For a week before they started competing, many of the 1,100 U.S. athletes in this year’s Maccabiah Games toured Israel and learned about their Jewish heritage.
But when Yale Goldberg steps onto the tennis court this week, he’ll have another tradition to draw on. He’ll be representing the fourth generation of his family to compete in the games.
His parents played tennis and swam for the U.S. in 1997, the year a bridge collapsed during the games leading to the deaths of four athletes. His grandmother swam for Israel in 1953, the second games after Israel became a state. And his great-grandmother and great-grandfather played volleyball and sprinted, respectively, a generation earlier.
“They always wanted me to play in the Maccabiah Games,” Goldberg said of his parents. “I’m really excited to be here, to keep the tradition going. It feels like I should be here.”
His grandmother, Anita Deutsch, was the youngest athlete in the 1953 games, but being 12 years old didn’t stop her from taking silver in the 100m swim. She has memories of contestants from other countries taking out trinkets and kissing them for good luck before springing into the pool.
“At that stage in my life it was the high point of my life,” said Deutsch, who now lives in Manhattan. “There was camaraderie among the other kids who participated.”
Goldberg isn’t the only member of the American delegation with family history at the games. Maccabi USA General Chairman Jeffrey Bukantz, who’s leading this year’s delegation, spent his career chasing his father’s fencing achievements at the Maccabiah.
Bukantz’s father, Danny Bukantz, won fencing gold at the 1950 Maccabiah. In 1981, Jeffrey finished fourth. He cried, and resolved to do better next time. In 1985, he took bronze, cried again, and set his eyes on 1989.
During Jeffrey’s third Maccabiah, in 1989, he finally won gold.
“When I got the gold medal I flipped my mask in the air and jumped uncontrollably three times,” he said. “I was crying like a faucet.”
This time, they were tears of joy.