A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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Sports, Judaism and inspiration converge for local teens at Pan American Maccabi games

Peyton O’Shaughnessy and Sammy Goldstein at Maccabi.

As the war following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks on Israel continues in Gaza, now nearing 100 days, it felt good — like a much-needed respite — to talk about Jewish pride and competition with three young Jewish St. Louisans upon their return from the Pan American Maccabi Games. They took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina from Dec. 27 to Jan. 5.

Josh Horwitz, 23, served as the assistant coach of the USA men’s 18 and under basketball team. Both Sammy Goldstein, 15, and Peyton O’Shaughnessy, 16, played for the USA boy’s and USA girl’s, 16 and under soccer teams, respectively. Josh graduated from Ladue Horton Watkins High School, where he played varsity basketball, while Sammy, a freshman and Peyton, a junior, currently attend Ladue. 

Sammy Goldstein, left, and Josh Horwitz, at the Pan American Maccabi Games in Buenos Aires.

All three gave the games – and the experience they had in Buenos Aires – exceptionally high marks. More than 4,000 athletes representing 22 nations participated, including Israel, which sent a smaller delegation than originally intended because of the Oct. 7 attacks.

“I had heard amazing things about these games,” said Josh, whose family belongs to Kol Rinah. “It was the perfect opportunity for me because it connects two things I love, basketball and Judaism.”

Josh, who graduated from Washington University with a degree in finance in 2022, now lives in Manhattan, where he recently became program director for a New York City nonprofit youth basketball organization, KING Hoops NYC, which draws participants from all five boroughs.

He had played basketball in the Maccabi Games in Milwaukee in 2015 and again in St. Louis, when our Jewish Community Center hosted them in 2016. Those were great fun, he said, but the chance to be part of Maccabi Games abroad thoroughly appealed to him, especially after hearing how awesome that experience was from his younger brother, Ari. He played on the USA men’s 18 and under basketball team in Budapest, Hungary, as part of the European Maccabi Games in 2019.

So Josh applied to be a coach, interviewed for the position and was selected. Both Sammy, whose family belongs to Congregation Temple Israel, and Peyton, who plays varsity girls’ soccer at Ladue, said they made their teams after applying and sending film detailing their soccer abilities.

“The whole experience really was a 10 out of 10 for me,” said Sammy, who plays soccer for the St. Louis Academy Team, which is affiliated with St. Louis City SC. “I’ve never really been in an environment where there were so many Jewish people. I thought it was so cool to meet people who were Jewish, even though they all didn’t speak the same language as me, and play soccer with people I never met before.”

Peyton also talked about the camaraderie that organically transpired among her and her teammates, none of whom she knew beforehand. 

“That was the best part for me, getting to know the other girls on my team,” she said. “I came away with 18 new best friends from all around the country.”

Connecting with her Judaism also was a bonus. Peyton explained that she didn’t go to Hebrew school or have a bat mitzvah and her family does not belong to a synagogue, but her maternal side is Jewish.

“I kind of grew up going to High Holiday services with my grandpa. (Maccabi) allowed me to better connect with him and what he knew growing up,” she said, adding that her mother had participated in the Maccabi Games in soccer when she was a teenager. 

Of course, traveling to, and staying 11 days in Buenos Aires, is not exactly cheap, which is why the athletes, including Sammy and Peyton, worked to raise the $6,650 needed to cover expenses while Josh, as was the case with most coaches, raised the requisite $3,000. Thankfully, they said, family and friends were a great help, and generous.

As for other highlights, all three mentioned opening ceremonies, when newly elected Argentine President Javier Milei addressed the crowd of more than 10,000 (including Josh’s parents, Rabbi Brad and Mindy Horwitz, and brothers Ari and Ben). According to several news reports, Milei, who is not Jewish, vowed his commitment to Israel and the Jewish people in their fight against Hamas. He is known to study Torah and has spoken publicly about his intention to convert to Judaism.

Also in attendance was Israeli Romina Schvalb from Kibbutz Nir Oz, whose brother-in-law, Ruben Engel, was killed in the Hamas attacks. She offered a prayer in memory of those who had been killed on Oct. 7 and for the hostages who remain in custody.

Unfortunately, the timing of the games was not without drama. On Dec. 30, Argentine police arrested three men in the Buenos Aires area on suspicion of planning a terror attack, though it was unclear whether they were targeting the Jewish athletes. The men were of Syrian and Lebanese descent, and had hotel reservations nearby the Israeli embassy, which was the site of a 1992 bombing that killed 29 people. 

In separate conversations with Josh, Sammy and Peyton, each spoke more about new friendships and experiencing the sights, sounds and food of Argentina than the actual competition.

“My favorite part was bonding with our players and the coaching staff,” said Josh. “We were by each other’s hips the entire time. When we weren’t practicing or playing games, we were eating together, we were seeing Buenos Aires, walking around. The highlight was being together and celebrating each other and our Jewish identity.”

But the goal of the Maccabi Games is, after all, victory. And to that end, mission accomplished. Josh’s basketball team and Peyton’s soccer team each took home the gold while Sammy’s soccer team nabbed the silver.

Regardless of the outcome though, they were all winners.

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About the Contributor
Ellen Futterman
Ellen Futterman, Editor-in-Chief
A native of Westbury, New York, Ellen Futterman broke into the world of big city journalism as a general assignment reporter for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner in the latter part of the 20th century. Deciding that Tinsel Town was not exciting enough for her, she moved on to that hub of glamour and sophistication, Belleville, Ill., where she became a feature writer, columnist and food editor for the Belleville News-Democrat. A year later the St. Louis Post-Dispatch scooped her up, neither guessing at the full range of her talents, nor the extent of her shoe collection. She went on to work at the Post-Dispatch for 25 years, during which time she covered hard news, education, features, investigative projects, profiles, sports, entertainment, fashion, interiors, business, travel and movies. She won numerous major local and national awards for her reporting on "Women Who Kill" and on a four-part series about teen-age pregnancy, 'Children Having Children.'" Among her many jobs at the newspaper, Ellen was a columnist for three years, Arts and Entertainment Editor, Critic-at-large and Daily Features (Everyday) Editor. She invented two sections from scratch, one of which recently morphed from Get Out, begun in 1995, to GO. In January of 2009, Ellen joined the St. Louis Jewish Light as its editor, where she is responsible for overseeing editorial operations, including managing both staff members and freelancers. Under her tutelage, the Light has won 16 Rockower Awards — considered the Jewish Pulitzer’s — including two personally for Excellence in Commentary for her weekly News & Schmooze column. She also is the communications content editor for the Arts and Education Council of St. Louis. Ellen and her husband, Jeff Burkett, a middle school principal, live in Olivette and have three children. Ellen can be reached at 314-743-3669 or at [email protected].