(JTA) — An internationally ranked foil fencer. An Orthodox Jew who walked onto a Division I college football team. An Israeli NBA draft prospect.
They are just some examples from our new list of 36 Jewish student athletes to watch.
These athletes hail from the United States, Israel, Argentina, Colombia and Singapore. They have won championships in national and international competitions in a wide range of sports, from judo to figure skating to cross country to soccer. One has even been drafted into Major League Baseball.
While there are no doubt countless more athletes worthy of recognition, this list contains 36 of the most promising young Jewish athletes around the world.
The purpose behind this project was twofold. First, we sought to highlight young Jewish athletes, a cohort who often lack adequate exposure and coverage in a crowded sports media ecosystem. These athletes’ impressive accomplishments, inspiring stories and endless potential merit the attention and celebration of their communities — and of the Jewish world at large.
The second motivation is in the title of the project: Jewish student athletes to watch. While these honorees have already accomplished more than most young athletes, they are just getting started. Jewish sports fans curious about the next generation of stars should remember their names. In a few years, or even sooner for some on our list, they could follow in the footsteps of Aly Raisman, Sue Bird and Alex Bregman.
Here are the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s 36 Jewish student athletes to watch for the 2023-2024 school year.
Is there a Jewish athlete we should have on our radar? Drop us a line at email@example.com.
Caleb Guedes-Reed, Gabe Friedman, Mollie Suss, Grace Yagel, Rachel Bowes, Juan Melamed and Jacob Kessler contributed reporting, editing and production assistance to this project.
Alma Arcuschin, 18
Part of women’s soccer renaissance in Argentina
Although Argentine soccer is known around the world for its men’s team — led for several years by icon Lionel Messi — the women’s game is on the rise. Arcuschin, who attended a Jewish high school, is also a member of the junior team for Club Atlético Platense, which plays in Argentina’s top soccer league. She represented Argentina on its under-18 women’s team at the 2022 Maccabiah Games in Israel and grew up playing at the Hacoaj Jewish sport club in Buenos Aires. Arcuschin is in her first year studying sports journalism at Instituto Superior DeporTEA.
Eliza Banchuk, 16, Shani Bakanov, 17, and Adar Friedmann, 17
Members of Israel’s world champion rhythmic gymnastics team
Eliza Banchuk, Shani Bakanov and Adar Friedmann are members of the Israeli rhythmic gymnastics team that won two gold medals — a first for Israel — at the 2023 Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships in August. Eliza Banchuk, who lives in Rishon Lezion, has six gold medals of her own — four at the World Cup and one each at the World and European Championships. Bakanov, a Haifa native who started practicing gymnastics at four years old, has won 10 gold medals in international competitions — six at the Rhythmic Gymnastics World Cup, two at the Rhythmic Gymnastics European Championship and the two at the World Championships this year. And Adar Friedmann, who hails from Petah Tikva, has tallied eight gold medals — six at the World Cup and one each at the World and European Championships. The team has already qualified for the group competition at the 2024 Paris Olympics, where they will look to follow in the footsteps of gold medalist Linoy Ashram. All three gymnasts are in high school.
Aaron Berry, 20, and Peter Berry, 21
National wheelchair basketball champions
Aaron and Peter Berry don’t want to let tragedy define them. When they were 8 and 9 years old, respectively, a car accident during a family trip killed their parents and left the brothers paralyzed from the waist down. Everything changed when the Houston natives, who attended Jewish day school growing up, discovered wheelchair basketball. This past March, the brothers helped the University of Alabama mens’ wheelchair basketball team win the National Intercollegiate Wheelchair Basketball Tournament, the team’s fourth title in the past decade. Peter, who is considered among the best young players involved in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association and was recruited by Alabama at age 16, is likely to compete in the Paralympics in 2024. He is also considering a future professional career in Europe.
Alexis Blokhina, 19
Rising college tennis star
Alexis Blokhina is a sophomore tennis star at Stanford University, where she and her team won the 2022 PAC-12 women’s tennis championship. Blokhina, who moved from California to Miami when she was 10, had competed in the juniors versions of all four Grand Slams by the age of 17. She advanced to the quarterfinals in girls doubles at the 2022 Australian Open and the round of 16 in girls singles at the 2021 U.S. Open. Her rising profile caught the attention of seven-time grand slam winner Venus Williams, who practiced with Blokhina prior to Wimbledon in 2022. Blokhina was the junior singles champion at the prestigious 2022 Indian Wells tournament, where she also finished as the runner-up in doubles. She additionally won gold medals in singles and doubles with Team USA at the 2022 Maccabiah Games.
