Written by Andy Newman Thursday, 15 August 2013 00:00
Bob Litwin’s return to Israel last month for the first time since 1985 was not only an athletic triumph for the No. 1 ranked over 65 years old tennis player in the United States, but also a life changing event.
Litwin, well known in the Port Washington and Great Neck tennis community, traveled to the Middle East as player/coach for the Grand Masters (over 65) tennis team that participated in the just completed 19th World Maccabiah Games in Tel Aviv. He combined with the 22 players on his team to win 17 medals, 15 more than the team won four years ago.
On a personal level, Litwin, who lives in Glenwood Landing, won the gold medal himself in the men’s final, beating Joe Owen, Israel’s top ranked 65 and over player, 6-3, 6-2. Litwin was a bronze medal singles winner in Israel in 1985 and won the gold in the men’s doubles that year also.
But the trip, which included visits to Yad Vashem, the memorial to Holocaust victims, and the fortress at Masada left a deep impression on him. “It was unbelievable and so special,” he said, “because almost 30 years ago I was kind of there just playing tennis. But this was one of the top experiences of my life.”
“For me,” he continued, “Israel was like a new awakening for me, just to be there again after 30 years. The changes in Israel in the last 30 years weren’t so dramatic as the fact that I’ve changed in 30 years. My appreciation of Israel is that everybody is an Israeli first and that kind of unity is so unique to see. We sometimes forget in our own country that we’re all Americans first, not Easterners, or Westerners, not rich or poor. We’re really all the same. Being in Israel made me more conscious of my own identity as a person. It was a wonderful feeling.”
He was also elated over the success of his team. There were approximately 1200 athletes representing the U.S. at the event. Less than 200 of those competitors won medals.
Litwin’s team accounted for 17 of those medals, a significant number. “I was coaching these guys in how to deal with competition and one of the things that you learn in competition is that very few guys actually win,” he commented. “Just think of it. More than a thousand didn’t win anything.”
“The message I kept giving the team is that it’s not really about medals, he continued. “It’s about the experience. The experience of adults being able to develop deep bonding experiences with other adults is very, very rare once you’ve stopped going to camp and going to college. Most of the relationships we develop during that time are somewhat superficial. But to be able to spend 16 days with a bunch of different people all from different areas, different parts of the country, from different professions, and different economic levels, you basically end up having brothers for life. I mean, you’re so connected. That’s very, very special. I feel very blessed to have 22 new brothers in my life.
That’s a huge takeaway.”
Litwin, a member of the Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame, has won the International Tennis Federation World Championship, 14 United States Tennis Association National titles from 1991 to 2007 and was ranked first in the over 55 years old bracket in 2005. He’s also been selected for the Senior Davis Cup team nine times. He grew up in Great Neck, starring at Great Neck South High in tennis and basketball and lived in Port Washington for 23 years before moving to Glenwood Landing.