Two weeks ago, 12 players from different backgrounds and different schools came together in the Heshel gym, all superstars in their own right. It was up to the coaches to mold them into a team that would represent the USA in the Pan American Maccabi games in Chile. Their goal was not only to have fun and meet new friends, but to win the gold medal as well. The roster consisted of mostly Tri-State talent, coached by Evan Pickman and Yavneh’s own Ushie Selevan.
Team USA under 18 began competition with an 80-43 over Chile. Although Team USA did not shoot well, all 12 players saw time (all scored), played good “D” and very unselfish ball. The team was led by Gabriel Leifer’s 21 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and Daniel Tzion’s 20 points. The team’s second game ended in a 101-44 victory. Again, all 12 players scored and 5 were in double figures. Jack Chehebar, Abe Perlow, Gabriel Leifer and Ben Rabinowitz, all from MYHS teams and Daniel Tzion from Yula, led the way.
The next matchup was against a very talented team from Argentina, the 18 under USA Maccabi team beat Argentina 70-69 in double overtime. USA had an 11-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but three 3’s gave Argentina a lead. Two foul shots by Zack Jacobs with no time on the clock sent the game into overtime. The US blew a 3-point lead in the 1st OT and found itself down three with under a minute to play in the 2nd. In a storybook finish, Michael Gatan came up with a loose rebound and fed Gabriel Leifer, who hit Daniel Tzion for a baseline jumper with 11 seconds to go. Great defense by Bergen County’s own Tai Gerszberg helped keep USA in the game, despite shooting 19 for 41 from the foul line. Jacobs and Leifer had 12 points, Jeremy Spiera had 11 on three big 3’s in the second half, and Abe Perlow had 11 points and 10 rebounds despite fouling out. Tzion, who was in foul trouble the whole game, had 9.
Team USA handled all opponents superbly, and in a fitting end to a terrific week, matched up with Team Argentenia for the gold medal. In their second meeting, the USA team held Argentina to 32 points in double overtime, earning USA the Gold Medal at the 13th Pan American Maccabi Games in Santiago, Chile with a final score of 68-32. It was a great effort mixing up different looks defensively throughout. Gabriel Leifer of DRS led the way with 19 points, 11 rebounds and 3 assists. Abe Perlow of HAFTR came off the bench with a physical inside presence and had 13 points, 7 rebounds (5 offensive). Eight other players contributed to the score.
Before heading home, the 18u team defeated the 16u squad in a very competitive game which helped prepare the 16u team for their eventual gold medal victory.
But the trip to Chile was just not about basketball…
To paraphrase a Maccabi athlete, “it is difficult to explain the emotions walking into the opening ceremony. Here we were, surrounded by 400+ Jews from the United States, marching into a stadium filled with thousands of Jews from dozens of countries. Everyone was smiling, trading gear and enjoying each other’s company. It did not matter we did not speak Spanish, we immediately felt a real connection with our South American counterparts and that was based on our shared Jewish faith.”
As part of the trip, the team assisted RESHET (a local non-profit organization addressing Chile’s Jewish poor and needy) by packing boxes of essential goods and foods for needy families. The team also traveled to one of Chile’s poorest neighborhoods, where the boys played soccer and basketball and interacted with the children. The US team took a tour of the community, where the Chilean Jewish community had set up a vision and dental clinic to assist the residents. It was quite moving and eye opening for all of us.
By Coaches Evan Pickman and Ushie Selevan