Thoughts on the Maccabiah games from local star athletes

Madeline Aibel, 14

Santa Monica

Rhythmic gymnastics

“My experience has been an eye-opening, unforgettable adventure. This is my first time in Israel. When I first found out about the Maccabiah Games, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to visit this amazing country and experience a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to compete in the games.”

Aidan Blain, 15

Santa Monica

Track and field

“Meeting new people from different countries who are all connected by Judaism and athletics is amazing, and it has been one of the best experiences of my life. The Maccabiah Games is one of the best opportunities I have ever come across, and I’m overjoyed that I was able to take advantage and compete in these games.”

Joseph Leavitt, 43

Santa Monica


“Competing in the Maccabiah Games allows me to experience a full spectrum of emotions, from the joy of walking into the stadium at opening ceremonies to the thrill of victory to the agony of defeat. … Not many people my age get an opportunity to leave their desk job in the U.S. to go to Israel to compete again at a high level.”

Elijah Lichtenberg, 22

Beverly Hills


“My experience has been nothing but incredible. Meeting athletes from each delegation has been a unique experience, and competing in athletic competition in the land of the Jewish people has been very special for me.”

Steven S. Davis, 64

Beverly Hills 


“Nothing is better for me than being in Israel, being able to play tennis every day and meeting wonderful Jewish people from both Israel and around the world.”

Raisman, Down Under athletes soar among Jewish Olympians

Slideshow highlighting Aly Raisman‘s Olympics at bottom

U.S. gymnast Aly Raisman and athletes from Down Under were the story for Jewish sports fans at the London Olympics.

Raisman, who performs her floor routines to the melody of “Hava Nagilah,” won an individual gold medal on Tuesday in the floor exercise as well as a bronze on the balance beam after helping the U.S. women’s team take the gold last week.

Her bronze came after the U.S. lodged a protest against the original result. Raisman, 18, of Needham, Mass., had finished fourth, but the judges agreed to a rescoring, putting her in a tie with Romania’s Catalina Ponor. Under a tie-breaking procedure, Raisman took the medal with a higher execution score. Raisman defeated Ponor again in the floor exercise final.

Meanwhile, there was something good in the water for Jewish athletes from Down Under.

[Aly Raisman’s results: team / all-around / balance beam / floor exercise]

Nathan Cohen, who is Jewish, and his partner Joseph Sullivan won the men’s double sculls on Aug. 2 to give New Zealand its first gold medal of the London Olympics.  They rallied in the last 200 meters to overtake Italy’s Alessio Sartori and Romano Battisti with a time of 6 minutes, 31.67 seconds—1.13 seconds ahead of the Italians.

Australian kayaker Jessica Fox, 18, won a silver medal in the K-1 kayak slalom final. Her first Olympic medal followed a family tradition: Her mother, Myriam Jerusalmi Fox, won a bronze in the same race for France at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Her British father, Richard, finished fourth in the same event at the 1992 Olympics and was appointed coach of the Australian kayak team before the 2000 Sydney Games.

At midweek, New Zealand sailor Jo Aleh was in good position to win her first Olympic medal as her event headed into its final stretch. Aleh, whose parents, Shuki and Daniella, lived in Israel before moving to Auckland, and teammate Olivia Powrie are in first after eight of 10 races in the 470 event.

Two rounds remain—both on Wednesday—followed by a medal race, scheduled for Friday.

Aleh’s father has flown in from Israel to watch the final rounds, while her mother has arrived from New Zealand. Aleh has two half-siblings who both live in Israel, according to a report in The Forward. After the Olympics, the family is reportedly traveling there for her half-sister’s bat mitzvah celebration.

Australian sprinter Steven Solomon’s bid for a medal ended when he ran out of steam in the 400-meter final. Solomon trailed the pack on Monday night, finishing eighth in 45.14 seconds—his second fastest time and just 0.17 seconds off his landmark semifinal time.

The 19-year-old runner, who played soccer at the 2009 Maccabiah before taking up sprinting, heaped praise on his Jewish Ukrainian coach, 78-year-old Fira Dvoskina, who could not travel to London but was coaching him via Skype.

Israeli athletes were not faring well and, for the first time since 1988, seemed likely to return home without a medal.

Windsurfer Lee Korzits, Israel’s likely last hope for a medal, finished the medal race in ninth place, dropping from second place to sixth in the overall rankings. Shahar Tzuberi, the bronze medalist from Beijing, did not qualify for the medal event.

Also, Israeli judoka Arik Zeevi, who predicted he would win a medal at the London Olympics, lost his opening match. Dmitri Peters of Germany put Zeevi in a headlock in their 100 kg. match on Aug. 2, forcing the 35-year-old Israeli to tap out after 43 seconds, the Times of Israel reported. He had tears in his eyes as he left the mat.

Female judoka Alice Schlessinger, another Israeli medal hope, was eliminated early as well.

On Sunday, Israeli gymnast Alex Shatilov finished sixth in the floor exercise finals. Shatilov, 25, had finished 12th last week in the individual all-around final.

