DMV Residents Represent the US at the Pan American Maccabi Games

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Lisa Levin and her son, Alex Reichmann, are competing in the Pan American Maccabi Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Photo courtesy of Lisa Levin

DMV residents are among the more than 650 athletes that traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina, from Dec. 28 to Jan. 4 to compete in the Pan American Maccabi Games, which will bring some athletes back to the field of competition after long absences and others a first taste of high-level international athletic competition.

The Maccabi Games give Jewish athletes a chance to compete against fellow Jews from across the world and make lasting connections, especially among people from an athlete’s respective geographical area.

Lisa Levin, a DMV resident who is a member of Shaare Torah in Gaithersburg and a distance runner and cyclist, is making her second appearance in the games after winning a gold medal in the half marathon 20 years ago. Levin is competing alongside her 18-year-old son, Alex Reichmann, a senior at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School and a competitive cyclist, an experience that they’re both excited for.

“I’ve been waiting for this all year since we found out we made it. This has been like the highlight of the year. There’s a very high level of excitement and it’s been hard to wait for it all year,” Levin said.

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Despite winning gold two decades ago, Levin was never able to put the time in to compete again until this year, as she was raising kids and had multiple other commitments.

But despite that, she stayed connected, serving on the selection committee for the games for several years, and when her son reached the age range for the cycling competition and applied to join the team, she applied as well, and they both made the cut.

“That’s kind of what’s most special to me is that I get to go back 20 years later with my son. So that’s really cool,” Levin said.

The games are also places for young athletes to get a chance to compete and socialize as well, as two other local families with athletes competing noted.

Jennifer Schwartz, whose daughter Shani Schwartz, a senior at JDS, is competing on the U18 girls’ basketball team, said that the family is excited for Shani to be able to compete and experience the celebration of the Jewish people and Jewish athletics.

“It’s just a really great opportunity to get a sense of the larger Jewish community from around the world and to be part of something really exciting,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz won’t be traveling with her daughter, but she said she feels that it will be a great experience for Shani and that it’ll be a time where she can make memories that can last a lifetime.

“She’s a responsible kid, she’s ready for this. We’re excited for her to make new friends from all over the place,” Schwartz said.

Another local athlete, Rachel Fagin, who’s a sophomore at JDS and a member of the U16 girls’ volleyball team, is ready for the high level of international competition that she’ll be facing and to have the chance to celebrate two things in her life she’s passionate about: volleyball and Judaism.

“Usually these are two separate things. This is like the first time where both of those combined and I get to experience both at once. And so, I’m really excited to have that opportunity to embrace both parts of my journey in one,” Fagin said.

Abbey Fagin, Rachel’s mother, is attending the games together with Rachel’s twin sister, and she said that it’ll be a very emotional experience based on a previous time that she watched her daughters compete in a youth Jewish basketball tournament.

“I remember sobbing when I saw the opening ceremonies of these Junior Maccabi Games. It’s just incredibly moving. It’s a very proud moment. I can’t imagine … the amount of pride and recognition not only at how devoted Rachel is to her sport, but just to represent the Jewish people and the United States … it will be really incredibly moving to me … I think I’ll be a hot mess,” Abbey Fagin said.

Rachel Fagin also touched on another aspect of the games that makes the idea so appealing, which is the personal connections the athletes will get to make with other DMV athletes and other Jews around the world that they’ll be competing against.

“For me, it’s as much a social thing – meeting other Jewish girls like me from across the country and girls who practice differently than I do … I just have an opportunity to meet new people from across the country, even from the teams that we’re playing, and to see how they socially interact or how their Judaism works. It’s going to be a really interesting experience and I’m excited to make friends with a lot of people who are also great athletes,” Rachel Fagin said.

Levin echoed this point, saying that she still keeps in touch with many people that she competed with even 20 years later, and that it’s a rewarding experience to travel to a competition and interact with a lot of Jewish athletes.

She added that given the state of the world right now, having those connections and camaraderie, even with the people they’ll be competing against, will be a meaningful and tangible feeling while they’re at the games.

“It’s just a really unique feel to the competition, because really the competition is infused with Jewish values. So, we’re there to compete, but we’re also there to help each other and display sportsmanship and I think, especially this year, it’s going to feel really meaningful to be all together with all of these athletes for not only for our country, but all over the world,” Levin said.

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