Since 1996, the yeshiva high school wrestling league has been providing athletes with the opportunity to compete not only with other yeshiva wrestlers but also with private and public school competitors. The focus on competing with non-yeshivas gives the wrestlers an opportunity to compete at the highest level, at times with state champions. It also gives the broader wrestling community the chance to view Jews in a new way. It’s an opportunity to show that young Jewish men know how to compete in a physical sport. Yeshiva wrestlers have presented themselves well even against opponents who’ve wrestled since they were 5 years old and who practice six times a week.
Wittenberg is the culmination of the season for the yeshiva wrestler and allows them to compete on a level playing field with other yeshiva wrestlers.
Because of Covid, Wittenberg was last held in February 2020, just as Covid was about to take hold. Only this year has there been a relative return to normal for wrestling programs. Wittenberg returns during Presidents Weekend starting on Friday, February 17 and completing on Sunday, February 19.
At least seven teams will be competing this year. This year’s tournament is a gift to the wrestlers who lost the opportunity to compete the last two years. It has always been the highlight of a challenging schedule and it is a true shame that wrestlers missed this opportunity in 2021 and 2022. Everyone is excited to return to competition this year.
Neil Ellman, the founder and force behind the yeshiva high school wrestling program as well as Wittenberg, has personally built up the program from its beginning and continues as its primary advocate. Every year he works at finding new teams to participate, providing them with coaches and equipment to help them get started. Many of the coaches are veterans from one of the yeshiva teams.
Kushner has been the team to beat the last few years. As first place champions 2018, 2019 and 2020, Kushner has proven that teams with proper coaching and motivation can rise to the top. Arnie Ginsberg, one of a few Kushner wrestlers who competed in 2020, returns as the Kushner captain and he is committed to taking home first place for himself and the team. Other standouts are Adam Strub, Sam Tennenberg and Rotem Usi.
Chicago’s Ida Crown (ICJA) has been a dominating force throughout the entire history of Wittenberg and with Doug Klein as its coach, that continues to be the case. With no yeshiva team nearby, Chicago is an example of a program that is focused on public and private school competitions. This is likely one of the many reasons why they are always so competitive. There are a number of possible finalists on the Ida Crown team: Ari and Gabriel Klein (106), Menachem Reed (113), and Millo Benmelech (170). ICJA has won first place eight times and hopes to make it nine this year.
SAR has taken first place four times behind ICJA and Frisch but is determined to increase that number. SAR is one of the newer teams and has a tradition of being coached by yeshiva high school former champions. Most wrestlers are young but coaches expect several veteran wrestlers to lead SAR to victory: Eliyahu Najman (220) and Zacharya Abraham (170).
Frisch, one of the early participants in the tournament, had a running battle with Ida Crown for the most championships, trading the title with them in the early years. Frisch is hoping to take the trophy home this year with the return of captains Kevin Sokal (135), Max Weinberger (189) and Ryan Friedman (140).
TABC is a team that has thrived in the last few years. The team is 19 strong and they expect to see several from their number in the finals: Ami Roseman (145), Avishai Benhamu (152) and Izzy Meth (132).
MTA was the champion in Wittenberg the first two years, and has consistently been competitive. Mendel Balashov (152) is expected to be in the finals.
It’s always exciting to welcome a new team to the tournament and this year Ramaz will have that distinction. First year participants are always at a disadvantage as it’s hard for a first year wrestler to compete with a four-year wrestler and the teams are generally smaller than the more mature teams. However, the beauty of wrestling is while it is a team sport, it’s also an individual sport. Ramaz expects three wrestlers to participate and each has an opportunity to shine on his own. Zac Jacobs (195) stands out as a senior who has spent his high school experience working to get a team at Ramaz. He deserves the credit as there has been an effort to get Ramaz to start a team for many years, and he was instrumental in finally making it happen. Despite his limited wrestling experience, he’s trained in Muay Thai and has performed well in matches throughout the year. His coach is hopeful that Zac will stand on the winners box on Sunday.
Be sure to come by to cheer on your team or favorite wrestlers on Friday and Sunday Feb 17-19.
There will also be a breakfast for alumni wrestlers and managers on Sunday at 9:30 a.m. Please RSVP to David Siegel if you are attending the breakfast, at [email protected].
By David Siegel