Shulkin | Family, history, country: The meaning of Maccabiah
August 27, 2013, 10:21 pm·
Attracting thousands of the world’s top Jewish athletes from around 80 nations, the World Maccabiah Games is the third largest international athletic competition in the world. It takes place in Israel every four years — a place that connects each and every Jewish athlete and spectator.
I had dreamed of playing tennis in the Maccabiah since I was a little girl.
Perhaps this is because my mother had gone to the tenth Maccabiah
36 years ago as a youth participant and has always spoken fondly of her memories there. And years before this, my grandfather had dreamed of competing in track and field in the Games, until the Nazis made that an impossibility. Hearing my mother and grandfather speak about the Maccabiah made it clear to me just how special it would be for both of them to see me compete at the Games.
However, making this dream a reality was certainly a challenge. My expectations of making the team were very low.
Definitely due to some luck — and maybe some heart — I was able to demonstrate that I deserved one of the six spots on the U.S. women’s tennis contingent to the Games.
To make matters even better, I was bringing my family with me. My mother, father, brother, grandmother, and yes, even my 90-year-old grandfather, were coming with me to watch me play.
The entire experience lasted just over three weeks. The first week consisted of training in the morning that began at 6:30 a.m. and afternoon tours with the entire American delegation of 1,100 athletes.
At the end of the training week, it was time for the Opening Ceremonies to mark the Games’ official commencement. Israel’s prime minister and president both made speeches, and USA Olympic gymnast and gold medalist Aly Raisman lit the torch.
Athletes marched in by country to the cheers of thousands of screaming fans. As those around me chanted, “USA, USA…,” I felt myself being swept up in the excitement and was filled with a sense of patriotism.
Then something incredible happened. As I walked into the arena, I somehow spotted my family in the crowd of 30,000 faces. I ran out of line to get their attention, wave to them and process the sight of them cheering for Team USA. While I had known they were in Israel, I had not seen them since I had left home. Seeing them in person and knowing that they were there to support me was an amazing feeling.
The next two weeks of competition meant that the American delegation was separated, since each team was stationed in different locations throughout the country for the entirety of the tournament.
The two weeks of the Games were focused on the sporting events, but when not competing, we were still able to enjoy being in Israel and benefit from the local and international culture of the Games all around us.
In the tennis competition, non-Americans dominated, and no American man or woman medaled in the singles competition. However, knowing I was competing against Division I and internationally ranked tennis players, being defeated in the quarterfinals by the eventual gold medal winner was a small victory for me. Being able to represent my country and my family made my experience that much more special.
In addition, being able to share this experience with fellow Penn students made the entire three weeks even more unforgettable. There will always be a connection between those who participated.
JENNIE SHULKIN is a junior double major in Communication & Public Service and Sociology from Gladwyne, Pennsylvania. She can be reached at email@example.com