Bethesda father and son compete in Maccabiah Games

Michael and Akira Morgenstern at the Maccabiah Games Opening Ceremonies in Jerusalem on July 14.

When Michael Morgenstern traveled to Israel this year with his son, Akira, both of whom were competing in the Maccabiah Games in tennis, it represented the fulfillment of something he had long wished to see.

“I had always dreamed of Akira and I playing the [Maccabiah Games] together,” said Michael Morgenstern, a resident of Bethesda and founding member of Kol Shalom. “It was just an awful lot of moving parts that actually ended up all fitting together … and he and I traveled to Israel with my wife [Keiko] and we spent three weeks there. It was great.”

Michael Morgenstern said he competed in the Maccabiah Games’ Grandmasters Tennis, in the Men’s 70s division, while Akira competed in the Maccabiah Men’s Open Tennis.

Michael had competed in the 2017 Maccabiah Games, winning a bronze medal in the Men’s 65s division. This year, he won another bronze in the 70s division. Meanwhile, at this year’s games, Akira Morgenstern did not medal, losing a close doubles game for a medal in a tiebreak.

Tennis seems to run in the Morgenstern family. Michael Morgenstern’s father, Carl, hung out at tennis courts in Cleveland. Becoming a strong tennis player in his own right, Carl passed his love for the game down to Michael, who in turn passed it down to Akira.

“I think what appeals to me most about tennis is the aspect of individuality,” said Akira. “It’s a sport where you’re out on the court all by yourself, you’re responsible for everything that happens. … You can take complete and whole pride in your wins, and then you also have to take complete responsibility for your losses, no matter how bad they are.”

Michael Morgenstern tried out for the Maccabiah Games when he was 35, but didn’t qualify nationally, he said. His attention gravitated toward starting a law practice and raising a family. It was another 30 years before he tried out for the games again, feeling inspired by his children’s participation in Junior Maccabiah. He noted that his daughter, Emiko, won a bronze medal in tennis in Junior Maccabiah, while Akira would later win a gold medal.

Akira Morgenstern was proud to have reached a semifinals match during his first Maccabiah Games.

“I didn’t medal,” he said. “But then, at the end of the day, it was more to connect with other Jews from around the world and foster and maintain these friendships that I’ll probably keep for the rest of my life.”

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