One athlete from Middlesex County hopes to bring home a medal from the 19th Maccabiah Games in Israel later this month, while a coach hopes to repeat a gold-winning team performance.
Benjamin Weinfeld of East Brunswick, who turns 18 on July 7, will compete in fencing, while Jason Bauer of Edison, who led the U.S. Girls’ Gymnastics team to a win at the 2011 Pan American Maccabiah Games in Brazil, will serve as head coach of the American girls’ gymnastic team in Israel.
Weinfeld, the son of Joannie and Jerry Weinfeld and a 2013 graduate of East Brunswick High School, will attend Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, where he plans on majoring in engineering and hopes to compete on the fencing team.
He got into the sport during a summer program between sixth and seventh grades. One of the electives was fencing, Weinfeld said, “and I thought it looked pretty cool so I tried it out and loved it.”
Although he was unrated by the Unites States Fencing Association when he was invited to join the Maccabiah team, he has since received a “D rating.” Ratings, running from E to A, are based on number of tournaments and wins against rated fencers.
Weinfeld, who specializes in sabre, initially trained at the East Brunswick YMCA, then moved to the Escrimeur Fencing Club, which meets at the Fields Sports Complex in East Brunswick, where he has been coached by Leon Spector. He trains about three days a week.
His goal “has always been to be the best fencer I can be,” he said, adding, “Leon is an amazing coach, and with his help I feel I’ve accomplished a lot in the last five years.”
It was at Spector’s suggestion that Weinfeld tried out for the Maccabiah team. After applying, he said, “I forgot about it for two or three months and then I got an e-mail that I’d been appointed to the team. It was pretty exciting.”
He will compete in the juniors division (18 years and under). There are six fencers for each age group — three of each gender.
When he leaves for Israel July 10, it will be a return trip for Weinfeld, who had a “second” bar mitzva ceremony there five years ago. His first was at East Brunswick Jewish Center, where his family belongs. And while he said he “can’t wait” to return to Israel, this time, he laughed, “I will use enough sunblock. Some lessons you just have to learn the hard way.”
Gymnastics has been a part of Bauer’s life since his youth, when he was a champion in the sport. His prowess earned him a trip to the 1989 Youth Maccabi Games in Chicago as a teen and a scholarship to James Madison University in Virginia. A specialist in pommel horse, his career as an athlete was cut short by injury when he was in college.
“Nothing dramatic, just overuse,” said Bauer, 38, a lifelong Edison resident and a congregant at Temple Emanu-El. “When I came home from college I just started coaching and have been coaching for over 20 years.”
Bauer owned his own gym for more than 10 years and now coaches at Head Over Heels in Sayreville, where, coincidentally, two Maccabiah team members, one from Marlboro and the other from Staten Island, train. The team’s assistant coach, Stephanie Bevan of Bridgewater, was also coached by Bauer as a club athlete.
Bauer will coach the four junior team members and six members of the open team. He will also be responsible for the girls on the rhythmic gymnastics team and assist in the coaching.
Bauer and his wife, Sarah — an occupational therapist for special-needs children and a former competitive gymnast — have three children, Jacob, 12, Julia, eight, and Jordyn, four. His son has aspirations of making the basketball team during the next Maccabiah games.
Although it will be his first time in Israel and he is looking forward to the experience, Bauer pointed out, “I will have 14 teenage girls under my watch, and while I expect the Games to be fun and very exciting, I will be very tired when it’s all done.”
The group will arrive in Israel about a week before the competition starts for a sightseeing trip for the athletes. Included will be a “huge” bar and bat mitzva ceremony with upward of 1,000 participating, including Bauer. “There’s no reason you can’t be bar mitzva’d a second time,” he said.
The team is also looking forward to meeting gymnast Aly Raisman, 2012 Olympic gold medalist, who serves as an ambassador for Maccabi USA.
“The fact that she’s a gymnast means she’ll probably be spending most of her time with us,” said Bauer, who confidently added: “When we were at the Pan Am games we swept every gold and silver medal. I know this competition is tougher but we believe we can bring home a few gold medals.”
Another Middlesex County resident, Zachary Rosen of Colonia, will compete on the men’s basketball team.