Athletes, supporters and volunteers of Maccabi USA were honored on Wednesday of last week for their involvement with the organization at the Legends of the Maccabiah gala in Bethesda.
The event featured Washington Wizards play-by-play announcer Steve Buckhantz as the master of ceremonies.
“We all take pride in being Jewish,” Buckhantz said, before receiving applause for chanting some Hebrew. He followed by stating the U.S. team’s achievements at the 19th Maccabiah Games held this past summer, which saw the U.S. bring more than 1,100 athletes to the games and leave with 132 gold medals.
Buckhantz then began the main presentation of the night, honoring the “legends” through speeches and video presentations.
The honorees included former Olympians and Maccabi athletes Don Spero (rowing), Wendy Weinberg Weil (swimming) and Ernie Grunfeld (basketball).
Maccabi soccer coach and former athlete Alan Albert was also honored, as well as Ellen and Simon Atlas (board of directors/organizing committee), Mel Chaskin (board of directors/organizing committee) and former Maccabi rower and Israeli ambassador Michael Oren.
Rounding out the honorees were basketball player and board of directors member Jacky Loube; Maccabi medical workers Jodi and Ricki Reff; and golfers Jeff Fleishman and Mark and Brent Goldstein.
The organization, which means to strengthen Jewish identity through sports, also held the event to promote fundraising for the 20th World Maccabiah Games, which will be held in Israel in 2017. Maccabi USA spent more than $10 million to send the U.S. team to Israel for this year’s games.
Before the ceremony, Albert said the Maccabiah Games, also known as the “Jewish Olympics,” are great for young Jewish athletes, adding that the environment is great for shaping Jewish identity.
Spero, who was a rower at Cornell, said competing in the 1961 Maccabiah Games created the opportunity to continue his rowing career after college.
He went on to win multiple U.S. National Championships in single, double and quadruple sculls and was the 1966 World Champion in single sculls. He was also a top 10 finalist at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
Spero said his Maccabiah Games experience strengthened his Jewish identity emotionally and strengthened his connection with Israel, which he said he was able to understand on a different level.
“[Tonight’s ceremony] is a chance for the Jewish community to get together, renew friendships and mobilize people to raise money,” he added. “It’s a chance to recognize people for the work they do.”
Spero’s daughter followed in his footsteps, winning a medal in Taekwondo at the 18th Maccabiah Games.
Bob Spivak, chairman of Maccabi USA, also discussed the night’s festivities.
“It’s important to share what we do in the D.C. area,” he said. “How do you say thank you to people who volunteer? This is our way of saying thank you.”
For the 2017 games, Spivak said he hopes to see the inclusion of more sports, including men’s and women’s lacrosse.