Anthony Housefather, MP: The Maccabean of Parliament

The mere mention of the 20th Maccabiah Games makes Anthony Housefather light up with excitement.

From representing Canada as a competitor to the camaraderie with athletes from around the world, Anthony loves it all, which is why the quadrennial Games have been circled on his calendar since 2013.

Known in his riding of Mount Royal as its ever-approachable Member of Parliament, in athletic circles, Anthony’s political success is rivaled only by his swimming accomplishments, stemming from a career that began at the 1982 JCC Maccabi Games in Memphis, Tennessee.

Inspired by friends, at 11 years old, he became the youngest member of the delegation; one of the last additions to the team by Maccabi Canada legends, Mary Luxenberg and her late husband, Abraham.

“It was a really cool experience, I won a lot of medals at the meet,” he added. “I will remember it forever.”

Little did Anthony know that thirty-one years later, he would qualify to represent Canada again, this time, at a somewhat larger swim meet.

“My initial reaction at the 2013 Maccabiah Games was ‘oh my god, this is incredible.’ The size of the Games was bigger than any sporting event I’ve ever been to before,” said Anthony. “It was such a proud moment marching into the stadium wearing the Canadian uniform and following the Canadian flag, it makes you feel really proud of your country.”

That pride will undoubtedly boil over this summer, given that in 2015, Anthony was elected as a federal Member of Parliament.

Politics aside, Anthony has one goal in his second Maccabiah: to make swimming history. Four years of training will culminate in ten races, and once the pomp and circumstance of the Opening Ceremonies fade away, Anthony’s laser focus and training will kick in.

In 2013, it was this dedication that led to seven medals, including a narrow miss of gold by four tenths of a second in the 400-meter freestyle.

“The first thing that every swimmer should say is that you always want to compete against yourself and achieve your best times,” said Anthony. “You can’t pick out who your competition is going to be, but I feel that if I swim well, I will win a number of medals. I would be disappointed if I didn’t.”

“My best Maccabiah races are the 200 meter, 400 meter freestyle and 100 fly events. I also came in second recently at the provincial championships in the 1500 meters which is the same distance as the open water swim,” he added. “I look forward to the open water race, where I won a silver in 2013. It’s a different technique in terms of breathing and looking forward to see where you are going, but if I’m in good shape, I should win a medal.”

Although Anthony is dominating in the pool today, there was a period of time where he never thought he would swim another lap in his life.

“Like many swimmers I burned out. I switched to water polo and then after I graduated from McGill University, I did not get in a pool again for 12 years,” he recalled. “I thought I would never swim again.”

That would all change when he was elected Mayor of Cote Saint Luc and began to realize his long-term athletic vision for the city: the addition of a state-of-the-art Aquatic and Community Centre.

“It was always a dream of mine to have aquatics in Cote Saint Luc and one of the ways we were starting to gear up for having a swim team in the soon to be built indoor pool was to create a summer swim team which would begin to compete in the outdoor pool,” he said. “I told a lot of the kids that if they would swim, I would swim in the open age group as well. Without training, I started swimming in the meets and then it started to get competitive. I began to train more and more and I have not stopped since.”

For Anthony, while the preparation and competition is important, not lost on him is that the Games also serve as a celebration of heritage and history, dating back thousands of years.

“One of the things that the Maccabiah Games taught me is that you can be proud to be Jewish and you can take pride in your identity for reasons outside of religion. At Maccabiah, your unity is through sport and from a common heritage. It’s an incredible opportunity to bond with fellow Jews from around the world.”

It’s the combination of the bond, the sport and atmosphere that first intrigued Anthony in 1982 and has kept the fire burning for 35 years. It’s what will propel him in the pool this summer – and undoubtedly for years to come.