Maccabiah athletes return with medals and memories


Clayton High School alum Josh Goldstein, 22, is still enjoying the after glow from the three weeks he spent in Israel last month for the 18th Maccabiah Games. And it’s not because the Ivy League tennis player won the silver medal in mixed doubles, although he is pleased with that accomplishment.

“There is no country in the world like Israel,” he said earlier this week. “I really got such a strong sense of the global Jewish community from being there. Israel has this innate ability to unite Jews from all over the world.”


Fourteen-year-old Eliana Hudson, the youngest of five St. Louis athletes who competed at the Games, echoed similar sentiments, explaining that while she is disappointed she didn’t place for the Maccabi USA Juniors Karate Team, she still had “an amazing time meeting everybody and seeing Israel for the first time.” Her favorite sight of her time there: Masada at sunset.

The Games, which took place July 12-23, produced 84 gold, 92 silver and 79 bronze medals in combined team and individual competitions for Team USA. The Israeli Team took first place in the overall medal count with 239 gold, 216 silver and 173 bronze medals and Australia took third place in the medal count with 20 gold, 19 silver and 21 bronze, although Russia, which finished fourth in the medal count, had 21 gold medals. More than 7,000 athletes, representing six continents and more than 60 countries, competed, making these World Maccabiah Games, which take place every four years, the third largest sporting event in the world.

Goldstein, who recently graduated from Cornell University where he played tennis for four years, won the silver medal with partner Logan Hanson of Santa Monica, Calif. The Games marked the first time the two ever played together.

“We had a week of training camp before the Games and were paired together because our styles complemented each other,” he explained. “The thing is that in college, there is no mixed doubles. I had only played a couple of times.”

Goldstein said he competed in four matches of singles, losing to “a very tough, very good Israeli” in the round of 16; three matches of men’s doubles teamed with his partner from Cornell, losing in the quarter finals to the Israeli team that won the gold and five matches of mixed doubles.

“I thought my best chances were in the men’s double,” said Goldstein, who is taking a year off to work in Washington, D.C. before attending Yale University Law School in fall 2010. “I had high expectations for myself. Looking back though, I don’t think there was much I would have done differently. It was just so great to be part of the competition and to have the whole experience.”

The two female basketball players from St. Louis also did very well. Leslie Berger, who graduated from Washington University and is now at graduate student at University of Missouri-Columbia, competed on the Maccabi USA Open Women’s Basketball Team, which also won a silver medal. MICDS basketball player Rebecca Gollub, 17, helped take home a gold medal for the USA Juniors Girl’s Basketball Team.

Parkway North High School junior Benjamin Berson, who played on the USA Juniors Boy’s Soccer Team, broke his nose during the team’s last competition against Brazil, which won by a score of 1-0. As a result, the USA team finished in fourth place. Unfortunately, Benjamin spent that afternoon at Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba getting checked out.

More than 900 participants, including the five from St. Louis, were on the elite USA Team, sponsored by Maccabi USA/Sports for Israel. In addition to the competition, organizers of Maccabi USA say the purpose of the games is to build awareness and community for Jews.

Goldstein said he got to know Jews from all over the world, including places such as India and Venezuela. Conversations were never dull.

“The first week we’d train in the morning and then go sightseeing in the afternoon and evening,” said Goldstein. “We went all over — caving, to New Jerusalem, Old Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, Masada, the Gailee, the Gilboa Mountains. We did a lot in a short amount of time.

“The second two weeks I got to live in Jerusalem, where I was really struck by the history of this country,” he added. “We went to this overlook south of the city to say blessings. Our tour guide told us we were standing where it was thought that Abraham walked on his way to Mt. Mariah when he was suppose to sacrifice Isaac. That just gave me the chills.

“We went to the Wailing [Western] Wall on the Sabbath. There was all this singing and dancing and praying. It gave me such a strong sense of history and continuity and commitment. The Jewish people here are not going anywhere.”