Representing Cuba at Maccabiah

In 1997, Hella Eskenazi grasped the Cuban flag as she prepared to march into Ramat Gan Stadium for the opening ceremony of the Maccabiah Games. But the collapse of a foot bridge leading to the stadium killed four Australian athletes and led to the cancellation of the ceremony.

But on July 18, Abel Hernandez Eskenazi did what his mother could not: He was Cuba’s flag bearer at the ceremony that began the 19th Maccabiah, leading his country’s first-ever official Maccabiah delegation.

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Abel, 13, achieved something else that eluded his mother, like him a karate athlete. Earlier this week in Jerusalem, he earned a Maccabiah medal, a bronze, defeating a South African opponent in the junior division.

Other Cuban medalists so far are the siblings Rafael and Roxana Gonzalez, who earned gold and silver medals in the mixed 18- and 17-meter archery events, respectively, and Roxana Gonzalez, who earned a bronze medal in the 18-meter female competition.

“I was very proud and happy to have the Cuban flag in my hand … because the flag represents the Cuban delegation,” Abel told JTA, with his mother translating from Spanish.

Hella Eskenazi serves as head of the delegation of 56, which includes 11 folk dancers who are performing at a music festival in the northern town of Carmiel.

The Eskenazis live in Havana and attend the Beth Shalom Synagogue, where Abel will celebrate his bar mitzvah in November. Watching her son carry their country’s flag into Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium last week was “like a dream,” she said. “I’m very proud of my son and of the Cuban delegation.”

Hillel Kuttler in 2011 launched “Seeking Kin,” his now-thrice-monthly column on people searching for long-lost relatives and friends. Hillel also writes regularly for the N.Y. Times, where his features often tackle the nexus of sports and history. Hillel served for 6 1/2 years as The Jerusalem Post’s Washington bureau chief. He has earned national awards for his feature stories on the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and on NBA player Omri Casspi.

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