North Jersey athletes shine at Maccabiah – and one brings home the gold
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North Jersey athletes shine at Maccabiah – and one brings home the gold

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Flag-bearing participants at the opening ceremonies of the 18th Maccabiah Games show off the countries they represent as they march into Ramat Gan Stadium on July 13. Uri Lenz/FLASH90/JTA

Baseball was a godsend for Jordan and Lisa Alter’s sons when they moved to Israel from Fair Lawn four years ago.

“It was something they could excel in while dealing with adjustments in language and school,” said Lisa Alter. “They also made a very diverse group of friends that way.”

The sport turned out to be much more than a social outlet. During the 18th Maccabiah Games held July 13 to 23, Josh, 17, and Yoni, 15, were part of Team Israel’s baseball squad composed of the national team for ages 15 to 18.

Josh Alter was the opening-day pitcher, and both brothers played in the winning match against Team Canada on July 16. Even little brother Avi, 8, took part as a batboy.

Bringing together 7,000 Jewish athletes from about 65 nations to compete in 32 categories, this “Jewish Olympiad” included contestants from the Alters’ former hometown (ten-pin bowler Uri Peled and softball player Jaime Heller) as well as from other North Jersey municipalities. In all, there were some 900 members of Team USA.

David Frankl, 15, of Franklin Lakes won an all-around gold medal for six gymnastics events and bronze medals in pommel horse and parallel bars. The Montclair Kimberly Academy sophomore and national Level 10 performer hadn’t even heard of the Maccabiah until his mother told him about it in the spring.

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David Frankl shows his medalist style on the pommel horse.

“I thought it would be really cool,” David said. At the trials in Oklahoma City, he won the sixth of six spots on the U.S. junior boys gymnastics team. He was pleased to discover that the team’s coach would be Fair Lawn resident Genadi Shub, who has been working with him for the past five years. Andy and Dawn Frankl brought their family to Israel to cheer David on, joining 17 Israeli cousins.

“In the finals, we competed against 2008 U.S. champ David Sender and Israeli champion Alexander Shatilov, so it was a high-level competition,” said David.

Another Franklin Lakes athlete, 16-year-old Perri Goldberg, was part of the open women’s volleyball team. Sidelined by illness following a week of touring organized for participants before the games, she watched most of the matches from a hospital bed – where she was kept company by her parents, Michael and Leslie – and was hoping to be back in the competition during its final days.

“I’ve never been to Israel before, and I love it here,” Perri said. “Everything is historic and also beautiful.”

A volleyball player since seventh grade, Perri is going into her fourth year as a varsity team member at Indian Hills High School. She went to the Maccabiah tryouts in Teaneck with the encouragement of her father’s friend Jack Zakim, a fellow member of Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff, who twice competed in swimming at the games.

Zeke Scherl, a 2009 Tenafly High School graduate headed to Harvard University, won the No. 2 spot on the U.S. men’s open squash team. In a bit of déjà vu, Zeke had come to the Maccabiah Games in 1997 to watch his father, Michael, win two silver medals in master’s squash.

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David Frankl waves with his teammates after winning a gold medal.

“I’ve played with my dad since I was 8 or 9,” said Zeke, a nationally ranked player who trains with Liam Kenny at the Englewood Field Club. After the Maccabiah, he was heading to Chennai, India, for the world junior individual squash championship, where he is ranked third on the American team.

“There were a bunch of really strong teams at the Maccabiah – Israel, Australia, and Brazil especially,” said Zeke. “For me, the highlight was playing against Australia. I won my match 3-1.” The Americans lost twice to Israel, but captured the silver in the second match.

Other North Jersey athletes included Lindsay Bloom of River Vale and Allison Rubenstein of Ho-Ho-Kus, gymnastics; Scott Cohen of Wayne, soccer; Anne Feldman of Woodcliff Lake, basketball; Kevin Kuznetzow of Harrington Park, table tennis; Roey Shaked of Closter, track and field; and Jeffrey Himeles of Ridgewood, tennis.

Craig Levine of Jersey City coached the open men’s rugby team. Seth Roland of Tenafly coached open men’s soccer, while Laura and Hannah Roland served as the team’s managers. Philip Fishel of Teaneck and Jared Lans of River Vale managed the men’s masters soccer team.

Promoted as the world’s third largest sporting event, the Maccabiah has taken place in Israel every four years since 1953. This year marked the first time the games were televised outside of Israel, courtesy of JLTV. Smaller-scale versions of the event are held on off years in other countries, such as the JCC Maccabi Games hosted in Tenafly in 2003.

Back then, Josh and Yoni Alter were honing their skills by playing on the Yavneh Academy League and Fair Lawn All Sports Association. Since moving to Israel, they’ve traveled to competitions in Europe and the United States as part of the national team. Their father is involved in the Israel Baseball League, which operated for one season from 2007-2008 but is expected to start up again in 2010 or 2011.

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Yoni Alter is up at bat Jordan Alter

In Tuesday’s final baseball game, Israel won the bronze medal by defeating Mexico 5-4 in extra innings. Yoni Alter was the errorless first baseman, and had a key hit in the extra inning. Josh, the pitcher, gave up two runs over five innings, and had the walk-off game-winning hit.

“The Maccabiah invested serious money in baseball this year,” said Jordan Alter, citing a large donation by Los Angeles Dodgers CEO Jamie McCourt.

Andy Frankl was more impressed by the broader experience. “This trip has been like a blessing,” said David’s dad. “A hundred years ago our ancestors were living in tents here, working to build a nation, and now these kids are staying in beautiful hotels and competing in a world-class event. It’s incredibly special.”

The State of Israel announced special grants and scholarships for Maccabians who decide to make aliyah. “Don’t be satisfied with the saying ‘Next year in the rebuilt Jerusalem.’ Come now and realize the vision,” said Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver.

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