Maccabiah Games – Life Changing
Past members of Team Canada suggest that the Games not only transformed them into stronger athletes, but gave them a background and appreciation for their roots. The Olympic-style event allowed them to celebrate their Jewish heritage and form a stronger connection towards Israel – a feeling like no other.
“Nobody could put words into everything that they felt for the duration of the trip,” said Kristine Mirkiewicz, a junior track and field athlete from the 2009 Canadian delegation. “I found it so inspirational to see Jews of all ages and all walks of life come together to share one common love of sports.”
For Matthew Chiz-Majeur, a junior baseball player on the 2013 delegation, who has represented Team Quebec at the Toronto Blue Jays’ annual Tournament 12 showcase event for college-eligible players, the Maccabiah Games marked his first time in Israel. The Point-Claire, Que., native says he immediately felt connected with the country and the Jewish community within the three weeks.
“Understanding what my identity was really opened my eyes and gave me a huge sense of belonging,” said Chiz-Majeur, who also took part in the five-day pre-Games Israel Experience tour with other junior athletes. “I met some great people there, who really changed my life because of it.”
The importance of team bonding and building close friendships during the trip was highly-valued, especially in an event where Jewish athletes from around the world come together. Maccabiah 2013 hockey teammates, Noah Schwartz and Matt Herskovitz, still manage to maintain a strong friendship to this day. Now graduating seniors, the pair continued playing together for Western University after the Games, a unique experience neither takes for granted.
“It was great to have him on the team with me at Western,” said Schwartz. “We got pretty close throughout the three years we played there because of the experiences we went through together at the Maccabiah Games.”
Herskovitz says that Schwartz is now one of his closest friends and that their relationship has grown both on and off the ice since coming to Western. He describes them being teammates as a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”
“Having the opportunity to share that experience at Western with another Jewish individual from the Maccabiah Games was really something special,” said Herskovitz. “It is an opportunity you don’t really get very often, so it is definitely something I will always cherish moving forward.”
Schwartz and Herskovitz are one of a number of former Maccabi athlete duos that have remained teammates post-Games.
Liad Lapid and Jacob Harris of the junior boys’ hockey team were reunited with the Toronto Patriots of the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL) this past season, while fellow Western athletes Josh Weinstein and Ahsher Zeldin competed together for the Mustangs track and field squad. The University of British Columbia (UBC) is also home to four 2013 Maccabians, with track athletes Oded Aminov and Alexia Miller, as well as women’s soccer players Hannah Boshari and Emma Kallner suiting up together for the Thunderbirds.
Most prominently, the delegation’s flag-bearer Josh Binstock, a London 2012 Olympian, and 2015 Pan Am Games teammate Sam Schachter, compete on the beach volleyball World Tour, after playing at the Maccabiah for the open men’s indoor team.
While the previous athletes all agree that participating in the Maccabiah is a “gift” in many ways, for Mirkiewicz, the Games were about much more than just competing for gold.
“Participating in the Maccabiah Games has changed me as an athlete by making me realize that you can win a lot from competing, regardless of where you place in the competition,” she said. “Even though I didn’t get any medals, the experience of competing on a global level in Israel is an intangible reward that is more valuable than any prize.”