Local athletes brought home medals and memories after competing in the 19th Maccabiah Games in Israel.
Benjamin Weinfeld of East Brunswick won an individual bronze in sabre as well as a gold with the rest of the junior men’s fencing team.
Also at the July 12-23 games, head coach Jason Bauer of Edison led the U.S. Women’s Open Gymnastics Team to silver. He also assisted with the junior women’s and men’s teams, which took silver medals, and the men’s open team, which won gold.
The female open team medaled in all four individual categories, taking gold in three of them. The host Israelis took team gold by less than two points, but, Bauer noted, “Mind you, this was their Olympic team.”
Weinfeld, 18, a recent graduate of East Brunswick High School, will be heading off to Lehigh University in a matter of weeks.
“The games were amazing,” he said. “Medaling was definitely a different feeling than I thought it would be. Standing up there on that platform was a completely different experience than what I expected.”
Weinfeld said that although it was “definitely cool to win the gold,” he was actually more excited to garner the individual bronze. “The gold I won with the team,” he said, “but the bronze I did completely on my own. It was something where I could say, ‘Hey this is something I was able to accomplish.’”
Bauer, 38, gymnastics coach at Head Over Heels in Sayreville, described his first trip to Israel as “amazing from beginning to end.”
“The Israelis were very hospitable,” he said. “They accommodated us with everything.”
The first week the 8,000 athletes and coaches at the Games were treated to sightseeing tours and opportunities to get to know Israelis though the “Israel Connect” cultural program. For the gymnastics team, that meant getting in two hours of practice at 7 a.m. before six to eight hours of touring sites like Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Jaffa, Masada, the Dead Sea, and military bases.
His team members “are still talking about it,” Bauer told NJJN in a phone conversation Aug. 7. “Only one of the girls I coached had ever been to Israel before, and everybody loved everything about it.”
Bauer, who previously led the U.S. Girls’ Gymnastics team to a win in Brazil at the 2011 Pan American Maccabi Games, said of his participation in the Maccabiah, “It was a great feeling to represent the United States and the proudest moment of my career as a coach.”
For Weinfeld, it was an experience he will not soon forget.
“One of the highlights of the Maccabiah Games was all these friends that I made from all over the country and world,” he said. “I keep in touch with them by phone because I like to talk. It’s more personal than text or e-mail.”
One particularly moving experience was the visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem, where Weinfeld searched its data base for records of his grandfather, Mike Jucowisc of Monroe, a survivor from Czechoslovakia who escaped a death march, but lost most of his family.
Weinfeld was “astounded” by the number of people named Jucowisc, or a similar name, that came up in his search. He said he recited Kaddish “for each and every member of my family whom I never had the chance to know.”
As he prepares for college, Weinfeld said, he must decide what to do with his medals.
“They’re now sort of sitting on my bed,” he said. “I want to put them in a shadow box so I can take them out. I don’t want them framed where I wouldn’t be able to touch them and then they become intangible.”