The gold medal won by the U.S. Open Women’s Soccer team at this summer’s Maccabiah Games in Israel was particularly meaningful for goalkeeper Jessica Levy of Princeton.
She was inspired, she said, by a grandfather she never knew, an athlete whose own passion to compete was thwarted by World War II.
John Levy, who died in 1985, won a place on the German cycling team ahead of the 1940 Olympic Games in Tokyo — which were cancelled due to the war.
“I know my grandfather would have been so ecstatic to see me marching proudly in opening ceremonies with 9,000 other Jewish athletes from around the world,” said Jessica, 21, a senior at the University of Delaware and a starting goalie with its women’s soccer team.
Jessica was in goal July 29 when the USA defeated Israel in the open division gold-medal match, 6-1.
She didn’t discuss her grandfather with her Maccabiah teammates, but his memory was “a big topic of conversation” with her aunt, uncle, and six cousins who live in Israel, who visited with her during her time there. “It gave us all a chance to reflect on his life and discuss how far we have come, with the Maccabiah Games openly celebrating Jewish athletes,” she said.
She added, “I carry his ring with his name on it in my soccer bag as inspiration. I feel like I have many similar traits as him, such as a passion for sports, hard work, and perseverance.”
John Levy was born in Berlin in 1921. After the Tokyo games were cancelled, it would be 40 years before he got to compete again.
Levy went on to lose much of his family in the Holocaust and to suffer imprisonment in two labor camps. He was liberated by the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division late in 1944, one of only 12 survivors out of 120 inmates who’d been held in the camp on the French border.
He came to the United States in 1948, and settled in Milwaukee, eventually becoming a pharmaceutical salesman. In 1980, he entered a local race, riding a bicycle his two sons had bought for him. Five years later, then 63, he decided to enter the Toronto Masters Games in Canada. He began training, but a few months before the games, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and died just six weeks later.
Jessica, who is named for her grandfather, grew up hearing about him. Though neither was into cycling, her parents, Stewart and Jody, are both athletic, and when she began kicking a ball at around the age of two, they had high hopes for her. “My parents were my first coaches, so they like to take credit for my soccer success,” she said.
Jessica will graduate next spring with a degree in exercise science and plans to go to graduate school to become a nurse practitioner. “I love helping people and would love to focus on orthopedics so that I can help athletes,” she said.
As for her experience at the Maccabiah Games, she said, “My favorite part was the opening ceremonies. Marching out during opening ceremonies in my USA gear, chanting ‘USA,’ among 9,000 other Jewish athletes from 78 countries was one of the proudest moments in my life.”