Days before he turned 16 — on May 6 — fencer Benjamin Natanzon of Manalapan finished 75th in a field of 170 at the Senior World Cup in Chicago, a competition for adults up to age 39. Among the participants were Olympic gold and bronze medalists.
In matches with other teens, he has placed much higher, coming in 22nd at The Cadet Saber World Cup in Moscow, ninth in Louisville at the North American Cup-Cadets Tournament, eighth in St. Louis at the NAC Cadets, and capturing a bronze medal in Baltimore at the Junior Olympics, Junior division.
Next month, the 10th-grader at SciCore, a private school in Hightstown, will bring his saber to Israel, where he will represent the United States at the 19th Maccabiah Games.
Ben is one of two Maccabiah fencers from Monmouth County; the other is Jessica Gets of Marlboro, a junior fencer on the women’s side. Favoring the foil, the 14-year-old recently earned her distinctive “C” rating with a first-place finish at the Division 2 qualifiers for the 2013 summer nationals.
“I learned about my selection to the USA Maccabiah team when my Dad woke me up and surprised me with the great news,” Jessica told NJJN. “I called my Mom at work, and she screamed with joy. I was also really excited because my friends Jessica Rockford, who fences for Livingston High School, and Ben Natanzon of Manalapan already had been accepted to the junior and senior team, and I was really anxious to join them.”
Jessica has been competing since she was 10, and credits her coach Stanislav “Stas” Gutkovskiy, a former national champion of Belarus, with showing her “a whole new level of fencing.”
She said Gutkovskiy taught her to focus on the immediate goal. “Don’t think about winning the bout,” she said he told her. “Think about each individual touch.”
Ben, who has competed for fewer than four years, told NJJN he is looking forward to visiting in Israel with his paternal grandparents, Zeev and Maya Natanzon in Ashkelon.
His father, Victor, was born in Kiev, Ukraine, but lived in Israel from the age of 11 until he reached 21. Ben and an older brother, Alexander, visited Israel in 2006 during the Second Lebanon War. Ben also returned for his bar mitzva three years ago; “a few rockets landed very close” to where the brothers were, he recalled.
“My father’s view is that the best contribution a Jew can make for Israel is to go there as much as possible,” said Ben. “This supports the Israeli economy and makes Jews connect to their heritage. I agree with my father 100 percent. This is why I feel very proud and happy to participate in the Maccabiah event.”
Both Jessica and Ben said that fencing has taught them important life lessons.
“Fencing has taught me self-confidence,” said Jessica, “which helps me succeed in reaching my goals. It also has taught me to focus and concentrate and enabled me to develop self-determination, problem-solving skills under pressure, strategic thinking, time management, and better organization.”
“Great achievements and results do not just fall into your lap,” said Ben. “You can’t hope for miracles without hard work every day. I practice four times per week, traveling to Manhattan by train and bus — the commute itself is three hours round-trip. Every practice is three to four hours long.
He also takes part in many national and international competitions. “It is a very rigorous schedule that requires both dedication and discipline,” he said. “Fencing changed my lifestyle and reorganized my priorities. It’s very hard sometimes, but I enjoy every moment of it.”