career at Princeton University this fall. First time Maccabiah participant.
Daniel Wilf, 18, Livingston, juniors golf. Experience: 12 years, including varsity for four years at Newark Academy; second team All-Conference 10th and 11th grade, first team All-Conference 12th grade. Attending Vanderbilt University in the fall. First time Maccabiah participant.
Jaime Zimmel, 27, Hoboken, open ice hockey. Experience: 21 years including Penn State University team; ACHA Academic All-American, 2007-08; represented U.S. at the World University Games, Harbin, China, 2009. First time Maccabiah participant.
Other local members of Team USA include: Andrew Brown, Upper Montclair, men’s volleyball; Michael Haynes, Montclair, men’s masters soccer; Ilana Kamber, Short Hills, open fencing; Jordan Nolff, Millburn, men’s open gymnastics; Jessica Rockford, Livingston, juniors fencing; Barbara Rosenbaum, Livingston, masters swimming; Alex Rosenberg, Short Hills, men’s open basketball; and Samuel Stone, Maplewood, open futsal.