November 17, 2018

Motorcyclists Revved Up Jews for First Maccabiah

Jewish “Motosikiliztim” pose in an unknown location on their ride from Palestine to Belgium. Photo courtesy Maccabi World Union

A gleaming Indian Scout 101 motorcycle, vintage 1929, helped kick-start the first Maccabiah Games in Palestine and with it much of Jewish sports history in the past 87 years.

Fast forward to the 20th Maccabiah this past summer, when an identical motorcycle was installed in the entrance hall of the Maccabi Sports Museum in Ramat Gan, Israel, and became an instant favorite of camera-toting tourists.

The two motorcycles link two vastly different times: one when a “Jewish Olympics” was thought to be an impossible pipedream, and this year’s event that brought 10,000 Jewish athletes to Israel.

To commemorate the games’ origins, planners of the 2017 Maccabiah wanted to display the type of motorcycle ridden across the Middle East and Europe to let Diaspora Jews know that the first such sporting event was to be held in 1932. Present-day officials were not sure any of those antique bikes could be found.

But after a two-year search, a motorcycle that fit the bill was located in the garage of a Norwegian collector and bought for 24,500 euros ($28,665) in 2016. With added costs for shipping and inspection and the hefty Israeli customs fee, the total cost came to 61,000 euros, then equal to $71,370.

To raise the funds, Eyal Tiberger, executive director of the Maccabi World Union, turned to Steve Soboroff, an influential figure in the Los Angeles business and civic world and president of the L.A. Board of Police Commissioners.

In the run-up to the previous Maccabiah Games in 2013, Soboroff had organized a committee of 18 well-heeled Los Angeles donors to enable Jewish athletes from poorer Diaspora communities to participate.

The 11 Motosikiliztim were hailed by ecstatic Jewish crowds.

He was joined for the 2017 Maccabiah support drive by Steve Lebowitz, president of a Santa Monica real estate firm dealing in hospitals and other health-care related buildings, and his son David Lebowitz, the firm’s executive vice president.

The latter, a one-time golf pro, was a mainstay of the U.S. golf team at the 2017 Maccabiah, placing fourth in the individual competition, while his team came in second after losing a tiebreaker to the winning Israeli team.

“At 42, I was about 12 years older than the next oldest man among some 85 golf competitors from a dozen countries,” David Lebowitz said. “The other players called me ‘uncle’.”

Also contributing to the Maccabiah’s financial support was Daniel Gottlieb, a former partner of the elder Lebowitz.

They were all inspired by the beginning of the Maccabiah saga, in 1929, when Yosef Yekutieli, a Palestinian (in those days, the Jewish inhabitants of the land defined themselves as “Palestinians”), presented the idea of a quadrennial “Jewish Olympics” to the Maccabi World Congress meeting in Prague. There were a few outspoken skeptics — with good reasons.

For one, in all of British-run Palestine there was not a single stadium, swimming pool or running track. For another, the British foreign office worried about the entry of “illegal” Zionist immigrants, would likely veto the whole idea. Add to such factors the 1929 worldwide Depression and large-scale Arab massacres of Jews in Palestine, and the question was whether Jews in the Diaspora would participate in the games.

Even if all these obstacles were overcome, how would Jewish communities in the countries of the Diaspora be informed and mobilized to send teams. (Remember, this was before the internet, television, cell phones, international radio broadcasts and easy international telephoning.)

Fortunately, Yekutieli came up with a publicity stunt worthy of a Madison Avenue genius. With the help of his friends, he rounded up 11 motorcycle riders — dubbed “The Motosikiliztim” in a merger of Yiddish and Hebrew — to speed the glad tidings of the planned Maccabiah among the major Jewish communities of Europe.

Their route of some 3,000 miles started in Tel Aviv, went to Haifa and Lebanon, and then, after a boat trip to Turkey, stopped at big cities and Jewish communities in Romania, Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, Austria, France and Belgium. That trip would have been forbidding at any time, but more so in the days before interurban highways, observed Rodney Sanders, Tiberger’s right-hand man.

The 11 Motosikiliztim were hailed by ecstatic Jewish crowds, feted in the press, and hailed by civic and national leaders — in countries not necessarily known for their philo-Semitic sentiments — as reincarnations of the biblical Maccabees.

Some burnished their heroic reputations through an incident reported on Aug. 1, 1930, by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) and headlined “Palestine Maccabeans Rescue 36 from Drowning in Germany.”

As JTA reported, four of the motorcyclists on the return leg of their mission approached a bridge spanning Germany’s Ilme River and saw that a tour bus with 36 passengers had plunged off the Ilme Bridge into the river. “Hastily dismounting from their motorcycles,” the JTA report said, “the four Maccabeans, fully clothed, plunged into the river and saved 36 passengers who were struggling in the waters.”

Most of the motorcyclists participating in the initial 1930 mission rode Belgian-made Sarolea machines, but a second ride in 1931 included the now-famous Indian 101 Scout.

Those first games in 1932 attracted 390 athletes from 27 countries. The event has grown so much over the decades that 10,000 athletes came from 85 nations this year.

Planners of the 2017 games wanted a motorcycle of the same type and year as used by the original Motosikiliztim. Tiberger commissioned Sanders to lead the search. Sanders, in turn, hired Bas Van Duinkerken, an expert Dutch restorer of antique and vintage motorcycles. On the verge of abandoning the mission, Van Duinkerken found a 1928 Indian Scout 101 in Norway and brought it to Israel in triumph. It is now the oldest motorcycle in Israel and probably in the entire Middle East, Sanders said.

Rare footage of the earliest Maccabiahs and the ride of the Motosikiliztim is included in the film and the shorter television special “Back to Berlin,” which British producer Catherine Lurie-Alt expects to release next spring.

Embodying the ‘Spirit of the Jewish Athlete’ at Maccabiah Games

American participants in this year’s Maccabiah Games include rhythmic gymnast Madeline Aibel, left.

Samuel Telanoff is only 14 years old, but he already knows what it means to represent his country in international swimming competitions.

On July 6, he and his teammates marched behind the American flag at the opening ceremonies of the 20th Maccabiah Games in Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem.

The Maccabiah Games, an Olympic-style event held every four years during the year after the Summer Olympics, have connected Jewish communities from around the world since 1932, with athletes competing in four divisions: junior, open, masters and paralympics. Since the first gathering, more than 62,000 athletes have competed. This year’s events continue through July 18.

“There is no way to describe just how awe-inspiring it was to walk out with Team USA in front of thousands of cheering people,” said Telanoff, a sophomore at Santa Monica High School. “It was overwhelming, and I was grinning the whole time.”

Telanoff is one of 1,100 American athletes competing at the games, also known as the Jewish Olympics.

Nearly 10,000 athletes from 80 countries are participating in 47 events in such sports as basketball, fencing, archery and wheelchair tennis. 

Among the American athletes is Emily Surloff, a Los Angeles native who plays basketball for Columbia University. On July 9, Surloff helped her team, which competes in the open women’s basketball division, defeat Russia, 101-71. 

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and opportunity to represent my country,” the 20-year-old said. “I am extremely excited to be connected to my faith and religion and meet other athletes like myself. We came here to win gold and that is our ultimate goal.”

Israel defeated the American team the next day, 68-62. The final game of the preliminary round was scheduled for July 12 against Australia.

