When brother and sister Lior and Mia Levy of Princeton compete this month as members of Team USA at the 19th Maccabiah Games in Israel, they will be carrying on a proud family tradition.
Their father and grandfather “both won gold medals for basketball in the Maccabiah Games,” said Lior, 17, who will play on the men’s youth basketball team. Each time, he said, “the United States beat Israel in the final game.”
“I want to keep the legacy going,” he said. The siblings’ mother was born on Kibbutz Ein Dor and the family travels to Israel frequently. They have plenty of relatives who live there, and, said Lior, “I love Israel. I consider it a second home.”
The teens are among more than 20 athletes and coaches from the local region who will be participating in the quadrennial event (including seven all from the town of Holland, Pa.; see separate article, next page).
Lior tried out for Team USA in Philadelphia last August and was “surprised, excited, and happy” when he found out, in October, that he had made the Maccabiah squad. He credits his father, his first coach, with teaching him to be an “unselfish, all-around player. The major lesson I learned is to persevere. I’ve had many setbacks in sports, but I never gave up.”
Mia, like her brother a student at Princeton High School, became a late addition to the junior girls’ basketball team when another athlete bowed out.
Another sister, Noa, 14, and the Levy parents, Howard and Riva, will be on hand as spectators.
Gabriel Bar-Cohen, who will compete in juniors swimming, is a student at John Witherspoon Middle School in Princeton. The 14-year-old told NJJN, “Athletic competition has taught me I need to push myself past the comfort zone in order to achieve success. Sometimes it’s going to hurt, but you can’t let that get in the way of your ultimate goal.”
Gabriel said, “I first heard of the Maccabiah Games in Israel last summer when I was competing in the Israeli National Championships….. I thought it would be an awesome experience to be able to compete on an enormous stage with lots of other Jewish athletes. It was also my bar mitzva year, and I wanted to do something that related to my Judaism; the Games seemed like the perfect idea.”
The 2013 Maccabiah will mark Gabriel’s eighth visit to Israel. His parents and siblings will accompany him. “My dad grew up in Omer,” he said, “so we have many friends and extended family there. I also speak fluent Hebrew. Their support has meant a lot to me, and it will be nice to know they will all be there watching me race this summer.”
Sydney Turchin of Princeton Junction (open women’s softball), 20, studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where she made second-team all-Ivy in both her freshman and sophomore years. This will be her third trip to Israel; she previously went on a Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks mission and as part of a UPenn Hillel Birthright program.
Turchin said her selection for the Maccabiah team “was a great opportunity to play with other Jewish athletes with similar interests. I’m proud to represent the USA playing the game I love.”
Rebecca Lewinson, a 21-year-old swimmer from West Windsor, is looking to add to her previous Maccabiah successes; she competed at the 2009 games, where, she said, “I won gold in the 200-meter breaststroke, was a part of the silver-medal 400 medley relay, and won a bronze medal in the 100-meter breaststroke.”
Lewinson is a student at Princeton University, where, she told NJJN via e-mail, “I have been fortunate enough to be part of the swim team that has won the Ivy League Championship two out of the three years I’ve been here.”
Lewinson, whose parents, sister, and grandmother will accompany her to Israel, said, “I was encouraged to apply four years ago because my mom had qualified and wound up not going, when she was younger.”
Unlike the other Maccabiah participants, Neal Shapiro will not be on the playing fields as a competitor; instead, the 67-year-old Robbinsville resident will coach the U.S. open equestrian team, working with four riders aged 19 to mid-40s.
“I have competed since I was 11, and this year I decided to help younger people gain their own day of glory,” he said. He is particularly excited because this is his first visit to Israel and it is the first year that equestrian events — dressage and jumping — will be part of Maccabiah.
Designated as a master (a competitor over 40), cyclist Stuart Wilder of Doylestown, Pa., a 58-year-old attorney, came late to athletics, having been sidetracked by an injury in high school.
Now, he told NJJN via e-mail, he is taking his love of recreational, restorative cycling to a new level and will compete in two Maccabiah events — a 59-mile road race and a time trial — in what will be his sixth visit to Israel. He has twice biked the Arava Institute Hazon Israel Ride, from Jerusalem to Eilat. “I love cycling in Israel,” Wilder said. “I like the challenge, and the timing is right for me.”
Other area athletes on Team USA are Greta Feldman, Princeton, open track and field; Emma Levy, Princeton Junction, open tennis, and, from Bucks County, Pa., Bryan Cohen, Feasterville, open men’s basketball; Marshal Davis, Furlong, coach, juniors fencing; Jeffrey Fuchs, Richboro, coach, juniors table tennis; Marissa Glatt, Doylestown, open women’s field hockey; Scott Rowling, Richboro, open men’s soccer; and Ariel Spektor, Richboro, juniors swimming.