Playing table tennis in 15 languages with Stuart Goldberg

Stuart and Helen Goldberg. Courtesy the Goldbergs

As a trained linguist, Stuart Goldberg dabbles in 15 languages, Hebrew and Russian among them. As a table tennis enthusiast, he’s bested players in the 80 to 84 age group in national competitions.

This Leisure World resident stays engaged mentally, physically and socially, and that, he says, is the key to healthy aging.

“I really love languages and words and writing, things of that nature,” he says. “And, I’ve been in sports all my life.”

Goldberg, 80, and his wife Helen, 72, moved to Silver Spring 11 years ago to be near their children and grandchildren. Before Leisure World, the shomer Shabbat couple lived in the Warwick apartments and walked to the Orthodox Silver Spring Jewish Center and Chabad of Silver Spring. Now they attend the services offered at Leisure World.

“We love it here,” Goldberg says. “There are so many activities, things to do and it’s just a beautifully landscaped place. We’re meeting a lot of people and I’m getting the opportunity to be both the language teacher of French and Italian and president of the table tennis club.”

Helen Goldberg, his wife of 53 years, was the principal of Leo Bernstein Jewish Academy of Fine Arts in Silver Spring for eight years. Stuart taught modern Hebrew at the Yeshiva of Greater Washington for a year.

The couple’s story begins in El Paso, Texas, where they met at the home of a mutual friend. They lived in El Paso for 43 years, raising three children. Helen worked as an educator in public and private schools.

Goldberg, living in Florida at the time, responded to an ad to move to El Paso to train and supervise Vietnamese language instructors at Fort Bliss. The instructors taught the Army soldiers Vietnamese during the Vietnam War.

Goldberg also ran a language school for four years in the El Paso-Juarez region. Most of his students worked for General Motors on both sides of the border. For eight years, he taught at University of Texas at El Paso.

Goldberg counts 58 years in the foreign language and ESL field. He holds a B.A. in Russian from the University of Florida and an M.A. in Spanish and linguistics from the University of Missouri.

He is drawn to foreign languages by “an appreciation of other cultures and a desire to communicate with those people in their native language. It’s more fun to learn languages when you travel,” he says.

Languages are best learned without cumbersome grammar lessons, he says. “A good instructor will help you develop your oral skills with a minimum amount of grammar.”

When learning a language, “you must be highly motivated and not be afraid to make oral mistakes. Communication is the most important thing.”

Goldberg grew up in a Conservative environment in Detroit. His father was a furniture salesman and his mother a housewife. The public high school that Goldberg attended, Mumford, was 75 percent Jewish at the time. After marriage, the Goldbergs kept Orthodox tradition and their three grown children became Orthodox as well.

Their son, Ari Goldberg, is a journalist who directs communications at the Center for Democracy and Technology. Their son-in-law, Ronnie Schwartz, developed ShulCloud, software that runs synagogue databases.

Goldberg has made a name for himself in table tennis, now recognized as one of the fastest growing sports in the world. He started playing recreationally when he was 9 in his Detroit neighborhood and played more seriously when he was in college in Florida.

“Table tennis at that time was not really a major sport in this country. There was little or no coaching and not that many places to play.”

In college, he played on tables in his Jewish fraternity house, Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPI).

In El Paso, he won 20 consecutive local tournaments and played three national venues. He has been the gold medalist in his age group for the past four years in the Maryland state competition. He also played on the men’s team in the Maccabiah Games in Israel in 2017. Most recently he won a gold medal at the National Senior Games in Fort Lauderdale, representing Maryland.

“It’s great exercise in hand-eye coordination,” he says. “It’s a lifetime sport and a wonderful game. I’m about as good as I ever was.”

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