Justin Greenberg, 49, the assistant coach and co-chair of the youth men’s soccer team, said he views participating in the games as a way to support Israel.   

“Many of our players had not been to Israel, and to witness their absorption and understanding of this country’s need for survival is compelling,” said Greenberg, who attends Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

Greenberg grew up in Jerusalem and lived there during the Yom Kippur War. In 1972, his father was on a plane from Vienna to Tel Aviv when it was hijacked by a Palestinian terrorist group.

“Sharing some of my own story with them has been a treat,” said Greenberg, who moved to the United States in 1977. “Witnessing our young group of 20 men come together as a unit has been an absolute highlight. As a young boy knowing little English, soccer was my main form of communication. I run a soccer business now, and appreciate the connection between sport and spirit of the Jewish athlete.”

Chess player Iris Kokish spent nine months preparing for the games, which she said she finds meaningful in many ways.

“Chess is an important part of my identity, but so is my being Jewish,” the 27-year-old Angeleno said. “So when I learned that Maccabiah USA was seeking chess players, I knew I wanted to be a part.”

Kokish said the games gave her a chance to visit Israel for the first time and helped her “better understand my Jewish identity, my people and my role within my Jewish community.”   

On July 9, Telanoff won the bronze medal in the 200-meter breaststroke.

“I hoped for a medal, but did not expect one,” Telanoff said. “I swam faster than I ever swam before. I was so thrilled to have moved up to third place and win a medal.”

Telanoff said he enjoyed the games because they gave him an opportunity to compete against the best athletes in his category.

“I am a very competitive swimmer, and this represents an opportunity to compete at a high international level,” he said. “There is also something special about being able to learn more about my Jewish identity while pursuing my passion for competitive swimming.” 

For another Angeleno, Noah Rothstein, 34, who plays futsal, a variation of football, competing in the games means honoring his father’s memory. 

“Beyond how much I love these trips and being able to compete as a representative of the United States, the one thing my dad loved more than anything was watching me play,” he said. “I feel very much that going to the Maccabiah Games honors his memory.”

The experience enabled Rothstein to compete in the sport he admires and explore “the amazing country of Israel, and make friends and memories for the rest of my life.”

Many participants agree that, while winning medals is important, building friendship with fellow athletes is invaluable.

“The first goal has been achieved, with our group coming together as one,” said Greenberg, the soccer coach. “My hope is that the relationships created within our group and beyond, while here at the games, last a lifetime.” 

Bruce Pearl tapped as Auburn basketball coach

Bruce Pearl, who led the U.S. team to the gold medal at the 2009 Maccabiah Games, was hired as the head coach of the Auburn University men’s basketball team.

The former coach at the University of Tennessee, Pearl was hired Tuesday to replace Tony Barbee, who was fired last week. Pearl reportedly signed a six-year contract worth $2.2 million per year.

He moved to ESPN as a college basketball analyst after being fired at the Southeastern Conference school in 2012 for recruiting violations. Auburn also belongs to the SEC.

“I’m humbled and blessed to back in the game that I love,” Pearl, a founding member of the Jewish Coaches Association, said in a statement. “I don’t know how long it will take, but it’s time to rebuild the Auburn basketball program, and bring it to a level of excellence so many of the other teams on campus enjoy.”

The three-time national coach of the year had led Tennessee to the NCAA Tournament for five consecutive seasons prior to his firing. Before Knoxville, where he gained national attention for painting his upper body orange for a women’s basketball game, Pearl had enjoyed success in coaching stops at Milwaukee and Div. II Southern Indiana.

His American squad at the Maccabiah Games defeated host Israel, 95-86, in overtime to claim the gold medal. His son Steven was a member of his Maccabiah and Tennessee teams.

Moving and Shaking: Andi Murez wins big at Maccabiah Games, Tour de Summer Camps registration opens

From left: Maccabiah standout Andi Murez (Photo by Norbert Von Der Groeben, Stanford Athletics) and her Maccabiah Games trophy.

Andi Murez, 21, a swimmer from Venice Beach competing in her second Maccabiah Games this year, was named Most Outstanding Athlete out of all the women who competed during the 19th annual international athletic Jewish event.

Murez, one of Maccabi USA’s standout athletes, collected seven medals in the pool this year — five golds and two silvers. She won nine medals in her first Maccabiah, in 2009, and completed four years of collegiate swimming at Stanford University this year. 

Josh Warshawsky, Temple Beth Am’s new artist-in-residence. Photo courtesy of Temple Beth Am.

Former LimmudLA Executive Director Rabbi Yechiel Hoffman and musician-singer-songwriter Josh Warshawsky became the newest additions to the staff at Temple Beth Am last month.

Hoffman and Warshawsky were hired on as the Conservative synagogue’s first-ever director of youth learning and engagement and as its artist-in-residence, respectively.

The new staff members reflect a new strategy on the part of the congregation, according to Sheryl Goldman, executive director of Temple Beth Am.

“We are trying to be creative in the way we approach education and engagement synagogue-wide. Education and engagement, and also music,” Goldman said.

Temple Beth Am also has appointed Rabbi Emeritus Joel Rembaum to serve as its interim head of school of Pressman Academy, following last month’s departure of Rabbi Mitchel Malkus from the position. 

Bryan Berkett, Tour de Summer Camps co chair. Photo by Dan Kacvinski.

Registration opened last week for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ inaugural Tour de Summer Camps, a community cycling event to raise funds for Jewish summer camp scholarships

“Through our Tour de Summer Camps event, we are raising funds that will make this transformative experience affordable for even more families in our community, while increasing awareness of the significant impact of Jewish camping,” said Jay Sanderson, Federation president and CEO.

The event will take place on Oct. 27 at Camp Alonim on the Brandeis-Bardin Campus of the American Jewish University. The registration deadline is Oct. 7. Camps that will benefit include Camp Akiba, Camp Alonim, Camp Gilboa, Camp Hess Kramer, Camp JCA Shalom, Camp Ramah, Gindling Hilltop Camp, Kibbutz Max Straus and Moshava Malibu.

Among those planning to ride is Bryan Berkett, Tour de Summer Camps co-chair and 2010 Journal mensch, who is cycling a 100-mile route as a member of the Federation’s Young Leadership Division team. 

“I hope you will join me raising money, getting in shape and having a great time,” Berkett said in an e-mail that went out to the community.

The hope is to raise $500,000 for camp scholarships, and as of July 31, 100 individuals had signed up to participate, according to Berkett. Participants can opt for 100, 62, 36 or 18-mile rides.

The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation is serving as the event’s biggest sponsor. Other sponsors include Debbie and Mark Attanasio, Julie and Marc Platt, and the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation. For more information, visit 

Dr. Benedick Fraass Photo courtesy of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

The American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) has awarded Dr. Benedick Fraass, vice chair for research and professor and director of medical physics at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the William D. Coolidge Award, in recognition of his career achievements in medical physics.

 “The William D. Coolidge Award credits those whose innovation and creativity have revolutionized the field of medical physics — an award only suited for a prestigious leader like Dr. Fraass,” said Steven Piantadosi,  director of the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute at Cedars.

The William Coolidge Award is the highest honor given out by the AAPM, a scientific and professional organization.

Hamilton High graduate Annie Rimmon. Photo courtesy of Ron Rimmon.