Ava Brenner, 16
Six-time national junior karate champion
Ava Brenner is a six-time national junior champion in her age and weight class in the USA National Karate-do Federation, earning titles from 2014-2017 and 2019-2020. Brenner, a junior at John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, Illinois, served as captain of the U.S. junior karate team at the 2022 Maccabiah Games, following in the footsteps of her father Darren, who competed in the 1997 Games and was the team’s coach last summer. Brenner won two gold medals at the Games — becoming the first female athlete in three decades to win a Maccabiah gold medal in karate for the United States. She also teaches several karate classes a week in a program for disabled athletes.
Ariel Brunfman, 19
Rising through the ranks of pro soccer in Argentina
Ariel Brunfman, who attended a Jewish high school and is now studying management at Universidad de Belgrano, plays on the junior squad of Defensa y Justicia, one of the best teams in Argentina’s top soccer league. Brunfman, a forward who played at the Jewish Hacoaj sport club growing up, represented Uruguay’s under-20 team at the 2022 Maccabiah Games.
Ariella Burstein, 18
Trailblazing Colombian tennis player
Ariella Burstein has been called the first female professional athlete from Colombia’s Jewish community. The Bogotá native, who was formerly ranked No. 1 in the city’s local tennis federation, first earned points to qualify as a professional under the Women’s Tennis Association at age 16. As a member of the Bogotá tennis league — and of her local Centro Israelita de Bogotá Jewish center — she won more than 40 titles in different national tournaments. She now studies psychology and plays tennis at Reinhardt University, a private university in Waleska, Georgia.
Aiden Cohen, 18
Judo and wrestling scion with Olympic ambitions
Aiden Cohen, who trains in judo at his family’s venerated Cohen Brothers Judo Club in Chicago, is a two-sport threat with an eye on the 2028 Olympics. Last year, Cohen won the gold medal in the sport for his weight class at the 2022 U.S. Youth National Cadet Championships, a silver medal at the National Junior Olympic Championships and a bronze medal at the Cadet European Cup, an annual 18-and-under judo competition. In wrestling, Cohen finished in third place in his category in the Illinois individual state finals in February. He now attends Harper College in Illinois, where he is continuing his training in both sports.
Sophie Cohen, 21
West Point cadet and two-time judo champion
Sophie Cohen is a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. She won back-to-back titles at the National Collegiate Judo Association Championships in 2022 and 2023, both in the novice women’s 52 kilogram category. Cohen, a Chicago native — but of no relation to Aiden — is majoring in Life Science and runs the Jewish Chapel Choir at West Point.
Arielle Epstein, 18
Made aliyah to go pro
Arielle Epstein immigrated to Israel to play professionally for the F.C. Ramat Hasharon women’s soccer team, which competes in Israel’s Women’s Premier League. She recently earned a spot on Israel’s Under-19 Women’s National Team. But she’s also remotely working toward a degree at Santa Monica College, a community college in Santa Monica, California. Epstein was a standout player at Los Angeles’ Jewish Milken Community School and was also a member of the U.S. under-18 girls team that won a silver medal at the 2022 Maccabiah Games.
Gal Cohen Groumi, 21
Olympian and Big Ten champion
Gal Cohen Groumi is an Israeli swimmer who competes for the University of Michigan men’s swim and dive team. He was born in Hod HaSharon, Israel, and is the nephew of former Israeli Olympic swimmer Eran Cohen Groumi. At 19, the younger Groumi competed for Israel at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics — where he was part of the team that finished eighth and set an Israeli record in the 4×100-meter medley relay. Since joining the Michigan team in the fall of 2021, Groumi has been a standout in the Big Ten conference, making the All-Big Ten First Team in 2023 and winning the conference’s 200-yard individual medley championship two years in a row.
Lilah Grubman, 19
High school basketball star making a comeback at Yale
Lilah Grubman, a sophomore guard at Yale University, is eyeing a comeback after missing her freshman season with a torn ACL. Grubman was a two-time conference player of the year at Syosset High School in New York, where she scored over 1,000 points and led her team to four consecutive undefeated conference championships. She’s not the first Jewish basketball star to come out of that same school — Syosset native and WNBA icon Sue Bird played there in ninth and tenth grade. In an interview on reporter Howard Megdal’s “Locked on Women’s Basketball” podcast, Grubman said, “Obviously it’s an honor to be compared to someone like her. But I kind of just wanted to do my own thing and be known for being me.” Grubman has also volunteered at a camp for children with special needs every summer since she was 12.
