Record-breaking Maccabiah Games
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Record-breaking Maccabiah Games

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The American competitors in action at the Maccabiah Games Maccabi USA

Athletes from five North Jersey towns were among the largest-ever USA delegation to the Maccabiah Games in Israel, which ran from July 18 to July 30.

And those athletes are bringing home some medals from the world’s largest Jewish sporting event.

“My team did really well in individuals and won the gold in the team event,” reported juniors fencing team member Inbar Tivon, a Fair Lawn High School student soon to turn 15.

In addition to her matches against Israeli fencers, Inbar said she enjoyed meeting other Jewish athletes from across the globe at the Maccabiah, which is held every four years in Israel and encompasses 42 individual and team sports.

This year’s 19th Maccabiah Games attracted 9,000 people from 78 countries – athletes, coaches, and other support staff. The USA delegation, including Olympic athletes such as gymnast Aly Raisman, numbered 1,117 athletes and about 100 support staff. That is reportedly the largest traveling athletic delegation in sporting history and more than twice the size of the USA Olympic delegation to London last summer.

Local participants included Judah Cohen of Englewood, who played on the men’s youth basketball team that won a gold medal; Fair Lawn fencers Inbar Tivon and Sarit Kapon; Paramus brothers Jake (junior gymnastics) and Max Brodarzon (youth soccer); Zachary Landzberg of Tenafly, junior fencing; and Jaime Zimmel of Hoboken, who played on the silver medal-winning men’s open ice-hockey team. Nancy G. Brown of Cresskill, a member of the women’s philanthropy executive board of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and a golfer, won a gold medal in her sport.

USA General Chairman Jeff Bukantz of Montville, who captained the 2008 USA Olympic fencing team and was the NBC commentator on fencing for the 2012 London Olympics, reported that the fencing team alone won 36 medals.

“While Maccabi USA’s mantra is that our success is not determined by how many medals we bring back home, but rather by how many kids we bring to Israel, let’s just say that there has been record-setting success on both fronts,” he said.

“For our athletes, this experience has been about more than standing on top of Masada or the medal podium,” Bukantz continued. “It has been about making friends from within the team, as well as from around the Diaspora. It has been about meeting our Israeli brothers and sisters and marveling at how this country, about the size of New Jersey and surrounded by less-than-friendly neighbors, can thrive like no other.”

Sixteen-year-old Jake Brodarzon earned bronze medals for vault and parallel bars, and also helped bring his team to an overall silver finish. He learned about the competition from a fellow student at ENA Paramus Gym.

Jake said there were three major highlights of his time in Israel. “My top one was the opening ceremonies, walking into Teddy Stadium [in Jerusalem] as thousands cheered on Team USA. It felt like I was at the Olympics. The second was during our first huddle before the competition, when I looked around at the crowd and we did our Team USA cheer. The third was when they put the bronze medal around my neck. It really was something. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.”

Maccabi USA President Ron Carner said that the Maccabiah Games have become increasingly high-level performance tests, while combining sportsmanship with Jewish pride and a love for Israel.

“Every four years, we can come to Israel and show how Jewish athletes of all ages are able to compete on world-class levels while experiencing the best Israel has to offer alongside fellow sportsmen and women from around the globe,” Carner said. In the intervening years, dozens of individual countries have their own competitions sponsored by the Maccabi World Union, a nonprofit, apolitical organization that uses sports and educational, social and cultural activities to stress the centrality of Israel in modern Jewish life.

“It cost close to $10 million to bring the USA team, and we subsidized the cost for each participant, meaning we were out there fundraising about $2.5 to $3 million,” he noted.

Carner said about 3,000 applicants vied for spots on Team USA, which covered 33 sports. Tryouts, held in 50 locations across the country, determined members of the team sports. For individual sports such as track or swimming, delegates were chosen based on their certified times.

Before the games began, all the open and junior athletes and support staff – about 900 people – toured the country as part of a mandatory six-day Israel Connect program.

“I was born here, and I got to see many places I hadn’t seen in many years,” Inbar said in a phone interview as the group toured Jaffa. “It’s really cool.”

Like many of the athletes, Inbar was accompanied to Israel by her family, and she gives a large portion of credit to her parents, Amit and Rina, and to her older brothers, fencers Yaniv and Liran, for her accomplishments. At home, Inbar was involved in Israel Scouts and attended Nitzanim Hebrew school in Fair Lawn.

Lisa and Doron Brodarzon also came to cheer on their two sons. Doron Brodarzon grew up in Israel, so the family has visited many times. However, according to Maccabiah Chairman Amir Peled, about 70 percent of the 2013 participants never had been to Israel before.

“I want them to have the best summer of their life – two weeks to experience, a lifetime to remember,” Peled said.

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