Competing in the Jewish Olympics

Competing in the Jewish Olympics

 2 Jersey athletes, in Israel for the Maccabiah Games, describe the emotion

From left, top row: Rick Weinberg, Emily Newman, Becca Polsky, Abby Binder, Perri Goldberg, Zach Weinberg, and Mark “Chip” Cherwony. Bottom row: Tatiana Wainer, Harriet Theise, Ellie Arbetman, and Gayle Edelstein.
From left, top row: Rick Weinberg, Emily Newman, Becca Polsky, Abby Binder, Perri Goldberg, Zach Weinberg, and Mark “Chip” Cherwony. Bottom row: Tatiana Wainer, Harriet Theise, Ellie Arbetman, and Gayle Edelstein.

Perri Goldberg was just 16 when she qualified to play volleyball in the Maccabiah World Games in Israel in 2009. Two years later, she competed in the Maccabiah Euro Games in Vienna.

Now she’s back in Israel as the oldest of eight players on the Maccabi USA open women’s volleyball team.

“All these years I’ve been trying to get back because it’s such an emotional, physical, and spiritual experience,” she said. “Being surrounded by about 1,000 Jewish athletes from the U.S. delegation and 10,000 from around the world is something I wanted to experience again.”

Ms. Goldberg — who grew up in Franklin Lakes and lives in Hoboken — said that everything finally fell into place this year. She was able to take time off from work — Regeneron Pharmaceuticals — to compete in the 21st Maccabiah, the third-largest sporting event in the world, after the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup.

Often referred to as the Jewish Olympics, the Maccabiah World Games is held every four years in Israel. Running this year from July 12 to 26, the Maccabiah is organized by the Maccabi World Union, an international Jewish sports organization with 400 clubs in 80 countries.

Ms. Goldberg’s teammate, Emily Newman, 18, a Clark University biology major and volleyball player from River Edge, previously competed in basketball at the JCC Maccabi Games for athletes between 14 and 17 years old.

From left, top row: Coach Zach Weinberg, Ellie Arbetman, Becca Polsky, Tatiana Wainer, Perri Goldberg, and Rick Weinberg. Bottom row: Emily Newman, Harriet Theise, Gayle Edelstein, and Abby Binder.

This is her first Maccabiah, her first time competing for Maccabi in volleyball, and her first time in Israel, Ms. Newman said. Her father, Eric Newman, was her coach for the JCC games, and he always encouraged her to try out for the Maccabiah in Israel.

“It didn’t work out last year because of covid,” Ms. Newman said. “Now it’s an even more amazing experience because I am old enough to play at the open level.” Her position is setter/right-side hitter.

Arriving on July 5, the team spent the first week in the Maccabi Israel Connect training and immersion camp, practicing twice a day and touring Israel in between. Athletic trainers, including Mark “Chip” Cherwony, have kept them in shape throughout these intense weeks.

Ms. Goldberg, an outside hitter, said, “The one thing about this experience that’s really unique and memorable is our coach, Zach Weinberg.” Mr. Weinberg is head beach volleyball coach and associate head indoor volleyball coach for Tennessee Tech, and in 2015 he led Maccabi USA’s women’s youth and open women’s beach volleyball teams to gold medals at the Pan American Maccabi Games in Chile.

“I’ve had many coaches in my athletic career in three sports at Indian Hills High School and at NYU, and we’ve only known Zach for about 10 days, but he’s one of the most amazing coaches regardless of sport I’ve ever had in my life,” Ms. Goldberg said.

Ms. Newman agreed. “Our coach cares about each of us, and on top of the volleyball experience he wants us to enjoy our time here,” she said. “It’s also his first time in Israel. His father, Rick, is our manager, and they make a great pair.”

Emily Newman and Perri Goldberg (Ellie Arbetman)

The team scored victories over Canada and Cuba, and lost to Israel, Ukraine, and Brazil.

Ms. Newman said that former Maccabiah competitors had told her that this would be the most amazing experience of her life.

“And I really do feel that way, being in a culture I’ve never experienced before, surrounded by Jewish athletes while playing a sport I love and meeting new people,” she said.

She hopes to try out for the team again in four years. “Meeting Perri and others who have done it multiple times, I see there’s no reason not to come back. I had no idea this was even something you could do and it’s really incredible.”

“I hope Emily has an opportunity to do this again,” Ms. Goldberg said. “The Maccabiah is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I’ve been fortunate to experience it multiple times. Not every athlete gets to do this, because you have to try out for the team. We are humbled and honored to represent Team USA, and I don’t take the opportunity lightly.”

She said that walking into Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium for the opening ceremony on July 14 “is something I will never forget. I still get chills thinking about it.”

Her father, Michael Goldberg, a past president of Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff, said he encourages parents of all athletically inclined teenagers at the synagogue to have their children try out to participate in the Maccabiah.

One standout from that congregation, Jack Zakim of Mahwah, was the youngest swimmer at the Maccabiah Games in 1961. He was 15 — and he won a gold medal there.

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