If you think the Maccabi Games are just for teens, think again: One 64-year-old from Silver Spring, Maryland just won his fourth and fifth medals in the international Jewish sporting competition.
Neil Schechter competed in the Masters’ 55+ Tennis tournament at the 2019 European Maccabi Games in Budapest earlier this month, claiming the gold in the singles competition and bronze in the doubles.
“It was very rewarding to win gold. And I was very thankful [to win bronze]. It was a very challenging doubles match,” he said in a phone interview.
It was Schechter’s 14th year participating in the Games. He feels the European Games are special since they take place in cities that have “significant Jewish communities.”
“The [European] Maccabi Games really appeal to two of my two of my most important interests: my competitive interest in tennis and my passion to learn more about Jewish history and communities in Europe,” he said. “[Budapest] is a very nice place to visit and to meet the Jewish community,” he said.
When he goes to the Games in different cities, locals will often point out areas where they were held in the past and discuss their memories about the nearly century-old competition.
“It feels like you’re participating in something more historical,” he said. Schechter has been playing tennis competitively since he was in high school. A Maccabi athlete since 2005, he has competed in the Maccabi Games throughout Europe and Israel.
While in Budapest, he and the other athletes took the opportunity to visit Europe’s largest synagogue, the Dohany Street Syngogue, for Kabbalat Shabbat services.
“It’s a very beautiful synagogue,” he said, “I was on the main floor [for services] and [I] could look up and the upper two levels. The whole place was filled. There must have been three thousand people, the whole place was rocking.” It was like being part of a large family, he said.
Playing sports is another way to connect as well.
“[Tennis] is a great way to meet people and it’s a fun sport. It’s a very personal activity and you get to know a lot about the people [you’re playing with.] You often make friends on the court,” he said. “[The Games] were a great way to support and interact with others.” n
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