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Wednesday, October 05, 2022
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Just a few weeks ago 1,600 Jewish athletes gathered together in San Diego, California to participate in the 2022 JCC Maccabi Games hosted by the JCC Association of North America. The 40th anniversary of the games took place from July 31-Aug. 5 and saw kids between the ages of 12-16 compete in about 15 sporting events including basketball, baseball, swimming, dance, table tennis and even eSports.

Two local athletes, Frisch’s Zoey Levy and SAR’s Olivia “Livi” Solomon, both of Englewood, were among the players who made their way to San Diego to play basketball with the LA Valley delegation. Accompanied by assistant coach Shana Steinmetz of Hustle and Heart (whose daughter Daphna also played for the team), the players joined their teammates, some of whom they were meeting for the first time, when they arrived in California.

Before the games commenced, all athletes participated in “A Day of Caring,” which involved some type of chesed activity. LA Valley players painted ceramics that would be distributed to children in a local hospital.

At the opening ceremonies, all 1,600 athletes were brought together to the roaring cheers of thousands of family and friends. Following the singing of both the Israeli and United States national anthems, a torch lighting ceremony took place to officially kick off the games. This was followed by a moving tribute in honor of the victims of the Munich Olympic Massacre, just as it is done every year, even five decades after the tragedy took place.

Then, former NFL player turned WWE pro wrestler, Bill Goldberg, spoke to the crowd, telling them how, as a Jew from Oklahoma, he experienced antisemitism firsthand. He talked about his decision to use his very Jewish last name professionally as his way of sharing his pride in being Jewish within the world of pro wrestling and beyond. But above all, he said, the opportunity to participate in the opening ceremonies of the 2022 JCC Maccabi Games provided him with the proudest moment of his life.

Coached by YULA parent Steve Heumann, the LA Valley delegation headed into a jam-packed week to play a total of seven games over the course of five days. Although not all the girls knew each other coming in, they learned to play together as a team. Before one of the games, Chris Paul, NBA All-Star and point guard for the Phoenix Suns, met with the team to give the players a pep talk and some inspiration.

The team’s chemistry both on and off the court was extraordinary but that wasn’t the only reason this team was special—the LA Valley delegation girls basketball team was also the only shomer Shabbat girls team, serving as a role model of how to maintain religious observance while pursuing high level athletics.

LA Valley played in a 16 & Under division (16U) in a pool of 12 teams; the team was made up of seven players who were just 14 and 15 years old. Undeterred and unfazed by their age, the girls headed into their games with fierce determination and team chemistry that clearly rivaled any NBA and WNBA championship team.

In game 1 the team played Miami, defeating them 67-38, with Zoey putting up 18 points and Livi getting10 rebounds. In game 2, LA Valley beat Baltimore/Montreal 55-22, thanks, in part, to a combined 17 points and two steals courtesy of Livi and Zoey.

LA Valley outscored Nashville/Phoenix 81-33, with Livi scoring 13 points with 4 rebounds and 2 steals, while Zoey scored 10 points with 4 assists and 5 rebounds. In game 4, the team played the first of two games against the Dallas/Atlanta delegation. Livi had 4 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals. Zoey had 16 points, 3 steals, 2 blocks, 6 rebounds, and another 2 assists.

The team went on to defeat Dallas/Atlanta in the quarter finals 63-28. Livi scored 9 points, along with 13 rebounds, 1 steal and 2 assists. Zoey brought in 6 points, with 6 assists, 3 rebounds and 1 block.

LA Valley was undefeated heading into the semifinals, squaring off against Fort Lauderdale. Livi recorded 4 points, 6 rebounds and 4 steals. Zoey added 10 points and 3 rebounds. Despite the team’s best efforts, it took its first loss, 50-42.

Heading into the playoffs, the team’s fighting spirit carried them to its final win of the Maccabi games, where they edged out LA West, the only other undefeated team in the playoffs, by a score of 69-64. With 14 points, 2 steals and 14 rebounds courtesy of Livi, and another 8 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists from Zoey, the team earned a third place spot on the podium.

While the competition was fierce and the athleticism was top notch, the Maccabi games weren’t just about playing sports for LA Valley. Coach Steinmetz explained how the athletes enjoyed the rare opportunity to interact with athletes from around the country who had come together to participate in a number of different sports; an outing to SeaWorld provided a relaxed evening to get to know and enjoy a fun night out with the other teams.

“It was a nice Jewish Olympics,” said Alex Solomon, Livi’s father. As the unofficial official “live broadcaster” for LA Valley, the proud dad live streamed all the games so that family and friends were able to watch from all over. “It was an amazing experience,” he added.

Next year the games will be held in Israel and Florida. “We hope to go back next year,” Coach Steinmetz said, and you can bet her team will put on another stellar performance.

Below is the full team roster: 

Kira Heumann, LA
Michal Mahler, LA
Lily Yulovsky, Dallas
Daphna steinmetz, Woodmere 
Serena Olshin, NYC
Olivia Solomon, Englewood
Zoey Levy, Englewood
Coach-  Steven Heumann 
Assistant Coach - Shana Steinmetz 
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