JJ Harel, 15
Junior Olympic track star with impressive medal count
By 13 years old, Joshua Jayden Harel had racked up 27 medals in international track and field competitions. At the 2022 American Athletic Union (AAU) Junior Olympics, Harel won three gold medals, including a 6-foot-5 high jump that broke a 42-year record for the under-14 age group. He also won gold in the triple jump and javelin, and he was the only athlete to achieve All American status — a title awarded to the top eight athletes in the country for each sport — in five events. He additionally appeared at the 2022 Maccabiah Games in Israel, where he won a gold medal in high jump and a silver medal in triple jump. Now 15 years old and just over 6-foot-3, Harel is a sophomore at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, California. Harel was born in Sydney, Australia, and has citizenship in three countries: the United States; Israel, through his father, a Houston native who served in the Israel Defense Forces; and Australia, where his mother is from. Though he attends a Catholic school, Harel occasionally wears a Star of David necklace and does not eat pork.
Sarah Jacobs, 16
Softball ace pitcher
Sarah Jacobs is a junior at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, California, where she is a star pitcher and first baseman. In her sophomore season — which made her a part of the Los Angeles Daily News’ 2023 All-Area team and earned her First-Team Mission League honors — Jacobs posted a 10-1 record with a 1.92 earned-run average and 97 strikeouts in 80 innings. In her freshman year, Jacobs went 5-0 with a 1.63 ERA. According to her grandfather — who served as rabbi for Dublin’s Jewish Progressive Congregation in the 1960s — Jacobs comes from “a long line of Jewish activists.” She wears her name in Hebrew on a necklace.
Rebecca Kessler, 18
Up-and-coming DI goalie
Rebecca Kessler is in her first season with the Division I Binghamton University soccer program, where she is currently the backup goalie. In high school, the Scotch Plains, New Jersey, native was a two-time all-state selection, her team’s MVP and a finalist for 2022 New Jersey Goalkeeper of the Year. Kessler’s Players Development Academy team won the 2019 title in the Elite Clubs National League, a national youth soccer developmental league. Off the field, Kessler is a volunteer coach and is involved in her synagogue, where she volunteered at its religious school and has read Torah and blown the shofar at High Holiday services.
Elie Kligman, 20
Orthodox Jew looking to make baseball history
Elie Kligman, who in 2021 became the second Orthodox Jew ever drafted by an MLB team, is a switch-hitting catcher in his first year at Division I Sacramento State, where he received a baseball scholarship. (Many draftees, especially those selected in later rounds, opt to play in college rather than begin their professional careers.) According to his father Marc Kligman, a lawyer and sports agent, Elie is believed to be the first observant Jew to receive a scholarship to play at his school. Kligman began his collegiate career at Wake Forest, before playing last season at Fullerton College, where he tallied a .406 on-base percentage with 23 hits and 20 runs scored in 31 games, while playing strong defense behind the plate. The Las Vegas native does not play on Shabbat and hopes to follow in the footsteps of fellow 2021 Orthodox draftee Jacob Steinmetz, who is currently in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ minor league system. Both want to be the first Orthodox player in the big leagues.
Katie Krafchik, 14
Junior figure skater for Team USA
Katie Krafchik, who has been skating since she was five years old, has earned multiple top-five finishes in regional and national junior competitions — where she has competed for the junior division of Team USA. Those notable finishes include: fifth place at the 2023 U.S. Championships, second place at the 2023 Eastern Sectional Singles Final, second place at the 2022 U.S. Championship Series and fourth place at the 2022 Junior Challenge Skate, a national contest. She lives in New Hyde Park, New York.
Nikita Mae Jing-Yu Meyers, 17
Singaporean track star
Nikita Mae Jing-Yu Meyers is racking up medals in her home country. At the 83rd Singapore Open National Track & Field Championships in April, she won silver medals in long jump and the 4×100-meter relay, along with a bronze in the 4×400-meter relay. She is also president of the student council at Singapore Sports School, where she studies in its International Baccalaureate program. Meyers’ father Paul had moved to Singapore from San Francisco in the early 1990s as a filmmaker. She and her siblings were raised in a Jewish home where they celebrated holidays, including a large annual Passover seder that they hosted for their Jewish and non-Jewish friends.
Eitan and Zev Moore, 22
Israeli twin ballplayers at MIT
Eitan and Zev Moore are sophomores at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where the twins each made an impression in their freshman season last year. Eitan, an outfielder, made 28 starts for MIT, racking up 30 hits and 12 RBI with 13 stolen bases. Zev, a shortstop, also started 28 games, tallying 35 hits, 27 runs scored and 19 RBI. The brothers, who are Orthodox, immigrated to Israel as children and went on to serve in the Israeli Defense Force — Eitan in intelligence and Zev as an elite athlete, earning an exemption that allows for a shorter service time. Both are longtime members of Israel’s national baseball team.
