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Athletes Headed to Vienna to Compete in Maccabi Games
Jamie Levy happens to be the only Jewish player on Shippensburg University's field hockey squad.
But next week she'll be surrounded by lots of Jews when the midfielder from Bala Cynwyd is set to compete for the United States at the European Maccabi Games in Vienna, Austria.
The 20-year-old from the central Pennsylvania college said that she's looking forward to a high level of international competition at the quadrennial event, which takes place July 5-13.
Levy, who grew up attending Main Line Reform Temple-Beth Elohim in Wynnewood, is also seeking a genuine Jewish experience -- especially since she has applied to Birthright Israel several times but so far hasn't won space on a trip. (Levy said that program officials told her there wasn't enough room but they encouraged her to keep applying.)
As for participating in the upcoming games, the Shippensburg junior said, "There is a part of me that is excited about my religion and a part that is excited" just to play.
Organizers have said that the games -- it's the 13th time they've been held in Europe -- will constitute the largest gathering of Jews in Vienna since before World War II.
To enhance the trip's educational component, Maccabi USA asked the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., to send each athlete a "passport" telling the story of a Shoah victim or survivor. Visitors to the museum receive similar cards upon arrival.
The United States is taking a total of 115 athletes and coaches to the games. In 2009, Maccabi USA brought a contingent of nearly 1,000 to the quadrennial World Maccabiah Games in Israel, the biggest event sponsored by the Maccabi movement. Team USA also plans to take a sizable group for different games in Brazil later this year.
Ami Monson, program director at Maccabi USA, which is based in Philadelphia, explained that, unlike at the world Maccabiah event, the American team was only invited to compete in certain events. He said that the practice is intended to ensure that Americans don't dominate the medal count.
Local athletes are taking part in basketball, fencing, field hockey, soccer, swimming and table tennis.
All told, the Philadelphia area is sending a delegation of 20 to the games, including athletes, coaches and the official team doctor. The athletes are competing in all three age categories: juniors, 15- to 18-year-olds; open, 18- to 35-year-olds; and masters, over 35 years old.
Jeff Fuchs, a 43-year-old real estate developer and personal trainer from Richboro, is serving as the manager for Team USA. That means he's responsible for all the logistics in Vienna, including the team's travel and lodging. In the past, he coached gymnastics and table tennis for Team USA.
Why sign up for this new task, one that involves so many details?
"It's a love of the Maccabi movement. It's just an incredible way to connect Jewishly," said Fuchs.
Fuchs, whose father and grandparents survived the Holocaust, said that taking part in such an event in a country that once assisted the Nazis makes a powerful statement about Jewish survival.
The games are for both the young and the not-so-young.
Swimmer Joan Waldbaum of Wynnewood made her Maccabi debut in 2006 in Australia, at the age of 75. Since then, she's hit the pool at Maccabi competitions in Argentina and Israel. This time, she's planning to swim breast stroke, butterfly, medley and maybe free style.
Jeremy Geiger, on the other hand, has never been overseas. The 16-year-old junior at Lower Moreland High School said that the chance to visit another country and experience a foreign culture, was the main reason he signed up for the games.
Geiger, who grew up attending Old York Road Temple-Beth Am in Abington, said he was so excited about the opportunity that he took to selling raffle tickets and soliciting donations in order to pay the approximately $5,000 in individual expenses. Geiger is also set to play hoops in the local JCC Maccabi Games, which is slated to take place in Philadelphia this August.
"Obviously, the financial undertaking was pretty steep," said Geiger. "It's a unique opportunity, not just from a basketball standpoint, but from a cultural standpoint. Austria is one of those places that is so rich in history."
The 6-foot-1-inch guard said that he's playing to win. He hasn't yet met any of his teammates -- none of the others are from Pennsylvania -- but the squad is gathering on June 30 in Albany, N.Y., for some practice time before departing for Austria on July 3.
"Obviously, I'm looking forward to hopefully winning a gold medal."