In an odd incident, Israeli sprinter Donald Sanford was forced to borrow running shoes, saying his had been stolen and that he did not have the opportunity to warm up. He argued unsuccessfully with the judges for more time and failed to advance out of the first round in the 400 meters, though he did run his personal best time of the season.

Meanwhile, French Olympic swimmer Fabien Gilot grabbed some attention with the Hebrew tattoo on his left arm that he said is a tribute to his late grandmother’s husband, a Jewish survivor of Auschwitz. Gilot, who is not Jewish, said the tattoo is dedicated to his family and honors Max Goldschmidt, who has been a major influence in his life, Ynet reported. The tattoo says, “I’m nothing without them.”

Gilot revealed the tattoo, which is on the inside of his left arm, after exiting the pool following his team’s gold medal-winning performance in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay.

Outside the competition, there was news as well. German Olympic rower Nadja Drygalla left the Olympic Village following claims that her boyfriend is a member of an extremist political party inspired by the Nazis. She had already finished competing at the Games as part of the women’s rowing eight team and reportedly left of her own accord after a 90-minute conversation with German officials.

Media reports said her boyfriend was a leading member of a regional National Socialist group, the Rostock National Socialists, and had worked in a state election for the far-right National Democratic Party. Germany’s intelligence agency describes the NDP as racist, anti-Semitic and inspired by the Nazis.

For more Olympics coverage, visit

Maccabiah tryouts coming to L.A.

While hundreds of American athletes are eagerly anticipating the beginning of the Olympics in London this month, another Team USA is preparing for a different international competition.

Tryouts for the 19th Maccabiah Games, which will be held in Israel in July 2013, are already beginning across the country—including several in Los Angeles.

Held every four years in Israel, the all-Jewish Maccabiah Games prides itself on being the third-largest international sports competition—behind the Olympics and the Pan American Games—with more than 50 participating countries.

The United States will send 79 teams in approximately 40 sports to the 2013 games, including seven basketball teams. Basketball teams will compete at different age levels, from 15 to 45, and up.

Basketball Chairman of Recruitment and Outreach Brian Schiff pointed out that the U.S. delegation has fared well in recent years, earning four gold and two silver medals in the 2009 games.

Splitting the masters’ team into a 35-and-up team and a 45-and-up team will give the United States another chance to go for gold, Schiff says.

“We’re not looking for the 12 best athletes on every team,” Schiff said. “We’re looking for the 12 players who will make up the best team.”

Past Team USA participants included a number of college and professional players, such as Davidson forward Jake Cohen and Big 5 Player of the Year Zack Rosen, who is currently playing summer league with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Tryouts for the Men’s Open Team (18 and up) will be held at Milken Community High School on Aug. 4 and 5. The Men’s Youth Team (15 and 16) will hold tryouts at Milken on Aug. 19.

Schiff says tryouts are open to anyone interested.

“We’re hoping to get as many people as possible to try out,” he said. “This is an unbelievable opportunity to represent the country, and you get a lot more out of the games than just athletics.”

Tryouts for Juniors Boys’ Baseball will be held Aug. 5 at Simpson-Hartunian Field in Encino. Masters Tennis (35 and up) tryouts will be held Sept. 10 at MountainGate Country Club in Los Angeles. 

To register for tryouts in basketball or in other sports, visit, click on “Sports,” and then click on “Sports Explorer.”

Seth Greenberg, Maccabiah basketball coach, is out at Va. Tech

Seth Greenberg, who will coach the U.S. men’s basketball team at the 2013 Maccabiah Games, was fired by Virginia Tech.

The Atlantic Coast Conference school made the announcement on Monday in a news conference.

“We needed to go another direction in our men’s basketball program,” athletic director Jim Weaver said, USA Today reported.

Greenberg, 56, led Virginia Tech to a record of 167-117 in nine seasons. The Hokies made the NCAA tournament in the 2006-07 season and the NIT five times.

Weaver said Greenberg was “shocked” when told he was being fired Monday, USA Today reported. The athletic director also said that the rest of the athletic department had a “family environment”—and the basketball program didn’t.

Greenberg, a member of the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in Commack, N.Y., has won nearly 400 games as the head man at Virginia Tech, South Florida and Long Beach State.

At the Maccabiah Games, the U.S. team under Greenberg will be trying to win its second consecutive gold medal. Greenberg served as an assistant coach for the 1989 men’s basketball team—an experience he has called “life altering.”

In a statement earlier this month on being named coach of the Maccabiah team for the July 2013 Games, Greenberg said, “This volunteer position is important to me because any time you can represent your country and your faith in the same event, it’s something very special.”

Moving Maccabiah’s opening offers ‘fresh start,’ son of bridge collapse victim says

The son of a victim of the 1997 Maccabiah bridge disaster welcomed the decision to move the Games’ opening ceremony to Jerusalem.

The Maccabiah Games said last week that the opening ceremony of the 2013 Games would be held at the newly renovated 31,000-seat Teddy Stadium in the capital.

Greg Small’s son Joshua, who was a child when his father died on the bridge that collapsed into the Yarkon River at the opening ceremony in ‘97, said it was good to have a fresh start. Greg Small was one of four Australians who lost their lives in the collapse.

