Joie Sandler, Jake Brown repping St. Louis, Team USA at World Maccabiah Games


Jordan Palmer, Chief Digital Content Officer

Editor’s note: View individual and team sports updates and results on the Maccabiah website. Gymnast Joie Sandler is also featured in a new Team USA video, available here

Two St. Louis Jewish teens are in Israel representing Team USA at the 2022 World Maccabiah Games in Israel.

Joie Sandler, 14, who will be a freshman at Ladue Horton Watkins High School in the fall and Jake Brown, 17, who will be a senior this fall at John Burroughs School, are competing along with an estimated 1,200 athletes from the United States. Joie is a member of the USA U16 Girls’ Gymnastics Team. Jake will be competing in U18 Boys’ Hockey.

What are the Maccabiah Games?

The Maccabiah is the largest Jewish sports event in the world and takes place once every four years in Israel. Also known as the “Jewish Olympics,” its main goals are to bring young Jewish athletes from all over the world to Israel while maintaining the highest levels of sport. The games also aspire to strengthen the connection of the participants to the state of Israel and the Jewish people.

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Competitions are held in four different categories: open, young, masters, and paralympic. The youth category is open to ages 15-18, the master’s category is for older people who want to participate in the competitions, and the open category is for the most senior and leading athletes in any sport.

Maccabiah: Israel Connect

Before the games begin, Joie and Jake will participate in Maccabi USA’s signature program, Israel Connect.

For the six days of their visit, American athletes will enjoy an immersive cultural, educational and athletic experience unlike any other programming offered in Israel.

“For the first time since the program was created in the 1980s, we will be joined by a cohort of specially recruited and trained Maccabi Education Fellows to help the members of our delegation make meaning and deepen their connections to Judaism, Israel and each other,” said Deb Lichtenfeld, chair of Israel Connect.

Athletes will work out and practice in the morning, followed by an afternoon of touring across the country, culminating with a visit on the final day to Yad V’Shem to learn about the Holocaust’s impact on the psyche of modern Israel.

Maccabiah: Joie Sandler

On her first day at a “Mommy & Me” gym class, then 3-year-old Joie spotted a climbing rope across the gym.

“She went over to play on the trampoline and went over to the rope and climbed to the top on her first try. She was always climbing something,” said her mother, Angela Sandler.

A year later, Joie was learning the “ropes” at St. Louis Gymnastics Centre. Now, at age 14, she won the gym’s Level 9 “most improved” gymnast award and traveled to both state and regionals for competition with USA Gymnastics.

“I love all the opportunities gymnastics gives me,” said Joie, whose her family belongs to Temple Israel. “From my being with my best friends, to being able to travel around the country, and all the lessons it’s taught me. I can truly see gymnastics as something that has shaped the person I am today. Gymnastics has given me many experiences that not everyone gets to have.”

One of those experiences is representing her country this summer in Israel. Joie says she recognizes the honor that comes with this opportunity.

“It feels amazing, unreal, and exciting. To be able to represent the USA in Israel, doing the sport that I love and the sport I’ve put so much dedication, time, and work into, feels like a huge accomplishment,” said Joie.

This is Joie’s first trip to Israel. Before the competition begins, she and all members of Team USA will enjoy several days of visiting sites around the country, to better instill the importance of the games and Israel to each athlete.

“I’m most excited for the experience of being in Israel since I’ve never been before, and also getting to be a part of Team USA while I’m there,” she said. “I can’t wait for all the cool places we will get to go to, and to see what living in Israel is like. I’m also very excited to meet lots of new people and make new friends.”

For Angela Sandler, Joie’s mother, the years of being a gymnastics mom are paying off with dividends.

“I am always proud of Joie for her ambition, drive, and dedication to gymnastics,” said Sandler. “It’s been so fun over the years to watch her compete and work hard to achieve her goals, Maccabiah being one of them.  To see her compete for Team USA will be a lifelong memory for her and for us.”

Maccabiah: Jake Brown

Jake Brown was in skates and on the ice before he took his first baby steps. By age 6, Jake was in pads and working on his shot.

“My dad wanted to start me young,” said Jake, a left-side defenseman, whose family are members of CRC.

Jake plays for the CarShield AAA team, which is among the highest levels available in St. Louis. To earn his spot on the team, he traveled to Philadelphia last summer to try out with 100 of the best kids in the under 18 category.  At 6-feet-3, 205 pounds, Jake held his own, making the team as one of the few players from the Midwest.

“What I love about hockey is the pace and grit of the game,” he said. “It’s a very fast game in a relatively small space. It requires a lot of toughness and grinding not only during the game but also throughout a season of practicing too. Lastly, there is something unique and fun about walking into the cold rink and playing a game on ice.”

As an American Jew, Jake is very excited about the opportunity to see and experience Israel from this rare vantage point.

“I am very excited to see some of the famous sights in Israel such as the Western Wall and other religious sights. I also am looking forward to seeing such a large and devout Jewish community. I hope to be able to immerse myself in their culture for some time while I am there,” he said.

Jake will also be a part of Maccabiah history. For the first time, the games will begin before the opening ceremony when he and Team USA will take on Team Canada in front of 11,000 athletes from around the world. After the game, both teams and the crowd will march together to take part in the opening ceremonies.

“I am very excited to play against kids from other countries. I have never played international teams and I look forward to it but also, I am hoping to meet many other athletes from other countries who are participating,” said Jake.

The Jewish Light is in touch with both families and will update this story as the competition begins.