Annie Rimmon, a 2013 graduate of Hamilton High School Humanities Magnet and a counselor and assistant song leader at Gindling Hilltop Camp in Malibu, was recently awarded the UCLA Stamps Family Charitable Foundation Scholarship (SFCFC).

The SFCFC program recognizes “the very top of UCLA’s highly selective and academically accomplished freshman applicant pool,” according to the UCLA Scholarship Resource Center.

Moving and Shaking acknowledges accomplishments by members of the local Jewish community, including people who start new jobs, leave jobs, win awards and more, as well as local events that featured leaders from the Jewish and Israeli communities. Got a tip? E-mail it to

2013 SoCal Maccabiah medalists

About 150 Southern California athletes competed in the Maccabiah Games in Israel last month. The games kicked off with the opening ceremonies on July 18 and ran through July 30, offering participants from all over the world opportunities to connect to Judaism and Israel through sportsmanship.

Local athletes who won medals — totaling 51 gold, 29 silver and 24 bronze — are listed below:


Leo Kaplan, of Santa Monica, boys’ juniors baseball, gold
Ian McKinnon, of Burbank, boys’ juniors baseball, gold
Samuel McKinnon, of Burbank, boys’ juniors baseball, gold
Jason Schoen, of Los Angeles, boys’ juniors baseball, gold


Sorelle Cohen, of Beverly Hills, girls’ juniors basketball, gold
Joseph Fallas, of Beverly Hills, men’s youth basketball, gold
Spencer Freedman, of Pacific Palisades, boys’ juniors basketball, silver
Joseph Leavitt, of Santa Monica, men’s masters basketball, gold
Sean Mann, of Tarzana, men’s masters basketball, gold
Mark Small, of Encino, men’s masters basketball, gold


Daniel Ross, of Beverly Hills, open cycling, silver


Charles Horowitz, of Los Angeles, juniors fencing, two gold, silver
Jennifer Horowitz, of Los Angeles, open fencing, silver


Nathan Rice, of Los Angeles, open golf, silver


Jacob Feldman, of Los Angeles, boys’ juniors gymnastics, silver


Chad Goldberg, of Agoura Hills, open ice hockey, silver
Todd Lewis, of Manhattan Beach, masters ice hockey, gold


Denise Winner, of Manhattan Beach, masters half marathon, gold


Aaron Davis, of Venice, men’s open rugby, bronze
Alan Roniss, of Long Beach, men’s open rugby, gold, bronze
Ross Silverman, of Santa Barbara, men’s open rugby, bronze
Dallen Stanford, of Santa Monica, men’s open rugby, gold, bronze


Alexander Arsht, of Oak Park, men’s open soccer, gold
Ashley Aviram, of Beverly Hills, girls’ juniors soccer, gold
David Bannick, of Beverly Hills, men’s masters soccer (age 45 and over), bronze
Gary Bernstein, of Sherman Oaks, men’s masters soccer (age 45 and over), bronze
Chester Castellaw, of Hidden Hills, men’s youth soccer, silver
Gina Eide, of Chatsworth, girls’ juniors soccer, gold
Jacob Gooden, of Malibu, men’s youth soccer, silver
Jonah Gooden, of Malibu, men’s youth soccer, silver
Justin Greenberg, of Los Angeles, men’s masters soccer (over age 45), bronze
Spencer Held, of Agoura Hills, men’s youth soccer, silver
Marc Lebowitz, of Los Angeles, men’s masters soccer (over age 45), bronze
David Kohen, of Beverly Hills, men’s open soccer, gold
Kovi Konowiecki, of Long Beach, men’s open soccer, gold
Anna Manevich, of Encino, girls juniors soccer, gold
Charles Paris, of Venice, men’s open soccer, gold
Sean Pleskow, of Culver City, men’s youth soccer, silver
Willliam Pleskow, of Culver City, men’s open soccer, gold
Alex Simon, of Agoura Hills, men’s youth soccer, silver


Corey Angel, of Los Angeles, men’s masters softball, silver
Emily Bliss, of Northridge, women’s open softball, gold
Mitchel Brim, of Encino, men’s open softball, gold
Daniel Cosgrove, of Los Angeles, men’s masters softball, silver
Jeffrey Eisfelder, of Los Angeles, men’s masters softball, silver
Matthew Glotzer, of Encino, men’s masters softball, silver
Jason Gluckman, of Van Nuys, men’s open softball, gold
Madeline Kaplan, of Santa Monica, women’s open softball, gold
Michael Marble, of North Hollywood, men’s open softball, gold
Nathan Schoenbrun, of Calabasas, men’s open softball, gold
Kenneth Schwartz, of Manhattan Beach, men’s masters softball, silver
David Shpiro, of Northridge, men’s open softball, gold
Lawrence Silfen, of Marina del Rey, men’s masters softball, silver
Spencer Silverstein, of Calabasas, men’s open softball, gold
Martin Weiner, of Sherman Oaks, men’s open softball, gold
Daniel Winters, of Burbank, men’s open softball (coach), gold
Danielle Yudin, of Los Angeles, women’s open softball, gold


Hayley Hacker, of Pacific Palisades, open swimming, silver
Helene Hirsch, of North Hills, masters swimming, two gold, two silver, two bronze
Andrea Murez, of Venice, open swimming, five gold, two silver
Eyal Zuker, of Van Nuys, masters swimming, bronze


Oliver Friedman, of Los Angeles, juniors table tennis, bronze


Joshua Albert, of Manhattan Beach, open tennis, bronze
Gary Berner, of Oak Park, masters tennis, bronze
Hally Cohen, of Santa Monica, masters tennis, two bronze
Steven Davis, of Beverly Hills, masters tennis, bronze
Sivan Krems, of Thousand Oaks, juniors tennis, three bronze
Jeffrey Krieger, of Los Angeles, masters tennis, bronze
Amira Massi, of Los Angeles, open tennis, bronze
Dana Smith, of Los Angeles, masters tennis, two bronze
Scott Zimmerman, of Woodland Hills, masters tennis, bronze


Maya Aviezer, of Agoura Hills, open track and field, silver
Jessica Goodkin, of Los Angeles, open track and field, silver
Adam Markun, of Topanga, juniors track and field, bronze


Heather Shenkman, of Sherman Oaks, masters triathlon, bronze


Michelle Adams, of Beverly Hills, girls’ juniors volleyball, silver
Avia Cohen, of Beverly Hills, girls’ juniors volleyball, silver
Liat Hackman, of Los Angeles, girls’ juniors volleyball, silver


Derek Borisoff, of La Canada, open water polo (coach), gold
Devon Borisoff, of La Canada, open water polo, gold
Spencer Borisoff, of La Canada, open water polo, gold
Scott Churchman, of Los Angeles, open water polo, gold
Connor Levoff, of Santa Barbara, open water polo (coach), gold
William Klein, of Pasadena, open water polo, gold
Hannah Koper, of Santa Barbara, women’s open water polo, gold
James McNamara, of Encino, open water polo, gold
Natasha Schulman, of Los Angeles, open water polo, gold
Jeffrey Schwimer, of Beverly Hills, open water polo, gold

Maccabiah Games close in Jerusalem with Israel topping medal count

Israel handily won the most medals at the 19th Maccabiah Games, which came to a close in Jerusalem.