“It brings back a lot of bad memories for people,” Joshua Small told the Australian Jewish News. “It’s nice that we don’t forget what happened to people and the friends that we lost, but it’s good to get a fresh start.”

Small competed at the last Maccabiah as a tenpin bowler and hopes to go one better in 2013.

“In my dad’s honor I completed his dream last Maccabiah by competing in it, which is something my dad never had the chance to do,” he said. “Now it’s my dream to win a medal.”

Yetty Bennett, Elizabeth Sawicki and Warren Zines also died in the disaster. Dozens of others were injured.

Dodgers continue support for Maccabiah games

The Los Angeles Dodgers will again underwrite the baseball tournament at the Maccabiah games in Israel, according to an announcement from the Maccabiah Organizing Committee.

Frank McCourt, though occupied with ownership of the team and a contentious divorce, said, “Our sponsorship hugely enhanced the baseball experience at the 18th Maccabiah Games in 2009, and the Dodgers are proud to continue our close association with the Jewish Olympics.

“We are delighted to participate in spreading the baseball message internationally and eagerly look forward with all Jewish and Israeli fans to seeing great ball at the 2013 Maccabiah.”

On the Israeli side, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also put aside a few other concerns and pledged that his government will provide substantial support for the next Maccabiah, scheduled for July 16-30, 2013.

On the local end, a committee of 36 well-heeled Angelenos is again swinging into action, after raising $1.8 million for the 2009 Maccabiah. The money went mainly to subsidize the participation of athletes from smaller Jewish communities around the world.

Steve Soboroff, who organized the Los Angeles efforts, said that, as previously, local supporters have pledged $50,000 each to serve as “consultants” for the 2013 event.

In addition, former Mayor Richard Riordan will again sponsor the Maccabiah chess competition and the Jewish Life Television network will broadcast highlights of the games.

In a related development, the main venue for the next Maccabiah may be Jerusalem’s expanded Teddy Kollek stadium, rather than the traditional Ramat Gan facility near Tel Aviv.

Some 8,000 athletes, among them junior and senior competitors, participated in the 2009 Maccabiah, setting a new attendance record, Maccabiah executive director Eyal Tiberger said during a recent visit to Los Angeles.

They came from 52 countries, and organizers hope to add Cuba, Morocco, Burma and Singapore to the 2013 list.

Maccabiah Results: Team USA Wins 82 Medals in the First Full Week of Competition

Tel Aviv, Israel, July, 21 – Team USA has won 25 Gold, 26 Silver and 31 Bronze Medals in the first full week of competition at the 18th Maccabiah Games.  Competition began on Sunday, July 12 and in addition to the medal count, both Jason Lezak and Andrea Murez broke Maccabiah Records in their first day of competition on July 19.  Lezak won the Gold in the 100m Freestyle with a time of 47:8 and Murez won the Gold in the 100m Freestyle with a time of 56:4, both athletes breaking all previous Maccabiah records. – Maccabiah USA Press Release 



Michael Hauss (Huntington Beach) 100m Freestyle,  Swimming (junior)
” title=”Andrea Murez” target=”_blank”>Andrea Murez (Venice) 100m Freestyle, Swimming (open)


Andrey Baranchik (Los Angeles) Discus Throw – Male, Track and Field (junior)
Michael Hauss (Huntington Beach)  200m Butterfly, Swimming (junior)
Naomi Javanifard (Goleta) 100m Freestyle, Swimming (open)
Daniel Silver (Pasadena) 1500m – Male, Track and Field (junior)
Brianna Weinstein (Irvine, CA) 200m Breastroke, Swimming (junior)

Complete list of U.S. winners.

Adleberg, Samantha T&F – Open 800m – Femaile Washington, DC
Cohen, Alexander Swimming – Juniors 200m Butterfly Woodstock, GA
Emrani, Dustin T&F – Open 800m Male Kings Point, NY
Frankl, David Gymnastics – Junior All-around Franklin Lakes, NJ
Goldman, Jason Wrestling – Open Free Binghampton, NY
Hauss, Michael Swimming – Juniors 100m Freestyle Huntington Beach, CA
Karosas, Tasija Swimming – Juniors 200m Backstroke Stowe, VT
Levere, Jacqueline Swimming – Juniors 200m Breastroke Los Altos, CA
Lewinson, Rebecca Swimming – Open 200m Breastroke West Windsor, NJ
Lezak, Jason Swimming – Open 100m Freestyle Irvine, CA
Meltzer, Max Wrestling – Open Greco Bethesda, MD
Mitchell, Haley Swimming – Open 200m Backstroke Walled Lake, MI
Murez, Andrea Swimming – Open 100m Freestyle Venice, CA
Ratner, Noah Juniors Golf Overall Asheville, NC
Schwartz, Jillian T&F – Open Pole Vault Female New York, NY
Sender, David Gymnastics – Open Rings Arlington Hts, IL
Sender, David Gymnastics – Open Vaulting Arlington Hts, IL
Sender, David Gymnastics – Open Horizontal Bar Arlington Hts, IL
Silver, Evan Wrestling – Open Free Chevy Chase, MD
Silver, Evan Wrestling – Open Greco Chevy Chase, MD
Steinberg, Galina Triathlon – Masters Age 40 -44 San Diego, CA
Stuckelman, Mark Triathlon – Masters Age 45 -49 Del Mar, CA
Tanenbaum, Jacob Wrestling – Open Free San Luis Obispo, CA
Tanenbaum, Jacob Wrestling – Open Greco San Luis Obispo, CA
USA Team T&F – Open 4x400relay – Female
USA Team T&F – Open 4×400 – male
USA Team Juniors Golf Overall

