Come this December 28, about 500 U.S. Jewish athletes will march onto the track in the multi-purpose Estadio San Carlos de Apoquindo stadium in Santiago, Chile, for the opening ceremony of the 13th Pan American Maccabi games which will continue through January 4, 2016.
Sponsored by Maccabi USA which “builds Jewish pride through sports,” the U.S participants will be waving and holding up the stars and stripes flags, taking selfies and obviously having a good time during the march of nations. As anybody who has ever watched the Olympics or the Maccabiah in Israel knows, it is “spectaculaire” not only for the 3,000 Jewish athletes from throughout North and South America, but the 8,000 Santiago Jews cheering them on that first night.
And walking with members of Team USA will be 16-year-old, 6’3’’ Abie Rosow – a basketball small forward from Brooklyn’s Yeshiva of Flatbush.
“I’m proud to represent my country and at the same time make new friends among fellow Jews from different countries and cultural backgrounds,” he said. “The Maccabi basketball team coach saw my tapes and now I’m practicing and preparing for the games,” declared the 11th grader who was born and raised in Brooklyn.
And, adds another Brooklynite, Joseph Agrest, head coach of Yeshiva University’s Women’s Volleyball team and director of sports and fitness at JCH of Bensonhurst: “I believe that the Maccabi movement helps young Jews find their roots and Jewish connection. One of the best ways to realize one’s self, to show what one is made of, to better yourself every single day through practice, is through sports.”
Agrest, who for the last 14 years has been involved with working with the JCC Maccabi games in the U.S., will coach the Team USA women’s volleyball team, ages 18+. When I interviewed him, he was scouring the area to find women for the few empty spots left for the Pan Am games.
First in line in the Parade of Nations will be about 140 team members from Israel – followed alphabetically by teams from more than 20 countries, including large delegations from Argentina, Brazil and Mexico and smaller units from Cuba and Venezuela. As host, Chile, with its 600 participants, will position itself at the end of the parade. On hand will be foreign ambassadors to Chile as well as top Chilean officials watching the serious aspects of the ceremonies, and the hoopla that goes on as well.
For most it will be “the best moment of their Jewish athletic life,” for they will be participating in one of the three main Maccabi world events: The Maccabiah in Israel; the The European Maccabi games and the Pan American Maccabi games.
“The Pan American Maccabi games,” says 41-year-old Santiago lawyer Alvaro Rosenblut and chairman of the organizing committee, “will be the the biggest Jewish-Zionist event outside Israel.” Just this past summer, the European Maccabi games, held in Berlin, drew about 2,100 Jewish athletes from 36 countries.
The “crown jewel” of all the games, the Maccabiah in Israel, included 7,000 athletes in 2013 (about 2,000 Israeli athletes in 112 teams from over 50 countries), making it the third largest sports event in the world, according to Ron Carner, of Bridgehamton, Long Island, who, as president of Maccabi USA for the last six years, was responsible for bring 1,102 participants from the U.S. to make it the largest sports delegation ever sent abroad.
I traveled to Santiago a while back. The city boasts about four million residents, including about 15,000 Jews. While I was there I would wake up every morning, gaze at the mountains around the city and say, “This is reason enough to want to live in Santiago.” The visitor quickly learns that in the evenings as the cool breeze rises overhead, serenades and tangos make this city come alive.
Several thousand Santiago Jews hold membership in the Estadio Israelita Maccabi, (EIM) the Jewish cultural and sports community center which will serve as the hub of all the activities. Meals at the EIM are kosher with a proper hashgacha, Rosenblut informed me.
Talk to South American Jews and they’ll tell you the Pan American games are not only prestigious, they are also a venue for Jews on that continent. The games are a unifying factor in Jewish communal life in South America. Here’s where they meet, discuss issues and, to use a quite useful word, “bond” in friendship, many of them for life.
“Participants in the games build Jewish pride. They provide Jewish athletes from the U.S. the chance to represent their country in an international sporting competition,” says Lou Moyerman of Philadelphia, who as General Chairman of the Pan American Maccabi games, has the daunting task of organizing the huge event. Moyerman, a retired physical and health education teacher, with an M.Ed. from Temple University, was a leader of the U.S. Olympic judo team in Sydney, Australia, in 2000. Since 1981, he has participated five times in judo competitions as an athlete and as a coach in the Maccabiah where in 2013 he won a gold medal for the U.S.
Two of Moyerman’s sons will participate in the Pan Am games. Samuel will be the Open Men’s Volleyball coach and Adam, like his father, will be on the U.S. judo team.
But preparing and playing in the games is not only a task for team members. They must raise between $5,900 to $6,000. Those who want to contribute to Abie Rosow and/or another participant should visit www.maccabiusa.com.
Helping U.S. teams raise money through various projects is Ronald Carner of Bridgehampton, LI, and his fellow Maccabi USA officers and staff. Active in Maccabi USA for about 30 years, Carner flew down to Santiago with Moyerman last year to help in the pre-planning and Moyerman has since returned twice.
Talking to Moyerman and Carner, one gets the impression that like the athletes who work out constantly, the two are preparing to make sure the games in Chile go smoothly. As Carner put it: “It’s the best time of my life.”
Athletes off to the Pan Am games in Santiago are sure to agree.