April 18, 2024
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A Special Trip to the Pan Am Maccabi Games in Argentina

The championship winning US Maccabi 16U Boys basketball team. The author is pictured here in the top row, second from right, next to his coach, Danny Herz.

Recently I was privileged to spend a little bit more than a week in Argentina for the Pan American Maccabi Games, where I was representing the U.S. playing basketball for the 16U team. Originally, I was very nervous. Up until the day before I left I was still under the impression that the flight to Buenos Aires was only five hours, but when I found out it was close to 11 hours, I panicked a bit and seriously contemplated whether or not I should step on the plane. But after thinking long and hard, I decided that I just had to push through and I couldn’t let the really long plane ride faze me.

When I first saw the team, I was a little skeptical because not everyone on the team came from the same background as I, nor had I even met most of them. Our team was a mix of guys from all over the country with all different types of Jewish affiliations and observance levels. After getting to meet everyone and talking to all the guys on the team, I realized that it wasn’t going to be an issue at all. If anything, it made my experience much more enjoyable to become friends with people from all types of backgrounds and places. We quickly began practicing together and getting to know each other a lot better.

Whenever we needed to get a minyan together, we would often ask the other guys on the team. No matter what they were doing, they were always into being a part of a minyan and learning more about Judaism. This showed me firshand that so many Jews, regardless of their observance levels, want to learn more and understand their Judaism more.

It was a great experience overall, but there were a few moments that stick out more than others. For example, the second night we were there, there was an opening ceremony in which the President of Argentina Javier Millei spoke and each team from each country walked out together in a massive stadium with tons of people who came to watch.

I’m not sure about everyone else, but before I went I really did not know that there were Jews in so many countries. One country that really stuck out to me was Zimbabwe. There was one Jewish athlete there who grew up in Zimbabwe and I’m pretty sure he shared his life story with almost everyone there. Certainly, he shared it with me.

Throughout, there were so many opportunities to meet everyone, so whenever I had the chance I would introduce myself to people from different countries. This was slightly difficult due to the many different languages being spoken, but I was usually able to get their name and how their team has been playing. During Shabbat, there was a convention center where everyone went to eat the meals. When we went for seuda shelishit, one of the members from the Israeli delegation spoke to us about his experience on October 7. It turns out that he lives right outside of Gaza and had to fight against the terrorists and protect his family and town. Unfortunately, his brother in law was murdered by Hamas and he spoke to us about having emunah, and to not lose faith in hard times. It was very special to hear from someone who fought against the terrorists and whose family was attacked. It was very inspiring and a memory I will have for a long time.

I want to use this space to thank Maccabi U.S. 18U coach (and SAR varsity coach) Rafi Halpert, who helped all of the shomer Shabbat and kosher participants get the accommodations they needed, and for helping everything run smoothly and making sure that we were being taken care of. I want to also thank my coaches Danny Herz and Zak Elfenbein for being amazing coaches and for enabling our team to have the best time possible. Maccabi was certainly a very cool and fun experience, while also being a learning and an inspiring one too. Definitely a memory that will stick with me forever.

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