Adleberg, Samantha T&F – Open 400m – Female Washington, DC
Baranchik, Andrey Junior T&F Discus Throw Male Los Angeles, CA
Bernstein, Eden Wrestling – Open Free Allen, TX
Cohen, Alexander Swimming – Juniors 100m Freestyle Woodstock, GA
Cohen, Alexander Swimming – Juniors 200m Backstroke Woodstock, GA
Ehrlich, Marjee Swimming – Juniors 200m Backstroke Cherry Hill, NJ
Emrani, Dustin T&F – Open 400m – Male Kings Point, NY
Freidman, Simone Gymnastics – Junior Uneven Bars Annadale, VA
Freidman, Simone Gymnastics – Junior Floor Annadale, VA
Gordon, Ilana Gymnastics – Junior Vaulting San Carlos, CA
Hauss, Michael Swimming – Juniors 200m Butterfly Huntington Beach, CA
Javanifard, Naomi Swimming – Open 100m Freestyle Goleta, CA
Kessler, Rachel Swimming – Open 200m Butterfly New Rochelle, NY
Lipp, Jordan Wrestling – Open Free Beachwood, OH
Pierce, Katherine T&F – Open 5000m Female Alfred, ME
Sender, David Gymnastics – Open Singles Arlington Hts, IL
Sender, David Gymnastics – Open Pummel Horse Arlington Hts, IL
Sharkey, Bryan T&F – Open 1500m – Male Miami, FL
Silver, Daniel Junior T&F 1500m – Male Pasadena, CA
Solomon, Eva Triathlon – Masters Age 40 -44 Ann Arbor, MI
Sugarman, Robert Triathlon – Masters Age 70 – 79 New York, NY
USA Team Junior T&F 4x400relay – Male
USA Team Junior T&F 4x400relay – Female
USA Team T&F – Open 4×100 – Female
USA Team T&F – Open 4×100 – male
Weinstein, Brianna Swimming – Juniors 200m Breastroke Irvine, CA

Davidson, Jacob Swimming – Juniors 200m Butterfly Rochester, MN
Evans, Matthew T&F – Open Long Jump Weston, FL
Feingold, Julie Swimming – Open 200m Breastroke Munster,IN
Fellman, Robert T&F – Open High Jump – Male Boca Raton, FL
Fellman, Robert T&F – Open Discus Throw Boca Raton, FL
Fellman, Robert T&F – Open Javelin – Male Boca Raton, FL
Foreman, Jessica T&F – Open 100m – Female Wayland, MA
Foreman, Jessica T&F – Open 200m Female Wayland, MA
Frankl, David Gymnastics – Open Pummel Horse Franklin Lakes, NJ
Frankl, David Gymnastics – Open Parallel Bars Franklin Lakes, NJ
Goldfarb, Aly T&F – Open Pole Vault Female Birmingham, AL
Goldfarb, Aly T&F – Open 400m – Female Birmingham, AL
Gordon, Seri T&F – Open 800m – Femaile Niskyuna, NY
Grossman, Jared Wrestling – Open Free Oyster Bay, NY
Hammond, Zach Wrestling – Open Free Mays Landing, NJ
Hammond, Zach Wrestling – Open Greco Mays Landing, NJ
Kraus, David Wrestling – Open Free Baltimore, MD
Langefeld, Andrew Swimming – Open 200m Butterfly West Lafayette, IN
Lauder, Laura Cycling – Female Tt- 30-49 Atherton, CA
Levine, David Triathlon – Open Age – 18 – 19 Sprint Charlotte, NC
Lipp, Jordan Wrestling – Open Greco Beachwood, OH
Lipp, Kevin Wrestling – Open Free Beachwood, OH
Merrill, Jeff T&F – Open 800m – Male Ann Arbor, MI
Merrill, Jeffrey T&F – Open 800m Male Ann Arbor, MI
Popper, Hannah Gymnastics – Junior Floor Forest Hills, NY
Silver, Kevin T&F – Open 5000m – Male Beachwood, OH
Steves, Joshua Gymnastics – Junior All-around Houston, TX
Steves, Joshua Gymnastics – Open Vaulting Houston, TX
Ungar, Joshua Gymnastics – Open Horizontal Bar Longmeadow, MA
USA Team T&F – Open 4×400 – male
Weinstein, Jeffrey T&F – Open 10000 – Male Philadelelphia PA

Maccabiah athletes find Jewish pride, not just sport, at Games

Singing “Shalom Aleichem,” the group of Maccabiah athletes usher in Shabbat together at a brightly lit hotel dining hall, their Hungarian, Spanish, Finnish and British accents momentarily melting into a unified chorus of Hebrew.

