This December, a group of teens, preteens, and young adults from northern New Jersey will travel to Chile to demonstrate their skill in a wide range of sports, from chess to beach volleyball.
Under the rubric of the 2015 Pan American Maccabi Games — sponsored this year by the Latin American Maccabi Confederation — the athletes will gather in Santiago to compete with others their age in the sports of their choice.
Maccabi USA — the official sponsor of the United States Team to the World Maccabiah Games in Israel and other Maccabi competitions around the world — brings American Jewish youth together with young Jews from other countries in programs “that embody the Maccabi ideals of Jewish continuity, Zionism, and excellence in sport.”
According to its website, the group “develop[s], promote[s] and support[s] international, national, and regional athletic-based activities and facilities… [striving] to provide Jewish athletes the world over the opportunity to share their heritage and customs in competitive athletic settings.”
This year’s Pan American Maccabi Games will take place from December 26, 2015, to January 5, 2016. Matthew Sarna of Fair Lawn will be among the competitors. A graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, the 23-year-old now is entering his second year at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law in Baltimore.
Mr. Sarna, who plays rugby, says his coach at Maryland “had been talking to me about playing in the Maccabi Games for some time. Several Maryland players have played in the past and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. This will be my first time participating in the Maccabi Games, and I could not be more excited.”
The law student, who will play Rugby 7s and Rugby 15s at the games — the number indicates how many will play on each side — said that he was not exposed to rugby until he went to university. “I was recruited by several friends of friends and was hooked instantly. I have now been playing for almost 6 years.”
The highlights of his sports career so far have been “playing in nationals twice, and also playing in the Collegiate Rugby 7s Championship in 2012 and 2014. In 2014, my team and I won the plate championship at the CRCs. “
Mr. Sarna — who also enjoys cooking, learning new languages, listening to rock music, and, newly, boxing — said he is almost as excited about traveling to Chile as he is about competing in the games.
“I studied abroad in Rome during my junior year at Maryland and loved the opportunity to travel around Europe and experience the different cultures,” he said. “This will be my first time in South America. So, first and foremost, I am eager to soak in the Chilean lifestyle. Further, it brings me great pride to have the opportunity to meet Jewish athletes from around the world. Luckily, my family will be joining me during this experience.”
Mr. Sarna said the Maccabi Games are not just important, “they are essential. The Maccabi Games are a celebration of Judaism in a language that everyone in the world can understand, athletic competition. From a religious perspective, I believe that this competition will energize my faith and raise my understanding of Judaism to a higher level. Equally as important to me is the opportunity to represent my country. It has been a lifelong dream of mine to put on the red, white, and blue and play for the United States of America in any level of competition. As the great Herb Brooks once said to the 1980 USA Olympic hockey team, ‘The name on the front is a hell of a lot more important than the one on the back!’
“I have dreamed of the day when this phrase could truly apply to my life. I am beyond thankful to represent both my religion and my country at the same time.”
Fifteen-year-old Jake Samieske, an incoming junior at Wayne Hills High School, said he became involved in his sport, soccer, because of his grandfather.”
“My grandfather had been following the games for a couple of years and knew the passion I had for soccer. [He] encouraged me to try and get on the team. The Pan- American games will be the first time I’ve done anything with the Maccabi games.”
Jake said that he has played soccer “ever since I can remember. I have done plenty of different types of organized contests, including the Olympic Development Program National Camp in Florida, as well as playing varsity soccer for my high school team, and for my club team as well.”
He is “extremely excited” about the upcoming games and thinks it will be “the experience of a lifetime.”
“I love to travel, and I think it will be awesome to meet people from all over the world.” And, he said, “I think the Maccabi games are important because it’s a great opportunity for the players not just to have a good time but to find their Jewish identity through sports.”
Daniel Wisotsky of Englewood will be among the basketball players. The 16-year-old, who will be a junior at SAR high school in Riverdale, N.Y., “was asked to play on the 16U national basketball team by the coach, based on word of mouth and possibly a video of games this season,” said his father, Dr. Burton Wisotsky. “Daniel played on the Tenafly JCC team in the Maccabiah games in Orange County, California, as a 14U. The team finished fourth out of 24 teams.
Daniel is in Israel for the summer and could not reply directly, but according to his father, the young athlete has played organized basketball since he was 7. He was on his school’s teams as played for the Amateur Athletic Union’s travel basketball teams as well.
Daniel enjoys all sports and has played competitive baseball, softball, and ice hockey. Still, his father said, he enjoys basketball the most and plays several times a week throughout the year, working hard to improve his skills.
Dr. Wisotsky said Daniel is very excited about traveling to Chile for the games.
“He is looking forward to meeting new people and competing on an international level,” he said. “He is excited about meeting other Jews from around the world, especially those with similar sports interests. His two brothers, parents, and grandfather will join him for part of the trip. They are excited as well.”
According to Dr. Wisotsky, the Maccabi games “offer a unique opportunity to meet Jews from all over the country and world and to socialize and compete with them in a unique atmosphere. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and he is grateful to have the chance to participate.”
Eden Glick, a 12-year-old athlete from Closter, is a student at Tenakill Middle School. This will be her first time at the games.
“My mom knew about it,” she said.
Eden, who will compete in women’s junior gymnastics, said she started gymnastics in “Mommy and Me” classes when she was two years old and began to compete when she was eight. She is now training for level 9 at Galaxy Gymnastics in Orangeburg, N.Y.
Eden is looking forward to the upcoming games.
“I am excited because I have never been outside of the country,” she said. “I am looking forward to meeting athletes from other countries, and it’s something that I would never get a chance to do.”
In addition, she is eagerly anticipating the chance to “compete with other Jewish athletes that have the same goals as me.”
Does she have other hobbies?
“Between studying for my upcoming bat mitzvah and competing in gymnastics, there isn’t that much time left for hobbies, but I like to spend time with my family and play with my greyhound, Lady,” she said.
According to Eden’s mom, Lily Glick, her daughter has no fear of heights. Neither, apparently, does Eden’s grandfather, Shlomo Lev of Cresskill. As we wrote in a Jewish Standard cover story, “Scheherazade in Cresskill,” Eden’s wiry, muscular grandfather was in Israel’s early army, the Palmach, as well as its early navy, the Palyam. His physicality and athleticism were apparent at 87. According to her mother, Eden’s physicality and athleticism mirror his.
“She also got a bit of his adven-
turousness,” Ms. Glick said, adding that her father was a marathon runner, who completed 13 marathons and many half-marathons.
Ms. Glick herself was a gymnast in high school, “but I can’t even compare what she does to what I did,” she said.
As for Eden’s free time, “she is extremely diligent about her work,” her mother said. “She is an honors student, and when she comes home right after school she knows what she has to get done. Training is 5:30 to 9 every night during the school year. During the summer, it is in the morning, and sometimes she goes back in the evening. It’s hard core.”
As for the upcoming games, “We are excited and will be going with her. We’ll make it a family adventure.”