2011 Pan American Games

A Great Experience for Maccabi Canada in Sao Paulo, Brazil

By Tali Dubrovsky

after1 after2 after3 after4 after5 after7“From the Opening Ceremonies, to watching other Canadian athletes perform, to meeting so many athletes from other countries, being a part of the Maccabi experience is one I will never forget“ says ESPN’s Dan Shulman, for whom the Pan American Games in Sao Paulo was a first Maccabi event.

It really was at the Opening Ceremonies where we all came to understand the magnitude and magic of being a part of this global affair. As we were lining up in an alphabetical order, getting ready to enter the stadium standing between the Brazilians and the Chileans, we watched as delegations from 18 other countries were cheering, waving their flags, taking pictures and exchanging souvenirs, but most of all, they were uplifted by the powerful display of worldwide Jewish solidarity. The excitement reached its highest point when lead by our flag bearer Mark Bendahan, we walked into the stadium to the sound of our name being announced and thousands of enthusiastic spectators cheering for us.

For Maccabi Canada this journey started back in 2010 when headed by Alex Brainis, Chair of our National Athletic Committee and head of the Canadian delegation to Brazil, a selected group of coaches went out into the community, held tryouts and selected teams consisting of qualified Jewish athletes to represent Canada in this Olympic style event. Our delegation of 142 included four basketball teams (men’s masters (over 35), men’s open, under-19 and under-17), two softball teams (master’s and open), one open soccer team, one table tennis player, staff and supporters. On December 24th athletes from Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Manitoba gathered at Pearson International in Toronto and together we flew to Brazil.

From the check-in at the magnificent Hilton to the daily scheduling at the Canada Desk, our delegation was well organized and informed which made for a smooth experience. We shared our hotel with the Australians and South Africans and watched old friendships renewed and new ones created.

After our first night in Sao Paulo, the competitions began. First to hit the court was our U17 basketball team against Venezuela. We came away with a victory and a great start to the games. Our Open and Master teams played excellent games against the Red White and Blues and our soccer team faced the Argentineans. Our two softball teams faced each other in a game that was rained out after the third inning. The teams continued to play well for the rest of the week and came home with two silver medals in basketball for our Open and Master teams, and another silver for our Open Softball team. Mitch Billinkoff of Winnipeg, our Table Tennis player had an excellent tournament and single handedly doubled our medal count. Mitch teamed with Sam Parasol from the Australian delegation and together they won a bronze medal at the team event. Mitch went on to earn a Silver in his age category and another bronze in the Open Age category. For his achievements Mitch was chosen to be the Canadian athlete honored by Maccabi World Union with a $100 Israel Bond certificate.

But it’s not the medals that made these games so unique and memorable for the Canadians. What stood out and made the difference was the support and camaraderie of the delegation throughout our ten days in Sao Paulo. “As awesome as the overall Maccabi experience was – that wasn’t what will last for me.” says Adam Epstein from the Open basketball team in his blog “huddlers”. “It was being part of this team” he continues. “We didn’t bond at a club or bar (to an extent) we bonded on the hardwood of the Sao Paulo Hebraica.”

The connection was felt when Mitch made the finals and a large group of Canadians went to watch and cheer, it was also felt when a big group of us got on a bus and made the trip to the diamond field to support our Softball team in their Gold medal game against the United States, and mostly it was felt when over 100 Canadian athletes and supporters filled the basketball stadium at the Hebreica, when our Master team took to the semifinals against Brazil. The crowd cheered and went wild despite the fact (or thanks to it) that our team had very little hope of winning and was down by 10 going into the fourth quarter.

“Our team, to put it in terms we can all understand, entered the tournament as David, with the USA and Brazil being considered the Goliaths (In Brazil’s case, Goliath applies in a literal sense, given their 7 foot centre)” says Shulman, “I played a very small role in our team’s success. But the feeling I had during the win over Brazil is one I will never forget. The gym was full of Canadians. We were playing Brazil, in Brazil, but it felt like a game on Canadian soil. It seemed as if every member of our delegation was in the gym, and the noise they made as our team made its comeback was incredible. Their support leading up to, and during our Gold medal game with the US was amazing as well, and really spoke to the strength of the relationships that had formed throughout the entire Canadian delegation”.

The special feeling continued with a Shabbat ceremony which again highlighted how unique it is to be in a room full of people from all over the world, most of whom we never met before, all united by the magic of candle lighting and Shabbat songs. Looking around us we knew this is one special event we will not soon forget, and we are already looking forward to seeing everyone again in Chile, in 2015.

But first, Israel!