The games closing ceremony on Tuesday at Teddy Stadium featured some of Israel’s most popular pop music groups, such as Balkan Beat Box and Infected Mushroom.  Speakers urged the athletes to consider making Israel their permanent home.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Omri Casspi, the first Israeli to play in the National Basketball Association, presented the Most Outstanding Athlete award to American swimmers Andrea Murez, who won five gold medals and two silver, and Garrett Weber-Gale, a former Olympian who earned two gold medals.

Israel finished with 411 medals, including 150 gold, 135 silver and 123 bronze. The host country had 3,000 participating athletes.

The U.S., which had delegation of about 1,200, came in second with 196 medals, including 77 gold, 60 silver and 59 bronze. Canada, Australia and South Africa rounded out the top five countries with the highest medal counts.

Athletes from a record 78 countries participated in 42 sports, as well as Paralympic events over 10 days. Some 150 athletes who participated in the recent Olympic Games competed in the Maccabiah, the quadrennial event known as the Jewish Olympics.

Age just a number at Maccabiah Games

Being an alter-kacker — Yiddish for someone who’s an “old fart” — is relative. 

Many of the species, stereotypically, while away summer days at the beach cabana, sporting white shorts and knee-high dark-checkered socks, playing cards with the boys and grumbling about surgeries or high blood pressure medication.

Their opposites flash some speed on the tennis court, basketball court or in the swimming pool, such as the athletes competing in the 19th Maccabiah Games, which held its opening ceremonies here in Jerusalem on July 18.

The Maccabiah, like most athletic events, trends young. The nearly 1,200-member American delegation to what is sometimes called the “Jewish Olympics” includes only about 270 competing in the masters division, which is for those over age 35. In that group are about 20 Los Angeles-area athletes at least 50 years old competing in basketball, half-marathon, soccer, softball, squash, swimming, table tennis and tennis. 

A few other tennis and golf players are entered in the grand masters division for those over 65, while Jon Levin, 55, of Huntington Beach even earned a spot on the open golf team, where he is more than double the age of all but one teammate. The oldest L.A. competitor listed on the U.S. roster is a 78-year-old tennis player.

Like their younger cohort, the masters and grand masters athletes faced tough tryouts to earn roster sports, and, once selected, trained seriously. There were aches and pains and, in some cases, even special training with Israel in mind.

Because of their station in life, masters participants are required by Maccabi USA, the Philadelphia-based national federation, to subsidize the expenses of coaches and athletes throughout the American delegation. Aside from their own travel and lodging expenses and Maccabiah registration fees, each masters athlete pays $6,000 to Maccabi USA to cover such subsidies, said the federation’s chairman, Bob Spivak.

“The masters athlete is a high level of sportsman, but we need their financial help to make it operative,” Spivak said.

Some of the L.A. athletes already have strong ties to Israel. 

One — Steven Davis, a lawyer from Beverly Hills — bought a second home in north Tel Aviv, a product of his wife Julie Shuer’s infectious love for the country that rubbed off on him. The family’s bond with the Holy Land goes deeper, with son Benji and daughter Gaby having made aliyah; the latter recently completed her military service.

Davis, 60, a member of his University High School and Dartmouth College tennis teams, tried out for the Maccabiah at his wife’s urging. After being selected, Davis adopted a daily training routine that included riding an exercise bike and doing yoga. He also played tennis three to five times a week. When he strained his back in early June, Davis got massage therapy three times a week and pronounced himself good to go.

Davis said his approach heading into the Maccabiah had been simple: “trying not to get injured.”

“In this age group, if you’re not injured, you’re ahead of the game,” he said.

Steven Davis, a lawyer from Beverly Hills, said his approach has been “trying not to get injured.” Photo courtesy of Julie Shure

While Davis already had a foothold in Israel, it’s Gary Berner’s first visit here. Berner, a financial adviser from Oak Park, heard about the Maccabiah from a colleague, who happened to be organizing the tennis tryouts.

Because his wife’s and children’s schedules would prevent their attending the Games, Berner was inclined to wait until the next Maccabiah Games in 2017 — but his physical therapist set him straight.

“He really advocated that I go,” said Berner, 56. “He said, ‘You could wait, but [in the meantime] you could blow out your knee or you could die.’ ”

Berner hired a trainer early this year to design workouts. They included what Berner complained were “the most awful exercises,” including squats, skipping laterally with his hands behind him, jumping onto tables and stretching resistance bands. In the process, Berner dropped 20 pounds and lowered his cholesterol count 30 points without meaning to.

A propitious encounter also led Jonathan McHugh to the Maccabiah. Last September, McHugh ran into a friend, who told him that tennis tryouts would be held the next day. McHugh, 51, didn’t make the cut in the 50-54 age bracket but was offered a spot in the more challenging 45-49 grouping. He accepted.

In the 10 months since, McHugh, a Santa Monica film producer, did a great deal of aerobic cross-training and lost 15 pounds. He also scheduled singles and doubles matches in the midday sun to prepare for the intense Israeli summer, joined a United States Tennis Association league and played several tournaments.

Meanwhile, West Los Angeles resident Peter Lowy, 54, is in Israel competing in the Maccabiah, too — just not for the United States. He’s playing basketball for his native Australia. 

Lowy, co-chief executive officer of Westfield Group and chairman of TRIBE Media Corp., parent company of the Jewish Journal, previously competed for Australia in the 1997 Games, for the masters soccer team. 

His first game this year, on July 22, was — appropriately enough — against the United States. Australia lost, but, Lowy said, the game was “fun and really competitive,” made better by his facing a hometown player, Richard Farber, 52, of Pacific Palisades.  

Another local connection is the coach Lowy recruited for the Australian team — ex-Lakers guard Norm Nixon, with whom he’d played plenty of pickup ball in preparation for the Maccabiah.

“They come here to compete and have fun,” Nixon said of his players, although he could have been speaking of Maccabiah athletes — young and not-so-young — in general. “Guys who might not have made the Olympics have an opportunity to compete against guys from all over the world.”

Remembering AMIA at Maccabiah

American, Canadian, Australian, Russian and British athletes started filling out of a Jerusalem hotel lobby last Thursday to buses that would transport them to the opening ceremony of the 19th Maccabiah Games.

They paid little mind to the semicircle of older people forming around a table. A man lit two memorial candles and uttered a few words in Spanish. Within five minutes, the short ceremony had concluded.

Those in the semicircle — Argentine tennis players in the master’s division — were commemorating the anniversary of the July 18, 1993, terrorist bombing in Buenos Aires of the AMIA Jewish community center. The attack killed 85 people and destroyed the building. Israel has long fingered Iran as directing the attack.

Similar commemorations Thursday were held nearly everywhere Argentina’s Maccabiah athletes went. The AMIA victims were remembered during the Maccabiah’s opening ceremony, along with the 11 Israelis murdered at the 1972 Munich Olympics and the fallen soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces.

The ceremonies were “not only a remembrance,” but also “a [call] for justice,” said Elena Belinky, deputy assistant to the Argentinian delegation head. They acquired greater meaning, she said, because of the Argentina-Iran agreement in January to form a panel to investigate the bombing.

“We find this a ridiculous thing,” Belinky said, “to make an agreement with the aggressor, since [the Iranians] were responsible for the attack.”

At the Maccabiah, making mom, grandma and great-grandma proud

For a week before they started competing, many of the 1,100 U.S. athletes in this year’s Maccabiah Games toured Israel and learned about their Jewish heritage.

