NEW YORK (JTA) — As the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, Tracy and Josh Bienenfeld may be taking a little added pride to Israel from suburban Philadelphia for the 18th Maccabiah Games.
“If they had not survived the Holocaust, I would not be here today,” says Josh, 21, a member of the U.S. men’s soccer team. “It’s unbelievable that I can say that because of their survival, I can play in Israel, a Jewish free state.”
Tracy Bienenfeld, 24, who is making her second Maccabiah appearance on the U.S. women’s soccer squad, says her grandparents’ tribulations made her realize the importance of being Jewish when she was growing up.
The trip to Israel, she says, allows her to combine “the two most important things in my life” — her Jewish heritage and soccer.
Their grandfather, Henry Bienenfeld, lost his father and two siblings in the Holocaust, Tracy says. He spent some time in Auschwitz. His wife, Helen, spent the war in Siberia.
Tracy, a former captain of the University of Pennsylvania women’s soccer team, will be returning to competition after studying for her master’s degree. A midfielder for Penn, Tracy said in a phone interview just prior to leaving for Israel that she didn’t know what position she would play for the Maccabiah team.
Her 2005 U.S. squad won a silver medal in a field with only three teams. The field has doubled this year.
Tracy says she missed a lot on the first trip and wants to “take it all in” this time – the country of Israel and the people.
But the best part about the second time around?
“I’m really excited to be sharing the experience with my brother,” she says. The two haven’t seen each other much in the past couple of years, what with Tracy studying in Washington and Josh playing for Duke University in North Carolina. Josh, a midfielder and defender, will captain the Blue Devils in the fall.
“As we’ve gotten older, we haven’t had much time together,” Josh says. “It’s a good opportunity to hang out. I haven’t seen her play competitively in a long time.” Participating in the Maccabiah Games, he says, is “almost surreal.”
“Just the experience of playing in Israel alongside all these great players and fellow Jews is awesome,” he says.
Josh says he can never understand what his grandparents had to endure.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for what they’ve been through,” he says.