Leading them is an energetic young rabbi who has come to provide spiritual context to their first Shabbat together in Israel ahead of their participation in this week’s Maccabiah Games, the so-called Jewish Olympics.

“It’s exciting to be here getting to know Jews from other countries,” said Maxim Poljakov, 23, a member of the Finnish indoor soccer (futsal) team. “It’s a much stronger feeling of our Jewish identity being here than we have in our everyday life in Finland.”

The Maccabiah Games, which began in 1932, are intended not only to encourage athletic excellence, but also to foster a sense of Jewish belonging and pride among the participants.

So alongside running hurdles, swimming relays and cycling in the Negev, the some 8,000 athletes who have gathered in Israel for the 18th Games from nearly 60 countries also are touring the country and visiting historically meaningful sites such as the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Masada. They’re even taking part in mass bar and bat mitvzah ceremonies—some have never had one, others simply want to join along.

“It’s much more than a sports event,” said Ron Carner, the general chairman of Maccabi USA. “If it was only a sports event, it would have run once or maybe twice. I see it as a way to help perpetuate our culture.”

For Daran Bern, 22, an indoor soccer player for the English team, the time in Israel—his second trip after joining a Birthright Israel group—has been a revelation. Bern grew up in a home with a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother just outside London that was largely disconnected from the local Jewish community.

“I love learning,” he said, smiling as he discusses Jewish culture and heritage with his teammates. “The Maccabiah is a fantastic way of getting people to do what they love to do—sport—together with the religious aspect that someone like me knows little about,” Bern said. “There is always something in you that wants to know more.”

Ahead of the Games’ opening, the U.S. Maccabiah team of about 900 members spent several days exploring Israel. They gathered around campfires in the evening to share their experiences. One highlight: a group bar mitzvah ceremony under a full moon overlooking the Judean Desert at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem amphitheater.

Olympic swimmer Jason Lezak, 33, who chose to participate in the Maccabiah Games over the World Championships, was among those who took to the stage and joined in even though he had a bar mitzvah 20 years ago.

“To do it with so many other people at the same time was an experience,” Lezak told JTA.

Visiting the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism, was especially powerful even though he had to fend off a camera crew, Lezak said. Praying, he tucked a note in a crevice between its ancient stones.

“It’s hard to hard to put in words,” he said, trying to explain the experience. “It’s something I’ve never really felt before.”

Lezak says his Jewish identity has been enhanced in his first trip to Israel and by being around his fellow Jewish teammates.

“I think things will be a little different when I go home,” he said.

Sitting in a cafeteria at the Maccabiah Village, a group of athletes from the U.S. team exchanges moments that moved them—from simply knowing that they are among hundreds of other young Jews who take athletics seriously to specific experiences, like floating in the Dead Sea or walking along the southern steps near the Western Wall, where they could imagine their ancestors ascending to the Second Temple more than 2,000 years ago.

Bradley Williams, a lanky 20-year-old marathoner from Santa Fe, N.M., is heartened to meet other serious Jewish runners. He says it’s hard to gather a minyan at his Santa Fe synagogue, let alone find other Jews who run marathons.

Williams is impressed, too, by his encounter with the range of Jews who live in Israel. He and the other long-distance runners on the team have been training with an Ethiopian Israeli and met others who are not Ashkenazi, like most of them, but are from families that come from all over the Middle East and North Africa.

“The Jewish people now seem so much more diverse to me and it makes me feel like I’m part of a people that has so much to offer,” Williams said. “Judaism now feels much more interesting and much more alive.”

Soboroff heads effort for ‘Chai’ Maccabiah

While global sports fans are gradually shifting their attention to the Aug. 8 start of the Olympic Games in Beijing, Eyal Tiberger and Steve Soboroff are focused on the July 13, 2009 opening ceremony in Israel of the 18th Maccabiah.

Tiberger is the executive director of next year’s Maccabiah and of the Maccabi World Union, so his preoccupation is understandable.

Soboroff is an influential and politically well-connected Los Angeles real estate developer, who envisions the next Maccabiah as not only a celebration of Jewish sportsmanship and solidarity, but also as a profit-making enterprise.

He was actively involved with the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee in 1984 and watched closely as top organizer Peter Ueberroth transformed the games’ accounting ledger from a predicted sea of red ink into an unbelievable surplus of $225 million.

The Maccabiah is sometimes dubbed the “Jewish Olympics,” and the comparison is not completely out of line. It ranks as the world’s third- or fourth-largest sport event, following the Olympics and Asian Games, and tied with the World University Games.

Tiberger expects some 10,000 athletes, divided into junior, open, master and paralympic categories, at the opening ceremonies at the Ramat Gan stadium, hailing from 60 countries and competing in 35 different sports at some 75 venues.

The quadrennial Maccabiah represents a major boost for the tourist industry, Israel-Diaspora relations and Jewish unity, but it costs a lot of money — $27 million for the host country alone.

Finance is a subject with which Soboroff is thoroughly familiar as chairman and CEO of the extensive Playa Vista multiuse real estate project, a one-time Los Angeles mayoral candidate and former president of the L.A. City Recreation and Parks Commission.