But when Yale Goldberg steps onto the tennis court this week, he’ll have another tradition to draw on. He’ll be representing the fourth generation of his family to compete in the games.

His parents played tennis and swam for the U.S. in 1997, the year a bridge collapsed during the games leading to the deaths of four athletes. His grandmother swam for Israel in 1953, the second games after Israel became a state. And his great-grandmother and great-grandfather played volleyball and sprinted, respectively, a generation earlier.

“They always wanted me to play in the Maccabiah Games,” Goldberg said of his parents. “I’m really excited to be here, to keep the tradition going. It feels like I should be here.”

His grandmother, Anita Deutsch, was the youngest athlete in the 1953 games, but being 12 years old didn’t stop her from taking silver in the 100m swim. She has memories of contestants from other countries taking out trinkets and kissing them for good luck before springing into the pool.

“At that stage in my life it was the high point of my life,” said Deutsch, who now lives in Manhattan. “There was camaraderie among the other kids who participated.”

Goldberg isn’t the only member of the American delegation with family history at the games. Maccabi USA General Chairman Jeffrey Bukantz, who’s leading this year’s delegation, spent his career chasing his father’s fencing achievements at the Maccabiah.

Bukantz’s father, Danny Bukantz, won fencing gold at the 1950 Maccabiah. In 1981, Jeffrey finished fourth. He cried, and resolved to do better next time. In 1985, he took bronze, cried again, and set his eyes on 1989.

During Jeffrey’s third Maccabiah, in 1989, he finally won gold.

“When I got the gold medal I flipped my mask in the air and jumped uncontrollably three times,” he said. “I was crying like a faucet.”

This time, they were tears of joy.

Australian Jews protest rehiring of men responsible for Maccabiah tragedy

Australian Jews criticized the Maccabi movement for continuing to employ officials responsible for the deaths of four Australians at the 1997 Maccabiah Games.

As this year’s games launched in Israel this week, Peter Wertheim, of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, said: “It is hard to believe that a Jewish organization would behave with such callous disregard for the value of human life.”

Yoram Eyal, the chairman of the organizing committee of the 1997 games, was convicted in 2000 of criminal negligence for his role in the disaster that claimed the lives of Warren Zines, Yetty Bennett, Greg Small and Elizabeth Sawicki.

He is now general manager of the Maccabiah village, the headquarters of Maccabi World Union and a nerve center of the so-called Jewish Olympics.

His colleague, Ronald Bakalarz, president of the union in 1997, resigned in 2000 following three years of pressure from Australia and an ultimatum by the Knesset inquiry into the incident. Today, he is chairman of the board of the Maccabiah village.

“It’s disgraceful but hardly surprising,” said Colin Elterman, whose daughter Sasha survived 28 brain operations after ingesting toxins at the Maccabiah. She and others fell into the heavily-polluted Yarkon River when a bridge collapsed.

“There is nothing that the organization will not do to protect its insiders,” Elterman said. “Sadly it’s endemic in their system.”

Maccabi Australia president Lisa Borowick suggested it was time to move on.

“We can’t stop someone from earning a living,” she said. “Why can’t they [the media] focus on honoring those who lost their lives as we did at the memorial service held earlier this week.”

Eyal said he had no “organizational involvement” in the Maccabiah, although he is responsible for all guests, whether or not they are connected to the Maccabiah.

“No day has passed since then without my profound regret and respect for the lives that were lost and for their families, and it will be so to the end of my days,” he said.

Australia has a team of 400-plus athletes at the games, which opened Thursday night in Jerusalem.

Aly Raisman, Amar’e Stoudemire to participate in upcoming Maccabiah Games

The 19th Maccabiah Games begin this week. Of the 8,000 athletes from around the world descending on Israel for what some call the “Jewish Olympics,” 1,100 will hail from America.

At the head of the pack is none other than American Jewish gymnast extraordinnaire, Aly Raisman. Another big-name American to look out for at the games, which run July 18-30, is Amar’e Stoudemire. The New York Knicks star surprised fans the first time he traveled to Israel to explore his Jewish roots.  This time the big surprise is that he isn’t representing the United States, but instead will be coaching the Canadian basketball team.

Want to watch but don’t know how? The lovely folks at Haaretz are here to help with this viewing guide. Thanks guys!

Maccabiah athletes may be no-shows due to visa dispute

The 19th Maccabiah Games could become the next victim of a strike by employees of Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

Athletes from 14 countries are unable to travel to Israel for the major sporting event because they need visas to enter the country.

Late last month, employees at Israeli embassies and consulates in the United States and around the world halted all consular services, including issuing visas. Exceptions are being made for medical emergencies, adoptions and transporting bodies for burial. The halt in consular services was the latest salvo in a 3-month-old labor dispute.

The countries of athletes unable to come to Israel without visas are: Armenia, Aruba, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia,Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Moldova, Nicaragua,Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

The 19th Maccabiah Games begin on July 18. More than 8,000 athletes are scheduled to participate in the two-week event.

Maccabi World Union CEO Eyal Tiberger has asked that the workers make an exception and process the paperwork to allow the athletes, who have been training for over two years and already have their tickets, to enter the country.

The workers’ union replied that it will provide services again “when the Finance Ministry decides to sit down for proper talks and negotiations.”

Visas for Jews in the Diaspora who are scheduled to make aliyah also have been held up.

In gear for Maccabiah Games

When Steve Pompan played on the U.S. tennis squad at the last Maccabiah Games in Israel, he was struck by the spectators’ tribal inclination to give advice to the players battling it out on the court.

“While I was playing, they kept telling me, ‘Hit the ball deeper,’ or ‘Use your backhand,’ ” recalled Pompan, a Los Angeles portfolio manager.

Pompan participated in the quadrennial Maccabiah Games, dubbed the “Jewish Olympics,” in 2009. He took along his wife and kids, and the sense of bonding in Israel with some 8,000 Jewish athletes from 60 countries blew him away.

“That was a life-enriching experience, a life-changing experience,” he enthused. “Definitely a bucket list type of deal.”

Pompan is now the volunteer West Coast director in charge of the regional tennis tryouts for the next Maccabiah Games, to be held July 16-30, 2013, in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa. Recently, he was at the MountainGate Country Club, encouraging some 60 male and female hopefuls — and competing himself.

For these particular tryouts in the Master’s division, competitors ranged generally from 35 to 64, but there was one notable exception.

She was Joyce Eisenberg-Keefer, 77, who, besides running the New Mart Building showrooms and supporting a long list of philanthropies, works out every morning for three hours on a treadmill and other fitness equipment.

“I can hold my own,” she avowed, and proved it by teaming up with Hally Cohen, 36, to qualify for the women’s doubles competition.

One of her likely venues in Israel will be the Ben and Joyce Eisenberg Israel Tennis Center in Jerusalem, endowed by her and her late husband.

Another hopeful was Arnie Friedman, competing in the 60-plus age category, who fondly recalled the 2005 Maccabiah Games, when he and his partner won a bronze medal in the men’s doubles.

“We wore our Maccabiah ID tags, and on the streets people kept stopping us, saying, ‘Thank you for coming.’ That really got me.”

Friedman, a radiologist for the Veterans Administration in Fresno, also remembered the emotional wallop of the opening and closing ceremonies, when the thousands of athletes from 60 countries sang “Hatikvah” in their different accents. 

