Maccabi athletes bring home medals


The review of this year’s Maccabi Games from St. Louis teenagers who attended the competitions is an enthusiastic “Great! Cool! Incredible!”

And these comments aren’t about whether or not someone won a medal or a game. They are how the kids describe the experience of spending five days with other Jewish teenagers from around the world competing in athletic events and socializing at functions.

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Prior to leaving for Houston, one of the sites of this year’s games, three of the Jewish Community Center of St. Louis’ team members, Jeremy Lang, baseball; Chase Loevy, swimming; and Sam Margo, basketball, talked with the Jewish Light about their expectations for the games. They have now shared their impressions with upon their return.

“The experience really surpassed all of my expectations,” Margo said.

“The actual sporting events were fun. I got to meet people from all over and the activities they had in the evenings were really well-run and a lot of fun.”

Margo sacrificed his usual summer plans of attending camp in Maine to attend this year’s Maccabi games and wasn’t disappointed by his decision. He also enjoyed when he had time to hang around the JCC and learn about Israel, Judaism and Jews from all denominations and backgrounds.

An added plus for Margo and his fellow teammates was winning the silver medal in the 15 to 16-year-old division. He and his teammates played six games in four days to end up playing a seventh game in the gold medal round.

Another team that came back with some hardware is the boys’ baseball team. “We won the silver medal,” Jeremy Lang, pitcher for the team, said.

“It was a long, three years that paid off.” Lang didn’t go to the games expecting to win anything so the medal was a surprising benefit.

“After we won the semi-final game, knowing that we were going to win either silver or gold, it was awesome.”

Lang pitched a 20-4 game against the team from Detroit to put his team in the finals.

For swimmer Loevy, the experience of going to the Maccabi games was exhillarating.

“It was so much fun, I didn’t want to come home,” Loevy said. “At my school there’s a small Jewish community but in Houston it was the first time I’ve been surrounded by all Jewish boys and girls.”

Based on this experience Loevy wants to get involved in a youth group back home.

While these games were the first ones where Loevy competed at this level, she was pleased with her results, placing fourth in the 50-meter butterfly, missing the bronze medal by just a second.

She and her teammates also were treated to a pep talk by Olympic swimming champion Mark Spitz.

“He told us how he got where he was,” Loevy said.

“He talked about how hard practice is and that you have to give 100 percent all the time and if you want something, you need to work hard at it.”

Margo and Lang echoed Loevy’s sentiments about feeling more enthusiastic about Judaism. “I definitely want to spend more time at the J,” Margo said, “and get more involved in youth group at CRC.”

In addition to competing in sporting events and socializing at planned functions, the teenagers joined the other Maccabi participants at a local YMCA as part of the community service project.

“We each were matched with a young kid,” Lang said, “as part of a literacy program. We read books and played games. It was probably the best program I’ve done in the three years I’ve attended Maccabi games. We got to make a direct, and hopefully, positive impact with a kid.”

Along with the boys’ basketball and baseball teams, the St. Louis delegation returned home from events in Houston and Baltimore with a gold medal for the girls’ soccer team and a silver medal for dancing.

While the intent of the games is to promote life- and personality-shaping experiences through Olympic-style athletic competitions for Jewish teenagers, the kids from St. Louis who attended this year’s game came back with much more than medals and ribbons.