He was also the driving force behind the creation of the Staples Center sports and entertainment stadium in downtown Los Angeles, for which the office supplies chain store paid $120 million to have its name on the venue’s portals.

So when Soboroff learned that the 2005 Maccabiah made only $2.5 million from combined naming, television, sponsorship and merchandise rights, his entrepreneurial instincts were aroused.

“There is no reason why we can’t get greatly expanded TV and radio coverage, get primary sponsors for each separate sport, and others for uniforms and running shoes, just for starters,” he said.

To put concept into action, Soboroff recently formed The Committee of 18 (for the 18th — “Chai” — Maccabiah), with members selected from the vast pool of entertainment, media, marketing, advertising, business and philanthropy talent in Los Angeles.

The know-how and contacts of these experts is priceless, but in addition the 18 members will pay for the privilege of dispensing their free advice and efforts.

The plan calls for each committee member to give or raise $50,000, which would bring in $900,000. The money will provide scholarships for 200 teenage junior athletes from poorer communities in the former Soviet Union, India and Latin America, who otherwise could not afford the trip.

Earlier this month, Tiberger joined Soboroff in Los Angeles for a 10-day visit to pitch the idea to 20 carefully selected prospects.

“No one turned us down, and we have nine definitely signed up,” Soboroff said. “We won’t give out the names until we have all 18 aboard.”

His project is not the first attempt to broaden the public outreach and financial underpinning of the Maccabiah, said Joseph Siegman, the Los Angeles-based founder of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and author of four books on Jewish athletes, from biblical times to the present.

“Back in 1985, ESPN had agreed to do two one-hour shows on the Maccabiah, with Budweiser beer as the underwriter, but we couldn’t quite put it together,” Siegman recalled.

The 1984 Olympic Games, for all their financial success, met with some criticism that excessive commercialization and corporate sponsorships had detracted from the higher ideals of the international sports competition.

Might the Maccabiah be similarly put down if the Committee of 18’s ambitious plans succeed, a reporter asked.

On the contrary, Siegman responded, since most of the foreign athletes must now pay their own way to compete in the Maccabiah, a steady source of outside money would give athletes of limited means a better chance to attend.

Soboroff agreed that, in a perfect world, athletes from wealthy and poor families would have an equal chance to participate. Until that time, though, some commercialization is necessary and would pose no threat if handled “with respect and taste.”

For his part, Tiberger gave assurances that the organizers will strike a balance so that commercial promotions will not overshadow the sport events.

Organizers of the 18th Maccabiah, headed by Israel Carmi and Jeanne Futeran, chairman and president, respectively, of both the Maccabi World Union and the International Maccabiah Committee, expect a series of tangible and intangible benefits from their efforts.

Israel counts on some 25,000 foreign spectators, who, together with the 10,000 athletes, will pump around $80 million into the national economy.

The athletes range from 15-year-old juniors to master tennis players 75 and older who are expected to consume 450,000 kosher meals, 200,000 meals-to-go, and 1.5 million quarts of mineral water. Some 400 buses will shuttle competitors from and to events and an additional 400 buses will be available for guided tours to all parts of Israel.

About 3,000 police, soldiers and private guards will provide security around the clock.

As is customary, Israel will field the largest team of 2,500 athletes and officials, strengthened by Russian and Ethiopian immigrants. The United States will be second largest with 982 members, followed by Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Brazil and Mexico. Germany will send a 200-member team.

Some 35 percent to 40 percent of participants will be women, and soccer, as always, will have the most participants, with 70 competing teams — men, women, junior, open and master.

Besides the customary Olympic events, there will be Maccabiah competitions in lawn bowling, cricket, 10-pin bowling and futsal (indoor soccer), as well as bridge and chess.

Maccabiah Games Bring Golden Times

When amateur soccer player Michael Erush went to Israel in July to play for Team USA in the 17th World Maccabiah Games, he was hoping to come home with gold. But following the Israeli team’s victory, Erush was content with the American silver-medal win.

“I always want to do the best,” the 22-year-old said. “We had one of the best Maccabiah men’s soccer teams, and we lost to a very good Israel team.”

However, his Maccabiah experience didn’t end with the medal ceremony. Erush extended his stay after an Israeli soccer franchise was so impressed with his level of play, that he was offered a 10-month contract for the following season.

He is currently shopping around for other offers, but his dream of turning pro could eventually become a reality in Israel — due to the Maccabiah Games.

“I’m still looking to different career paths,” said Erush, a research assistant for an private firm. “I might go back to school and get my MBA, or I might go play soccer…. I just want to keep my options open.”

Erush was one of more than 7,000 Jewish athletes from 55 countries, stretching from Brazil to India and Australia to Finland, who gathered this past summer in Israel to compete in the Maccabiah Games. In the first games in 1932, 390 athletes from 14 nations participated. Now, the games are the third-largest sporting event in the world, outside of the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games. Held every four years, this summer’s Maccabiah Games, which took place July 10-21, were the largest since its founding.

Competitions took place in approximately 30 categories, including track, tennis, swimming, baseball and even chess. The most dominant countries were Team USA and Israel. The American medal count was 222, with 71 gold, while Israel won 593 medals, 227 gold.