Rick Lieberman, an actor/director and Westwood resident, learned tennis in his native Brooklyn and on his cousin’s court on Long Island. He expressed his respect for his fellow competitors in the 60-plus age group, who indeed showed the skill and stamina a player half their age might envy. 

Steve Soboroff, another Angeleno, is also busy preparing for the 2013 Maccabiah Games, though he is better known for his financial and organizing acumen than for his athletic prowess.


Bernie Wesson in action. Photo by David Herman

Soboroff is a mega real estate developer, the driving force behind the creation of the Staples Center, and he was a member of the Los Angeles organizing committee for the 1984 Olympics, which turned an anticipated sea of red ink into an unprecedented $225 million surplus.

So it offended his entrepreneurial instincts when he realized in early 2008 that the 18th Maccabiah Games, the following year, would have little in the way of international television coverage or bill-paying sponsors. That meant that there wouldn’t be enough money left to pay for the participation of Jewish athletes from smaller communities or poorer countries.

His first step was to form a Committee of 18 (for the 18th “Chai” Maccabiah Games), consisting of top names in the entertainment industry, media, marketing and advertising, who, in addition to lending their expertise and attending meetings, had the privilege of each contributing $50,000.

Building on this base, the Committee of 18, retaining its original name, has expanded this time around to more than 40 members and will lead a VIP delegation of more than 200 to attend the Maccabiah Games, meet privately with the Israeli prime minister and enjoy other perks.

During a recent evening barbecue at a Bel Air mansion, Soboroff and Eyal Tiberger, executive director of the 2013 Maccabiah Games and the Maccabi World Union, gave a preview of next year’s events.

For the first time, opening ceremonies will be held in Jerusalem and closing ceremonies in Haifa, and an expected 9,000 athletes from a record 70 countries, including first-timer Cuba, are expected to participate. 

Most of the action will be beamed to millions of potential viewers around the world via the JLTV channel, and Soboroff’s committee expects to raise around $2.2 million, which will underwrite the participation of some 300 athletes from poorer communities. 

Added to the competitive sports this year will be equestrian events and ice hockey, on top of the last Maccabiah Games’ additions of lawn bowling, cricket, 10-pin bowling and futsal (indoor soccer), as well as bridge and chess.

Athletes must be fed, of course, and at the 2009 Maccabiah Games participants consumed 450,000 kosher meals, 200,000 meals-to-go and 1.5 million quarts of mineral water.

But more important than statistics, logistics and medals are the bonds forged between the world’s Jewish athletes and communities, Tiberger said.

“Between 70 to 80 percent of the athletes will be on their first trip to Israel,” he said. “All participants tour the country extensively and take part in a three-day orientation of Jewish heritage and Israel.”

L.A. Teens Win More Than 70 Medals at Maccabi Games

Team Westside’s luggage was a little heavier on its return flight from the Maccabi Games in Houston last month. Athletes won a combined total of 18 medals in three sports at the annual competition, which took place Aug. 5-10.

The boys’ 16-and-under basketball team took home the gold medal while one of the two Team Westside boys’ 14-and-under squads took silver. Team Westside, which sent 65 athletes total, won five medals in tennis events and swam away with 11 medals in various individual and team swimming events. 

Although the majority of the week was spent in competition, all of the athletes at the Maccabi Games engaged in a community service day as part of “JCC Cares.” On Aug. 7, Team Westside athletes created art projects with inner-city youth in a partnership with a local YMCA.  

This year marked the 30th anniversary of the Maccabi Games, which is organized by the Jewish Community Center Association. 

Though the competition is only once a year, Westside JCC Assistant Executive Director Ronnel Conn said that the Team Westside athletes would engage in social and bonding activities throughout the year, including group Shabbat dinners.

“At Westside JCC, we stress that this is not just a one-week competition,” he said. “The Maccabi Games are a yearlong experience.”

Meanwhile, Team Milken, which participated at Maccabi Games in Rockland, N.Y., and in Memphis, Tenn., also claimed a hefty number of medals. In Memphis, Team Milken took home 60 medals, including 40 in track and field events and 16 in swimming. In Rockland, Team Milken recorded 32 more medals, with 25 in swimming.

After the closing of the Milken JCC in West Hills earlier this year, Team Milken competed in the 2012 Maccabi Games under the auspices of the Westside JCC. Team Milken sent 115 athletes to the two venues.

“We had a fantastic year,” said Philip Benditson, who chairs the Milken delegations. “Our athletes had a fantastic time, and we’re very blessed to be this athletically talented.”

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.”

Syracuse puts coach Bernie Fine on leave over abuse probe

A longtime assistant basketball coach at Syracuse University was put on administrative leave on Thursday after police reopened an investigation of alleged inappropriate behavior with a ball boy.

Associate head basketball coach Bernie Fine, in his 35th season with Syracuse, was placed on leave “in light of the new allegations and the Syracuse City Police investigation,” said Peter Englot, associate vice president of public affairs at Syracuse. The allegations were first reported in 2005.

“The associate coach vehemently denied the allegations,” Kevin Quinn, senior vice president for public affairs at Syracuse, said in a statement.

Syracuse is the third major U.S. university to disclose an incident involving alleged abuse since the announcement on Nov. 5 that a longtime assistant football coach at Penn State was charged with sexually abusing eight boys over nearly 15 years.

The Penn State scandal shocked the university and led to the dismissal of legendary head football coach Joe Paterno.

A week after the Penn State disclosure, South Carolina military college The Citadel admitted that it had failed to take any action against a student accused of inappropriate behavior with children at a summer camp. The man has since been arrested and charged with sexually abusing boys.

Fine’s longtime boss, Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim, has coached Syracuse for 34 years, including a national championship in 2003.

“I have known Bernie Fine for more than 40 years. I have never seen or witnessed anything to suggest that he would (have) been involved in any of the activities alleged. Had I seen or suspected anything, I would have taken action. Bernie has my full support,” Boeheim said in a statement on Thursday night on the university’s website.

The alleged behavior by Fine took place in the 1980s and 1990s when the victim was a juvenile. Syracuse police said the victim was Bobby Davis, now 39, a former ball boy with the team, Englot said.

The new investigation comes six years after the university conducted its own probe after hearing of the allegations in 2005. After a four-month investigation, launched after local police declined to open their own probe, the university was unable to corroborate the claims.

Quinn said the university decided to investigate in 2005 after the victim told police that “he had been subjected to inappropriate contact” by Fine, but city police declined to investigate because the statute of limitations had expired.

“If any evidence or corroboration of the allegations had surfaced, we would have terminated the associate coach and reported it to the police immediately,” Quinn said.

According to his Wikipedia page, Fine coached the U.S. Maccabiah team in 1993, leading them to a silver medal.

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.

Tennessee reportedly sends Bruce Pearl packing

Bruce Pearl, who guided the University of Tennessee men’s basketball team to unprecedented success and the U.S. men’s squad to the Maccabiah Games gold medal, has been fired by the university, according to

Pearl, 51, was informed of his dismissal on Monday, sources said. The Knoxville school must reach a financial settlement with the coach and his assistants.

Pearl was charged with unethical conduct by the NCAA for misleading its investigators, which he acknowledged at a tearful news conference last September.

On an entry posted Monday on his Facebook page, Pearl said, “This is perhaps the saddest day in my life. I loved everything about Tennessee, Knoxville and the Volunteers. These were the best years of my life.”

