Akira Morgenstern comes from a long line of tennis players. His father and grandfather both played and were a vital part of getting him involved in the sport where he became the number-one-ranked player of his age group in Maryland. Now a junior at Georgetown University, Morgenstern, a Bethesda resident, is a Division One tennis player with a history of Israel advocacy on campus and previous work experience with U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen. Morgenstern spoke with WJW about tennis, his political involvement and post-college plans.
How did you become involved with tennis?
My dad is very involved in tennis, same with my grandfather, and they love the sport so much. Ever since I was little, since I was like five years old, I would always remember just having a racket in my hand. So, I had that instilled in me as a very young child, but developing a love for it on my own really took place … it was in high school. I just became obsessed with it. I started playing pretty much every day. I’d be waking up at like five in the morning sometimes just to get a few hours in before school and just competing. I just love being out there competing really hard. And especially for a team now in college, it’s just a very rewarding experience.
You’ve competed in the Maccabi Games before with your dad and are planning to do so again. What has being able to do that together meant to you?
I played in the Israeli Maccabi Games two summers ago, the summer between my freshman year and sophomore year in college. And I played in the Open singles and doubles and my dad played in the Masters, which is 65 and over. So that was an incredible experience, getting to walk out into Opening Ceremonies at the Maccabi Games with my dad. It’s just such a special experience, both of us competing in what we call the Jewish Olympics. I went to Israel, and I was with a team of highly competitive and very high-level tennis players, both men and women. We’re all Jewish, we all had the same deep appreciation for Judaism, we would all take trips to the Western Wall and all of us felt deeply connected and emotional. It was really special … My dad and I are doing it again this upcoming winter break in Buenos Aires. So, it’s really another great experience.
Can you tell me about the Israel advocacy you’ve done on campus?
On campus, I’m a part of this thing called the Israel on Campus Coalition – the ICC. And this year, I’m actually a fellow for the organization. It basically entails advocating for Israel on campus, especially in light of a lot of rising BDS [Boycott Divestment and Sanctions] and antisemitism across all campuses across the country. There’s been a growing movement to shut down pro-Israel activists coming to speak on campuses. There’s been a lot of protests, especially in the past few days, against Israel, and there’s just been a plethora of antisemitic events, including on Georgetown’s campus … I was referred from one of my friends on campus to the ICC. I thought it would be really good idea to attend their seminar, which was in D.C. And it was a two-to-three-day program where they had a bunch of pro-Israeli advocacy speakers come in and basically teach us methods to advocate for Israel and conduct meaningful discourse with people who might not agree with you.
You worked for Senator Chris Van Hollen. Can you tell me how you got involved and what you did with him?
It was a summer internship where I worked with his legislative team essentially, and I was just an intern for them and I was helping basically write letters, write memos, write briefs for the Senator to try in a small part to help them make decisions on voting and legislative issues and such. That was a six-week program where I was on Capitol Hill and in the D.C. office, and I just had an incredible experience getting to have a real foot in the door with Congress and the Senate, and as a government major at Georgetown it’s like a dream come true.
After tennis and college, do you have anything that you’re looking forward to doing?
I would love to continue my advocacy for Israel and kind of combine that with my love for politics and love for government … I think after college, just sticking with politics, hopefully getting to continue working in D.C., and hopefully I can really work for an organization that has the same views on Israel that I do.
You come from Japanese and Jewish descent; can you tell me about that part of your identity?
Obviously, it’s a pretty unique combination. I don’t think I’ve ever met another Japanese Jew in my entire life. My mom’s Japanese and my dad comes from Jewish descent, but my mom converted before she had me so I’m 100 % Jewish – 50 % Japanese, 50 % Caucasian – and it’s a little weird. At times, I’ll be at Shabbat services or even in Israel and there’ll be some people who might not quite believe that I’m Jewish, or might believe that I’m just half … I think it’s a really rewarding experience being of a diverse ethnicity, along with having a strong Judaic faith. I think it’s really interesting to see the crossroads where these two cultures meet … and it’s just all culminated into the person I am today.