Written by Joe Scotchie Wednesday, 21 August 2013 00:00
Over the years, numerous residents of the Roslyn area have competed in the quadrennial Maccabiah Games in Israel, a competition that attracts the top Jewish athletes from around the world.
This year, Jeff Sorkin, a resident of Roslyn Estates, competed in the games, which lasted throughout the month of July. Sorkin played basketball as a member of the 45 and over Masters Team. To make the team, Sorkin competed with men of similar age from all across the United States. One hundred twenty five basketball talents competed for 12 slots. Sorkin made the final cut at a 2012 October tryout camp in Chicago. The 2013 contest was Sorkin’s first appearance in the Maccabiah Games. He followed in his mother’s footsteps. She competed in a past swimming competition.
Prior to traveling to Israel, Sorkin predicted that the Israeli team, since they play together year round, would be the favorite for the gold medal in the Masters category. He listed teams from Brazil, Australia, Russia and Canada as other top competitors. The squad from Brazil won the gold, defeating Russia in the championship game.
The American squad had a medal-winning run. After rebounding from early losses, the Americans defeated the Israelis, 62-51 to take the bronze medal.
In an interview with The Roslyn News, Sorkin told of his adventures in this international competition.
“I was honored to be a part of the 2013 Masters Basketball Team at the Maccabiah Games,” he said. “As a player on the 45-and-older team, we each sponsored a student to participate in the games, so before I even stepped on the court, I knew that this was a huge accomplishment.”
“As it turned out, my team got off to a rocky start, losing to Brazil after having a substantial lead. Shortly after, we lost again to Russia. Many teams would have thrown in the towel at this point, discouraged. Thankfully, my team held it together and managed to beat Israel for the bronze medal. This was a huge accomplishment, considering that this was the first time that Israel did not win a medal in the Masters basketball category.”
“They were an amazing team, with some real legends participating. One player, in particular, ‘Jumshi’ is a household name in Israel. He played hard, yet we were still able to take the bronze. We both wore number 12 jerseys and I was happy to exchange jerseys with him at the end of the tournament, as a souvenir. He was the one to beat, but showed great sportsmanship in the end.”
“The experience, as a whole, is something that I will never forget,” he concluded. “With over 30,000 fans showing up to the opening ceremony, it felt surreal. An athlete always thinks that they could have done better. My team felt as if we were good enough to take home the gold. Instead of dwelling on what could have been, we feel privileged to have been a part of such an amazing event.”
And indeed, the 2013 Maccabiah Games were amazing. The games began in 1932. This year’s competition was the largest ever, with more than 9,000 athletes representing teams from 76 countries. Competing for the first time were teams from Aruba, Albania, Armenia, Bahamas, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cuba, Curacao, El Salvador, Guinea-Bissau, Honduras, Kazakhstan, Mauritius, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Scotland, Slovenia, Suriname and Uzbekistan.
While the Israelis were upset in the Masters tournament, their athletes easily took in the largest haul of medals: 411 in all, including 153 gold, 135 silver and 123 bronze. The American squad came home with 196 medals: 77 gold, 60 silver and 59 bronze. Also scoring well were teams from Canada (34 medals), Australia (23), Brazil (22), South Africa (17), Russia (16) and Hungary (15) and Argentina (14). Athletes competed in 34 games and 42 disciplines, with archery, equestrian, handball and ice hockey making debuts at the 2013 games.
The Maccabiah Games are modeled after the modern-day Olympics. Its inspiration came from a 15-year old Russian-born youth, Yosef Yekutieli. Inspired by the 1912 Olympic Games, the young Yekutieli thought of organizing similar worldwide games for Jewish athletes. Yekutieli was persistent, and by 1928, he was ready to make his presentation to the Jewish National Fund, which was sympathetic to the idea. By the early 1930s, the British commissioner of Palestine, Sir Arthur Wauchope, also signed onto the idea. Shortly thereafter, Yekutieli’s vision became a reality.
An interesting sidelight is how athletes were recruited to compete in the inaugural 1932 event. The world was still in the pre-electronic age, and so a group of intrepid organizers, including Yekutieli, bicycled throughout Europe, recruiting the requisite number of qualified athletes to compete in the games. Today, the Maccabiah Games are the third-largest such games in the world, behind only the Olympics and the Universiade Games. Four years from now, a fresh crop of athletes from the Roslyn area will be vying to represent the United States in the Maccabiah Games.