The hope of the organizers is that the games foster a sense of Jewish unity, awareness and pride among the athletes from around the world. In that spirit, this year’s games were the first to feature delegations from China, Macedonia and Grenada.

More than 90 athletes from Southern California were represented in such sports as track and field, basketball, volleyball, soccer, rugby and water polo. Among 20 medalists from the Southland, six won gold; nine, silver; and four, bronze. Some athletes took home multiple medals.

It was “an unforgettable experience, absolutely breathtaking,” said Danielle Arad, 17, of Yorba Linda who won four silver medals in the open swimming competition. “The hospitality and open arms that we received from the common citizens and Israeli athletes competing in the games allowed me to feel at home.”

For Shirin Lisa Golshani, 17, a Beverly Hills resident, walking into the packed stadium with Team USA during the opening ceremonies in Ramat Gan and being surrounded by Jews who had come from all corners of the world “was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had in my life.”

Golshani, who brought home silver and bronze from the girl’s youth karate competition, said that it “made it all the more greater of an experience because I was able to share it with my second family from karate.”

For USC graduate and businessman Ari Monosson, this year marked his second trip to the Maccabiah Games. During his first games in 2001, the 27-year-old runner won both a silver and a bronze medal. And while his dreams for gold this year were did not come true, his silver-medal win with the U.S. 4×400 relay team in no way diminished the experience. Monosson said there is nothing quite like the Maccabiah Games, and he recommended that Jewish athletes try out for the next games.

“Participating in them will be a life-changing experience,” he said. “There are moments and memories that you will cherish for the rest of your life.”

For rugby player Kevin Armstrong, 26, the long journey began with a discouraging setback. He broke his arm in the first 20 minutes of the first game. However, he still enjoyed both watching his team take a silver and being surrounded by Jews from around the world.

“On the field, it was business as usual, but off the field, it made the world seem very small, [especially] when you realize how people from across the world are very similar to you,” said the Angeleno.

Injuries and illness nearly kept Santa Monica residents Melody Khadavi and Fran Seegull from the games. The volleyball players each missed a month of practice in the United States due to different maladies, and when they landed in Israel, the combination of jet lag, hot temperatures and long days spent touring before the games caught up with them. But perseverance and antibiotics pulled the pair through the competitions to beat Canada for the bronze.

In the junior competitions, the gold-winning junior baseball team included Los Angeles resident Noah Michel. Alexander Hoffman-Ellis of Santa Monica High School helped the boys junior basketball team cruise to a gold. The girls junior soccer team brought home the gold with the help of coach Wendi Whitman of Long Beach.

For Erush, the next move is still up in the air. The soccer player said that may include the next games.

“Who knows,” Erush said. “I would love to win the gold and have silver, too.”


For the Kids

Maccabi Madness

The Maccabi Movement began in 1895 when the first all-Jewish sports club was formed in Constantinople, Turkey. While the Maccabiah games take place in Israel, the Maccabi games are always in North America. This two-week Olympic-style competition for Jewish teenagers from around the world takes place every four years and has featured many world-class Jewish athletes, including Mark Spitz (swimming), Mitch Gaylord (gymnastics), Ernie Grunfeld and Danny Schayes (basketball), and Brad Gilbert and Dick Savitt (tennis). This year the games take place Aug. 15-20 in Boston.

Phoenix of the Games

A month ago the hopes, dreams, spirit and hard work of an immeasurable number of Jewish athletes, coaches and support personnel from around the world appeared to be going to waste. Due to the unrest in the Middle East, the 16th World Maccabiah Games were in jeopardy.

But as the week of games came to a close, many felt that they had been saved by something unforeseen, something not easily explained. And all were glad to have attended.

"My mom was against me going, but my dad really wanted me to, and they actually had big fights about it. But in the end it was my decision, and I’m glad me and dad won," said Anaheim Hills’ Danielle Perkel, 16, a member of the U.S. junior girls soccer team.

Perkel, a center midfielder whose team won a gold medal, said she was moved by the whole experience.

"Once I got there and saw Israel," she said, "it was the most amazing experience I ever had. Just the history, and everything the Jewish people have been through, and now we have our own country — which will last forever — is something that will live with me forever. The Maccabiah has truly been a life-altering experience. It has given me a whole new perspective on Jewish people, as well as myself."

Discussing what it means to be in Israel and part of Maccabiah is practically a sport in itself. Having never before been to Israel, Roman Veytsman and Shawn Weinstein, both members of the U.S. junior basketball team, said the games get everyone to realize how alike people are.

"Being here at a time when we’re constantly hearing about how badly Israel needs us is indeed very special," said Weinstein, 15, an incoming junior at Peninsula High School in Rancho Palos Verdes who averaged close to 22 points a game during her play for the U.S. squad, which won the gold medal for the first time since 1993.

"Israel is almost indescribable in that it’s so beautiful, and every day we saw something more fascinating. From the touring to the trading to the Israeli people, everything and everyone has been tremendous. My parents wanted me to have the experience and encouraged me from the start. I knew things would be fine, and, sure enough, I never once felt unsafe," Weinstein said.

