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Brothers follow dad as Maccabiah medalists

For the Rosenbergs of Short Hills, garnering Maccabiah gold is a family legacy.

Brothers Alex and Drew each captured gold medals while in Israel, competing on behalf of Team USA in the 19th Maccabiah Games, held in Israel July 17-30. Alex, 21, helped guide the men’s open basketball team to victory; Drew, 19, played a leading role on the men’s open soccer team.

It is a triumph the brothers share with their father, Marc, 56, who helped secure the gold for Team USA’s men’s open basketball team 32 years ago at the 11th Maccabiah Games.

Alex and Drew grew up seeing pictures of their father with his Team USA uniform and his medals and always wanted to be able to share that experience with him.

That their father had accomplished the feat “was the driving factor for me doing it,” Alex said, “but as a Jewish athlete, I also found myself really wanting to do it.”

Drew agreed, saying that hearing his father talk “about all the different things he got to do while he was over there made me want to do it as well.”

The Rosenberg brothers were both competing in the Maccabiah Games for the second time. Four years ago, Alex played for the U.S. youth basketball team, Drew for the U.S. junior soccer team. This year they participated in the open division, for players 18-35 years old.

“I didn’t feel like I got the full experience last time,” said Alex, a rising junior at Columbia University. “Now that I’m more mature, I’m older, I’m playing with the best Jewish players in the world. You’re not going to find them on the 18 and under team, you’re not going to find them on the masters team; it’s going to be in the open division.”

Drew, who will enter Northwestern University this fall, said participating in the Games was a life-changing event for his athletic career. “Any time you have the opportunity where you get to try out for something and compete against other countries and represent your own country, it is really cool and unique,” he said.

This was the first time either of the brothers won the gold. In 2009, Alex came home with a silver medal, and Drew finished in fourth place.

This year, the U.S. men’s open basketball team beat Argentina, 87-76, in the final. Alex said the team was determined to win after losing to Argentina in the first round.

The U.S. men’s open soccer team had never won a gold medal before. Drew said that after the team lost its first game, “I was in doubt. But every game, we played better as a team and learned more about each other, so by the time we got to the middle round, we were able to play really good soccer.” The team also beat Argentina in the final competition on a penalty kick shootout.

“Winning was an incredible feeling,” said Drew.

In addition to their father, cheering the athletes on in Israel were the other members of the family: their mother Amy, sister Blake, 24, and brother Will, 14. The family belongs to Congregation B’nai Israel in Millburn.

The draw of the Games is not simply a chance to display athletic prowess, Drew said, but to visit Israel. “What’s great about the U.S. team is that we go two weeks before the Games, and we tour all of Israel, so we get to see everything. I feel more in touch with Judaism when I go there.”

Marc, who sits on the Maccabi USA board of directors, also brought home a bronze medal in the men’s masters basketball team at the 1993 Maccabiah Games, and a silver medal in the men’s masters basketball team at the 1997 Games.

The brothers said they hope to compete in Israel again. “It’s great to say that I’ve done something that my dad has done,” Alex said. “I’m trying to do everything that he has done, and more.”

Marc is “ecstatic” that his sons are following in his footsteps. “It’s a very competitive environment,” he said, “Both were two of the youngest players on their teams. Making the team was a great honor for them, but to go there and win gold medals, it’s a credit to their work ethic.”

He said that while he believes the Games offer great encouragement for Jewish participation in sports, “the friendships that you make with other Jewish athletes, and seeing the country and learning about the history of Israel and the Jewish people — that’s what it is all about.”

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