From July 18-30 approximately 9,000 Jews from 70 countries, 37 states and D.C. will gather in Israel to compete in the 19th annual Maccabiah Games.
Athletes of all ages will be competing in team and individual sports while touring Israel and making new friends. Many of them will meet their teammates and practice together for the first time a mere week before they are called on to go for the gold.
Participants will be competing in three age groups — juniors, open and masters.
Here is a small sample of the many athletes from the Maryland, Virginia and D.C. area who are competing.
To follow the games, go to maccabiah.com.
— by Suzanne Pollak
Steven Gross has been involved in fencing for about 45 years and has competed in championships in England, Russia and Australia.
Now the 56-year-old from Fairfax will be taking his foil to Israel, which will mark his first time there.
Gross has enjoyed fencing since he first started while in high school in New York and calls it a sport that is both intellectually and physically challenging.
He has been training at the Rockville Fencing Academy in preparation for the games.
Shanna Seager and Ryan Strauss will be rowing in the Maccabiah Games, although in separate races. The engaged couple lives in D.C.
Seager, the tanned rower on the left in the photo, always loved sports but never met with much success until she started rowing in college while Strauss began rowing in high school. She is a graduate student at Georgetown University. Strauss is a patent attorney in Reston.
Rowing is “high intensity. You have to be explosive, and you have to be able to endure a lot of pain,” Seager said.
While in Israel, Seager, 26, is going to have her bat mitzvah.
Andrew Zuckerman of Potomac is the youngest member of the juniors track team.
The 16-year-old Churchill High School sophomore hopes to compete in sprinting events, including “everything from 100 meters to 400 meters.”
He loves running, noting, “It’s just a huge adrenaline rush.” He also plays football and lacrosse.
Though he doesn’t know his fellow runners, he has been reaching out through Facebook and Twitter and already has made friends, he said.
Charlotte Gerstenfeld has been riding horses all her life. She is a professional trainer and rider and is looking forward to show jumping in the games.
She wants everyone to know that what she competes in is an Olympic sport and not just a hobby, and that she loves the challenge of constantly improving.
Gerstenfeld, of Fairfax, has worked with horses in Germany and California.
She will be renting a horse while in Israel, a country she has never visited.
Connor Roth, 17, loves ice hockey and plays on his school team at The Hotchkiss School in Connecticut.
The Georgetown resident began attending Washington Capitals’ games when he was young and has been hooked on the sport ever since.
A high school senior who went to Israel last year with Washington Hebrew Congregation, Roth said he stopped being concerned about meeting and playing with people he doesn’t know when the team coach told him that everyone he will be playing with not only loves ice hockey but also has had a bar mitzvah and is Jewish. It’s an “even stronger bond,” Roth said.
Greg Berson, who will be starting his junior year at Northeastern University in Boston, has been playing squash for about half his life.
The criminal justice major plays on his college team and is looking forward to playing for the first time with his new Maccabiah team, whose members are spread throughout the country.
Berson’s family will also be going to Israel to cheer him along, including his grandfather, who lives in South Africa.
“It will be an amazing time,” said the Potomac resident.
Harry Goldman rides his bike as often as he can.
He particularly enjoys racing competitively, which he has been doing for the past four years.
This fall, he will be a senior at American University, where he majors in international studies.
Although he has been to Israel at least a half a dozen times, the 21-year-old is looking forward to his first Maccabiah Games.
Maddie and Marissa Cannon are identical twins who admit to loving every sport.
They play on the Walt Whitman High School basketball team, which made it to the state’s semifinals this year, and now they are playing basketball in Israel in the Maccabiah Games.
Besides softball, soccer, golf and tennis, Maddie loves to bake and Marissa loves photography. They can often be found helping others through various local Jewish organizations. Marissa plays hand ball with special needs students at her school, and Maddie bakes for those who are ill or having a bad day.
Jaycee Yegher swims most days, sometimes twice a day. Her bat mitzvah theme was swimming and everyone who came got a towel.
Says Yegher, who swims on several teams depending on the season, “I love the feeling I have after a hard practice.”
Now the 14-year-old from Darnestown will be swimming in Israel and definitely checking out the Dead Sea and the Wall.
A recent graduate of Roberto Clemente Middle School, Yegher will be attending Northwest High School in the fall.
Zoe Foster is looking forward to meeting her soccer teammates and participating in the games’ opening ceremonies.
She has been playing soccer since she was 7 years old and will be majoring in communications at Cornell University in the fall now that she has graduated from Churchill High School.
“I like the team atmosphere mostly, getting along with the girls and bonding with them and the competitiveness,” she said.
This will be her first trip to Israel.
Kera Bartlett is hoping to jump at least 11 feet into the air when she competes in the pole vault.
The 26-year-old was ranked 23rd in the country and cleared 12 feet eight inches while at Occidental College, but she donated her poles to the college upon graduating and hasn’t trained much since.
Bartlett, a management consultant in D.C., is excited to go to Israel for the first time only one year after she became a bat mitzvah with an adult class at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue.
Brielle Dana, a special ed teacher at Churchill High School, considers being able to compete in the triathlon and visit Israel “the perfect combination.” The 28-year-old Rockville resident will be swimming, biking and running. She calls her training, which begins at 4:15 most mornings, just a part of her lifestyle. Each day, she works hard on at least one of the three events.
“I am just hard core. I applied last year and have been excited ever since. This is my A race,” she said.