My Maccabiah experience


When I found out that I had been selected during the final soccer cut for the 18th Maccabiah Games in Israel, I didn’t know what to expect. I’d been to Israel twice before but this trip promised to be different. This time I would be meeting and competing with Jews from all over the U.S. and the world.

The idea of combining these two important aspects of my life was very exciting. I would be playing soccer, the sport I love most, with hundreds of other athletes who were just like me; not only Jewish but also dedicated to their sport. The pinnacle of this experience would turn out to be the night we had a group bar and bat mitzvah. We were at an amphitheatre overlooking Jerusalem under an inspiring full moon. All of the American athletes were singing songs together and then called up by sport to get an Aliyah. Being with all of these people with whom who I shared so much was indescribable. I felt as if I knew all of them and that they all knew me. Of course, I didn’t really know all 905 of them, but the knowledge that we all came from Jewish-American families, and were all dedicated to sports, and all loved Israel, was very powerful. That night was the greatest one of the entire trip.


Competing with Jews from countries everywhere was unlike any other competition I’ve faced before. From South Africa to Argentina to Canada, I met Jewish soccer players that were like me — athletes proud to be representing their country and faith through soccer.

The soccer itself was a high level of competition and it helped me learn and grow as a player. I got a better understanding of the tactics of the game with the help of our coaches, Preston and Sean Goldfarb. Playing with athletes from across the country introduced me to new styles and a few new tricks. One of the best moments in the competition was when we beat Israel 1-to-0 in our second game. It was 0-to-0 until the very end when Jake Weiss had an amazing shot that won it for us. The entire team gathered around him yelling “USA” at the top of our lungs. This victory was made even more important by the fact that Israel later won the gold medal. Our USA team came in fourth after disappointing losses to Argentina and Brazil.

Five minutes into the game against Brazil, a player hit me with a stray elbow and broke my nose. While I helplessly watched from the sideline we went on to lose 1-to-0. That was probably my least favorite part of the entire experience, but despite this I still had an amazing time.

One of the biggest surprises of my trip was the close friendships that formed between me and all the players on our team. Even though we had only known each other for a few weeks it seemed like we had been lifelong friends. Perhaps it was the similarities between our interests — we are all soccer loving Jewish athletes from the U.S. — but for some reason, we really connected. It was very emotional when we had to say goodbye.

I stayed an extra week with my parents and sister who had come and dutifully watched every one of my games. It was reassuring to have them in Israel and I had a fun week meeting relatives all over the country. My teammates were really a great group of guys. We still talk frequently on Facebook and I hope to stay connected to them in the future.

We got to do some touring during the Games as a group, which was amazing. One of the best touring days was when we went to the southern part of Israel. We took the cable car up Mt. Masada and then went to the Dead Sea until it got dark. Then we went to the Bedouin Tents where we had an amazing dinner and a huge party. The entire U.S. delegation was there and after watching the belly dancers we started dancing and it was insane.

The opening and closing ceremonies were unlike anything I have ever or will ever again participate in. There were thousands of athletes from every country imaginable being watched by 50,000 people in the stadium in Ramat Gan and millions all over the world on television. We mixed and mingled for a few hours trading shirts, hats, jacket and jerseys with the other countries. In attendance were Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu and President of Israel Shimon Peres, who both spoke. I watched Jason Lezak of the U.S. Olympic Swim Team carry the torch right by me and officially start the games.

The excitement and hope for the tournament I felt during that ceremony was exhilarating and made me really appreciate the magnitude of the Maccabiah Games and what they represent. On the other hand, I really wasn’t looking forward to the closing ceremony at all, though the ceremony itself was spectacular. After it was over, I watched my teammates who I had grown so close to walk away in the Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv. I missed them immediately.

I had a one-of-a-kind experience and made incredible friends. I hope my memories of these Games and my friends will last for the rest of my life.

Benjamin Berson competed on the U.S. Maccabi Boys Junior Soccer Team during the 18th Maccabiah Games in Israel, July 12-24. He will be a junior at Parkway North High School later this month.