An incoming junior at El Camino High School, Veytsman, 15, said, "I knew it would be special being here, but the feeling I had marching into Teddy Stadium for the opening ceremonies will live with me forever."

The games, which were shortened in length from 10 to seven days, took place from July 16 to 24. In a normal year, the Maccabiah Games are one of the world’s five largest international sporting events.

Sixteen years ago, there were 390 athletes from 18 countries. This year’s games, despite numerous cancellations, featured more than 3,000 athletes from approximately 35 countries, competing in 38 sports. Israel alone had more than 1,500 participants.

In the athletics, the United States won gold medals in open and junior basketball, junior girls soccer, water polo and beach volleyball. Overall, the United States finished second to Israel in the count, winning 74 medals (21 gold, 23 silver and 30 bronze). Israel won a whopping 244, including 96 gold.

The undisputed star of this year’s United States team was West Hollywood swimmer Lenny Krayzelburg, who won three gold medals at last summer’s Olympic Games in Australia. Krayzelburg, who passed up going to the world championships in Japan to participate in the Maccabiah, was selected to carry in the flag for the United States at the opening ceremonies.

"It’s one thing to represent a team, or your school, but to represent your country and all the Jewish people from the United States is a tremendous honor of a completely different kind," said Krayzelburg, who despite an injured shoulder won gold medals in the two events in which he participated: 100-meter backstroke and the 4 X 100M medley relay.

As the starting point guard on the U.S. men’s open basketball team, Tustin’s Doug Gottlieb said he came to Israel partly to win the gold medal his team failed to win in 1997. The last open hoops gold medal won by the U.S. team was in 1985, 16 years ago.

"I felt that, from last time, we had some unfinished business (the U.S. team lost in the semi-finals to Great Britain in 1997), and I wanted to experience winning with some of my former teammates and coach Herb Brown," said Gottlieb, who this past year played professionally in Russia. "The gold medal game against Israel was very tight again, and to pull it out was a tremendous feeling."

Gottlieb, who played college ball at Oklahoma State, added that being in Israel is a very special thing indeed.

"You can’t judge Israel by what you see on television, because if you do, you would never come here, and would miss one of the greatest countries in the world," said Gottlieb, who was once voted the best quote in college basketball. "I’ve been here five times, and I’ve never felt unsafe. What is really special about these games is all the people really chose to come, and there’s nothing like being in Israel and competing in the Maccabiah Games to make you really feel what it’s like to be Jewish."

At the closing ceremonies, Matan Vilnai, Israeli minister of science, culture and sports, expressed thanks to the athletes who came to Israel.

"You can’t imagine how important it is for us that you came to Israel to take part in this Maccabiah," said Vilnai, who was one of the Israeli officials who insisted that the games take place. "Take back to your countries the knowledge of what life is really like here in Israel. We will see you at the next Maccabiah in 2005, or even before, if you choose to move here and make Israel your home."

Final results for the U.S. team can be found on the Internet by going to

Community Briefs

An Israeli court has convicted five people in the collapse of a bridge at the Maccabiah Games in 1997 that left four Australian athletes dead and scores of others injured.

Following a trial that lasted more than two years, at which more than 80 witnesses testified about the disaster at the opening ceremonies of the “Jewish Olympics,” a three-judge panel found the five guilty of negligence.

The offense can carry up to a four-year jail term, according to a prosecutor. Sentences will be handed out at a later date.

The five who were convicted Monday were Baruch Karagula and Yehoshua Ben-Ezra, the contractors; Micha Bar-Ilan, the bridge’s engineer; Adam Mishori, the head of Irgunit, the firm that subcontracted to Baruch and Karagula; and Yoram Eyal, the head of the organizing committee for the international games.

Two Australian athletes were immediately killed July 14, 1997, and hundreds of other participants at the games were injured when the pedestrian bridge in the city of Ramat Gan collapsed, plunging scores of people into the Yarkon River.

Two more Australians died weeks later as a result of complications linked to contaminants in the river, and dozens of athletes who were injured in the bridge collapse later suffered illnesses.

A week after the collapse, an Israeli commission found that the accident was caused by a chain of failures involving the bridge’s planning and construction.

In October 1997, an Australian newspaper that had tests conducted on the river’s water concluded that the athletes “fell into a deadly cocktail of chemicals and pollutants” resembling “diluted sewage.”

Many of the Australian athletes have filed lawsuits against the games’ organizers, the Maccabi World Union and the builders of the bridge, demanding damages for injuries, mental anguish and loss of income.

Ehud Stein, a lawyer representing the athletes, said Monday’s ruling could prove decisive in the civil lawsuits.

Announcing Monday’s decision, the panel said that there had been a complete lack of coordination between the parties responsible for building the bridge.

Eyal, the head of the organizing committee, sounded a repentant note after the verdict was read.

“The regret and pain of the incident will certainly accompany me and my colleagues in Maccabi until the end of our lives,” he said. “We just hope the lessons will be learned and compensation arranged quickly, because the suffering of the families is awful.”

He also described the Games as a “great Zionist enterprise” that he hopes will “continue to exist in the future.”