The Record

School Athletes Participate in “Israeli Olympics”

Caroline Goldenberg, Staff Writer

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After tryouts and training, this past July, six members of the school’s community participated in the 20th Maccabiah Games in Israel, bringing them closer to Judaism through sports involving Jewish athletes from 80 countries in 47 sports.

Among the approximately 30,000 athletes were Charlie Wallach (12), playing centerfield for the USA Junior Baseball team, Betsey Bennett (11), swimming the 200 breaststroke, 100 breaststroke, 400 individual medley, and 50 freestyle for the USA Junior Swim team, Aidan Aisiks (10), playing as a defender on the USA Junior Soccer team, Robert Werdiger (10), playing singles and doubles for the USA Junior Tennis team, and Rebecca Stein P’18 ’21, playing on the USA Masters tennis team.

The World Maccabiah Union selected Roy Salomon ’55 as one of 12 banner carriers at the opening ceremony at Teddy Stadium. Salomon competed on the Canadian Basketball team in the 1969 games and has served as a continuous volunteer for the union.

Aisiks’ and Wallach’s teams earned gold medals; Werdiger had a record of 4-2 for singles and reached doubles’ quarterfinals with a partner he had known for years. Bennett placed in the top 10 in each of her events, with times of 2:49.03 in the 200 breaststroke, 1:19.48 in the 100 breaststroke, 5:27.65 in the 400 individual medley, and 28.42 in the 50 freestyle. The two latter times marked her best in those events. Stein received a bronze medal in mixed doubles and won three rounds in women’s doubles.

Baseball held tryouts last June, Wallach said, while Bennett’s swimming times were tracked throughout the year, she said. Aisiks applied to attend tryouts, Aisiks said, and Werdiger competed in a tournament of tennis hopefuls, he said.

The junior athletes visited Israel for three weeks, half of which they spent training and touring Israel. Stein spent a week-and-a-half there, as part of the masters division for athletes aged 35-55.

This time allowed the seventeen athletes on the junior baseball team, who came from all over the nation to meet and bond, Wallach said. But for Werdiger’s team, despite hopes to train longer, they were only able to practice for one hour each day, he said.

Never having been to a competition outside the US, jumping from a flight to training was difficult, Bennett said.

“Acclimating to the climate” in Israel was challenging for Wallach. His team began practice at 6:45 a.m. each day during the training period. For Wallach, the words of Coach Holtz, one of his coaches, would stick with him for time to come: “There are two things in life you can control: attitude and how hard you work.”

The USA Junior Boys Soccer team only had three or four opportunities to practice together before their first game, which caused the players to face obstacles in team chemistry, Aisiks said.

Bennett came up against skilled competition, especially from athletes from Israel, she said. To prepare, Bennett had practiced six times per week, for two hours at a time. Beginning training in Israel, “we were all in tapering mode,” she said, meaning the swimmers swam shorter distances to rest up.

ON YOUR MARKS Betsey Bennett (11) takes her place at the starting blocks during a race

For Wallach, the competition was “mixed,” as his team played two other teams twice and won all five games.

“Some of the people were very skilled, while some were more recreational players, but the average player played some college or serious adult competition,” Stein said.

Werdiger received encouragement from coaches at the games, who reminded him “to just focus on my game and avoid all the distractions,” he said.

The opening ceremony was a particularly monumental experience of the games. Athletes felt “ a combination of pride for Judaism and Israel and also pride for America,” Bennett said.

“This reinforced Jewish values into my life and was a great experience that is cemented inside me hopefully for the rest of my life,” Werdiger said.

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School Athletes Participate in “Israeli Olympics”