Tennessee had docked his salary by $1.5 million over five years, banned him from off-campus recruiting for a year and terminated his contract in September. He was coaching without a contract. Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive tacked on an eight-game suspension from conference play.

Pearl, who is Jewish and a popular speaker at Jewish events, led Tennessee to an unprecedented six straight NCAA tournament appearances. Michigan defeated the Vols, 75-45, in the second round of this year’s tournament.

In six seasons, Pearl led the Volunteers to their first No. 1 ranking in 2008 and first NCAA tournament regional finals appearance, missing out on a trip to the 2010 Final Four by one point.

In July 2009, Pearl’s American squad upset defending gold medalist Israel, 95-86, in overtime in the Maccabiah Games gold-medal game. His son Steven was a member of the squad, as well as the University of Tennessee team.

“It’s coaching the U.S. team, representing the United States of America in an international competition and coaching the game of basketball, the game I love, and doing it in my Jewish homeland,” he told JTA prior to the tournament. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Maccabiah opening ceremony set

Participants in the opening ceremony of the 18th Maccabiah Games will not wear solidarity ribbons for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.

Monday night’s ceremony is being held a day after the start of sports competitions throughout Israel.

Activists working for the release of Shalit had tried at the last minute to have every Maccabiah participant wear a yellow ribbon at the ceremony in a call for Shalit’s release. The large American and British delegations had agreed to the idea, but the organizing committee decided not to sign on to the initiative, according to Ha’aretz.

“With all due respect, we can’t take a ceremony that we’ve worked on for the past two weeks and change it to fit what the Shalit forum wants,” Yaron Michaeli, spokesman for the Maccabiah’s organizing committee, told Ha’aretz. He said Shalit would be mentioned in the opening address.

Participants may wear the ribbons on their own.

Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Post reported Monday that only half of Israel’s 2,000-member team would march in the opening ceremony due to space constraints.

Local donors kick in $125K to send Jewish Indian cricketeers to Maccabiah

In response to the terrorist attack on Mumbai and its Chabad Center, three Los Angeles businesmen have put up $125,000 to enable a Jewish cricket team from India to participate in the 18th Maccabiah Games in Israel.

“This is our answer to the murderous rampage aginst Indian and Israeli citizens,” said Steve Soboroff, founder of the Committee of 18 to support and publicize the 18th Maccabiah, opening July 13, 2009.

Complete coverage of Mumbai Chabad attackIn addition to the cricket team, consisting mainly of 18-year old players, Indian athletes will also compete in badminton and table tennis.

The Committee consists of 18 Los Angeles leaders in the entertainment, media, marketing and business fields.

Beny Alagem, Larry Green and Martin Moskowitz, three members of the Committee, immediately agreed to underwrite the $125,000 donation, Soboroff said.

Without this gift, the 25 competitors from India would not have been able to participate in the Maccabiah, according to Eyal Tiberger, director general of the World Maccabiah Games.

Tiberger expects some 10,000 athletes from 60 countries to take part in the 10-day event.

For the first time, tens of millions of American television viewers will be able to watch the Maccabiah through JLTV (Jewish Life Television), which will feed its coverage to Comcast, Time-Warner and Direct TV

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Nation & World Briefs

London, Tel Aviv Bombing Link

One of the terrorists in the July 7 London transit-system bombings reportedly knew one of the bombers in a 2003 Tel Aviv terrorist attack. Mohammed Siddique Khan knew Omar Sharif, one of the two British terrorists to attack Mike’s Place, a Tel Aviv restaurant, in April 2003, Britain’s Independent newspaper reported. Khan, 30, one of the four suicide bombers whose attacks on London’s transport system killed more than 50 people and injured more than 700, was friendly with Sharif.

In February 2003, Khan visited Israel for one day, leading to speculation that he may have been on a reconnaissance mission for the Mike’s Place attack. Sharif’s accomplice, Asif Hanif, blew himself up, killing three people; Sharif failed to detonate his explosive belt in the attack. He escaped only to be found dead in the sea some days later.

Sharon’s Son Indicted

The son of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was indicted on charges of illegally financing his father’s Likud Party primary campaign. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz filed charges against Omri Sharon on Tuesday, prompting the Likud lawmaker to forfeit his parliamentary immunity.

According to media reports, Mazuz and Omri Sharon had discussed a possible plea bargain, but the negotiations collapsed when the latter demanded that he serve no jail time.

Mazuz cleared the prime minister and two senior advisers in connection with the case in February. Omri Sharon, who also is charged with fraud, breach of trust and perjury, could be sentenced up to seven years in prison, but media reports said any prison time would be much less, probably months.

Pentagon Sells to Israel

The Pentagon plans to sell Israel’s air force up to $600 million of equipment and maintenance. The contract would cover service for Israel’s F-15 and F-16A/B fighter jets for 10 years, the Pentagon said last Friday.

“This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the U.S. by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that has been, and continues to be, an important force for economic progress in the Middle East,” the Pentagon said in a notice to Congress.

Congress has 30 days to block the sale, but is unlikely to do so.

Ambassador to Israel Named

The White House named Richard Jones as U.S. ambassador to Israel. Jones, a former ambassador to Kuwait and Lebanon, was named to the post Monday. He most recently served as a senior adviser and policy coordinator on Iraq at the State Department. Jones replaces Daniel Kurtzer, who has served in the post for four years.

Group Calls for Niger Aid

The American Jewish Congress-Council for World Jewry called on the international community to urgently address the prospect of mass starvation in Niger. Monday’s call comes after the inaugural meeting last week of the group’s Consultative Committee on Africa-Jewish Relations at the United Nations. In a statement, the AJCongress-Council for World Jewry noted 2.5 million people, including 800,000 children are in dire need of emergency food aid.

Chabad Founder’s Son Converted Out?

Recently discovered documents in Belarus appear to confirm rumors that the son of Chabad’s founder converted to Catholicism. According to a recent Ha’aretz report, Hebrew University Professor Shaul Stempfer discovered documents in the national historical archives in Minsk that chronicle the conversion of Moshe Zalmanovitch, the youngest son of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, about 180 years ago. The files, which once belonged to the Catholic Church, contain a letter written by Moshe in 1820 in which he professes his Roman Catholic faith. According to the documents, Moshe was mentally unstable, and after a stint as adviser to the czar, ended his life in a mental hospital in St. Petersburg. Chabad historian Yosef Kaminetzky responded to the Ha’aretz story by saying the Minsk documents are forgeries, and Catholic authorities in Minsk tried to convert Zalmanovitch against his will.

Israelis Triumph at Maccabiah

Israeli athletes won the largest number of medals at the 17th Maccabiah Games. Athletes representing the Jewish state won 381 medals, including 146 golds, in the open competition at the games, which ended July 21. The U.S. team finished second with 156 medals. Russia finished third with 48 medals, and Canada fourth with 28.

Briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.


Maccabiah Games Come to a Close

The 16th Maccabiah Games ended with a lot of fanfare, flaming batons and fireworks — and a sigh of relief from the organizers that the much-anticipated event had ended safely and without mishap.

There were hundreds of police officers and soldiers surrounding the outdoor Jerusalem space where the event was held. In addition, X-ray scanners and metal detectors checked bags and bodies, making the attendees feel more secure.

This was the first time the Maccabiah opening and closing ceremonies were held in Jerusalem. Last week’s opening event was at Teddy Stadium, in the city’s southern corner; the closing party was in the cavity of Sultan’s Pool, a Herodian reservoir that looks up at the ancient walls of the Old City.

One delegation head said that he would breathe more easily once his athletes were home safe and sound, but that he was glad the participants had attended this year’s games.

"This was about solidarity, showing a deep connection to the State of Israel," said Richard Feldman, the delegation head for Great Britain, who brought 160 athletes instead of the usual 350 British delegates.

Indeed, at the closing ceremony, "Am Echad," (or One Nation) and "We Are One" were both printed on the T-shirts worn by American athletes.

"This year’s Maccabiah made a statement, and the athletes should feel proud," said Bob Spivack, president of the Philadelphia-based Maccabiah USA. "It’s about more than sports."

Israel blew away the rest of the field in the medal race, winning 96 gold, 74 silver and 74 bronze medals. The U.S. team came in second, with 21 gold, 23 silver and 30 bronze medals.

Israeli athletes, who were used to the security situation in their native land, constituted the largest team; its member athletes were considered among the most skilled and competitive.

With this year’s competition safely behind them, some began setting their sights to the future. "We need to start planning now for the next games in four years," said Mark Berman, a coach for the Israeli softball team. "My view is that this continues to serve a purpose. It’s bonding for Jewish athletes, and I’m encouraged that so many individuals made a statement and showed up for the Maccabiah."

It didn’t seem as if the athletes were ready to leave after Monday night’s closing ceremony. They stamped their feet, waved colored flashlights and hooted their way through the show, which included belly dancers, the Israel Defense Force choir performing disco numbers, and a helicopter bearing the Maccabiah flame from Teddy Stadium.

In return, the athletes were thanked and applauded for their decision to compete.

"We’re grateful to the athletes, because without them, we wouldn’t have had the Maccabiah at all," said Oudi Recanati, chairman of the Maccabi World Union and one of the sponsors of the 16th Games, which were shortened to seven days from the usual 10.

Despite the low turnout and some unusual competitions — in some events every team won a medal, because there were only three teams — it seemed that the significance of this year’s games was that they took place at all during such a tense and trying time for Israel.

"The very fact that the 16th Maccabiah was held, against all odds, is a tribute to the Jewish people of the world," Recanati said.

Let the Games Begin

Greg Spector, a strapping, 6-foot-4-inch volleyball player from Los Angeles, tends to be philosophical when discussing why he decided to participate in this year’s Maccabiah Games.

"The Maccabiah makes a statement," said Spector, 31, sporting a yellow visor and green satin yarmulke for lunch at Jerusalem’s Haas Promenade. "It’s about representing a world of Jews and showing what it is to be Jewish."

During the quadrennial Maccabiah Games — known as the Jewish Olympics — there are usually 5,000 participants competing for 10 days.

But this year, because of ongoing Israeli-Palestinian violence, only some 2,000 athletes from 40 countries are expected to attend the 16th Games, which have been shortened to seven days and officially begin July 16.

North America usually sends the largest contingent of competitors, with 600 of the continent’s best Jewish athletes taking part. This year, there will be about 380 athletes coming from North America.

A recent U.S.-mediated cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian Authority played a major role in getting the players here this year, said Bob Spivack, president of the Philadelphia-based Maccabi USA.

Most of the participants are not professional athletes. Some 75 members of the U.S. team are under 17 and play on their school varsity teams. The swimmers are mostly college-age, while the rugby players are generally in their late twenties, said Barbara Lissy, one of the Maccabiah coordinators.

Many of the players present said they had little hesitation when deciding whether to attend. In fact, Seth Baron, a swimming coach from Atlanta, found himself becoming a proponent for this year’s Games.

"I’ve been to the Games three times, so I didn’t have to come again," Baron pointed out. "I think some of my swimmers jumped on board because of that."

Now that they have arrived, the U.S. athletes are happy about being in Israel.

During yesterday’s 6:30 a.m. volleyball practice, one team member couldn’t stop grinning, said Spector, a graduate student in classroom education who is also co-coaching the women’s team.

Why the smile?

"I’m playing volleyball in Israel," said his teammate. "What could be better than that?"

Well, winning — although there may well be a slim chance of that happening.

The Israeli team has consistently won the gold medal in volleyball, as well as in swimming.

It’s the camaraderie that brings athletes back time after time, Spector said.

It’s also an opportunity to compete against and get to know other Jewish athletes from around the world, even when they have to use sign language to understand one another, he said.

"We had such a good time playing Turkey in volleyball last year, and then hanging out with them afterward in the lobby," he said.

"Or look at the rugby players. They go out and break noses, rip off ears, but then they go to the pub and hang out. It’s just a lot of fun."

The Games Must Go On

After weeks of debate, organizers of Israel’s 16th Maccabiah Games announced last Friday that the Olympics-style sporting competition will open as planned July 16 in Jerusalem, despite widespread individual cancellations due to fears of violence.

Officials at the Maccabi World Union, the international organization for the Maccabiah Games, made their announcement just one day after the U.S. delegation decided to participate. The United States has consistently sent the largest Diaspora delegation to the games.

“After the terrorist attack [that killed 20 in Tel Aviv on June 1], we were, of course, uncomfortable with the situation and asked Israel to postpone,” said Bob Spivak, president of Maccabi USA/Sports for Israel. But, he said, following a meeting in Israel of Maccabi officials, organizers returned to their home countries and spent a week reassessing their plans to participate, consulting with athletes and their families as well as Israeli officials.

“The cease-fire did make a difference,” Spivak said, “and activities have been changed and planned with a major security presence.” Rather than allowing athletes to partake of Israel’s nightlife and other attractions on their own, Maccabiah programs will include barbecues and a discotheque on-site. A four-day cultural program which includes tour stops at sites such as Masada and the Western Wall will continue as planned, before the games begin.

“We’re concerned with the quality of the experience, not just the numbers in the various delegations,” Spivak said, adding that the majority of calls and e-mails from participants were positive about attending.

Still, the number of athletes heading to Israel for the 16th Maccabiah Games is significantly reduced from the more than 5,600 who had registered by early April. Within a week after the June 1 attack, about 2,500, or less than half of the athletes, still planned to participate.

Maccabi World Union President Jeanne Futeran openly worried that a Maccabiah with so few participants would be an embarrassment. The American delegation numbered around 250 at press time, down from a high of 670, but Maccabi USA officials were still awaiting final responses from half of those who had canceled.

One local athlete who will definitely attend the games is Lenny Krayzelberg, a triple gold medalist at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Last year, Krayzelberg said he would skip the world championships in Japan to compete at the Maccabiah. Krayzelberg competed in the North American Maccabi Youth Games before he was an Olympic champion, in 1990, and again in 1992. But as late as last Friday, he was still mulling over his security concerns for the international games. “I’m still looking forward to it, but I’m being cautious,” he said.

After consulting with Maccabiah officials and friends in Israel throughout the weekend, Krayzelberg felt that his fears had been adequately addressed. “They assured me that security had been taken care of, and I really want to go,” he said Monday. “There’s no other games like it. There’s the Olympics, and the ‘Jewish Olympics,’ the Maccabiah. These games are my heritage. I’m not going there to prove anything, I’m going for the experience of competing in Israel. I think I’m going to have a great time.”