Akira Morgenstern, 20
Second generation Maccabiah tennis player
Akira Morgenstern, who describes himself as “Jewpanese” — an homage to his Jewish and Japanese heritage — is a starter on the Georgetown University Division I men’s tennis team. As a senior in high school, Morgenstern was ranked No. 1 in his age division in his home state of Maryland and in the Mid-Atlantic region. He has competed at Maccabi tournaments in the United States and Israel — including playing alongside his father Michael — and he will participate in the Maccabiah Pan Am Games in Argentina later this year. Off the court, Morgenstern is involved in Israel advocacy on campus and is a legislative intern for U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen.
Blake Peters, 20
Led Princeton basketball to March Madness run
Blake Peters has been called “the most interesting man in the NCAA Tournament.” The Evanston, Illinois, native plays Spanish classical guitar, is fluent in Mandarin and has political ambitions. During the 2022 NCAA Tournament, Peters made national headlines after scoring 17 points in 15 minutes during Princeton’s upset win over Missouri. During the regular season, Peters only averaged 13.7 minutes of playing time but was still seventh in the Ivy League in three-point percentage (40.5%) and eighth in three-pointers made (54). Peters also won a gold medal with Team USA basketball at the 2022 Maccabiah Games. Prior to Princeton, Peters set numerous program records at Evanston Township High School, including for all-time career points (1,585). He was also nominated for an ESPY “Best Play” award for a full-court game-winning shot.
Carmel Renas, 17
Junior Olympic water polo player breaking down barriers
Carmel Renas has been swimming since she was a toddler and began playing water polo in fifth grade. After winning regional championships, her local New York team qualified for the 2022 and 2023 Junior Olympics, during which they finished 17th out of 88 teams in their category. Renas additionally earned a silver medal at the 2022 Maccabiah Games and has twice been named an Academic All-American by USA Water Polo. Renas, a senior at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Manhattan, is also the New York executive director of First Strokes, a nonprofit organization that helps provide access to swimming lessons for teenagers. She plans to continue playing water polo in college.
Jake Retzlaff, 20
Reform Jewish QB at BYU
Jake Retzlaff is a proud Jew who belongs to Temple Beth Israel, a Reform synagogue in Pomona, California, where he had a bar mitzvah. He’s also on track to become the first-ever Jewish starting quarterback at Brigham Young University — the Utah school affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Retzlaff, who has chosen the nickname “BY-Jew,” wears a Star of David necklace around campus and openly discusses his faith with teammates and coaches. He is currently the team’s backup quarterback but is widely expected to take the reins of the Cougars when starter Kedon Slovis graduates after this year. Retzlaff joined BYU after a stellar sophomore season at Riverside City College in Riverside, California, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles. At Riverside, Retzlaff threw for 4,596 yards and 44 touchdowns with a 63% completion rate — and ESPN ranked him the top junior college quarterback in the country. Retzlaff is believed to be one of only five Jews at BYU, where 98% of the university’s roughly 33,000 students are Mormon.
Lacie Saltzmann, 15
Elite junior gymnast
Lacie Saltzmann is one of approximately two dozen women who has earned a spot among the USA Gymnastics junior elite program. Saltzmann, who first started gymnastics in preschool, won the all-around competition at the prestigious 2022 Hopes Classic, along with numerous other top-5 and top-10 finishes at national competitions. Outside the gym, Saltzmann tutors younger children in her area and organizes charity bake sales — including a pop-up event at Williams-Sonoma that generated more than $1,000 in donations — to benefit the North Texas Food Bank and other organizations. Saltzmann, a North Carolina native who moved to Texas at 11 to pursue gymnastics, celebrated her bat mitzvah at Masada in Israel in 2021.
Sam Salz, 20
Believed to be the only Orthodox Jew on a DI football team
Sam Salz didn’t play football in high school because his alma mater, Kohelet Yeshiva High School near Philadelphia, didn’t have a team. That made his story especially unlikely when he walked onto the football team at Texas A&M University — a Division I school that plays in the vaunted Southeastern Conference (SEC) and had a spot in the Associated Press’ top 25 preseason rankings. Salz wears a kippah under his helmet, dons uniform number 39 (in honor of the 39 kinds of work traditionally forbidden on Shabbat) and does not play on Shabbat — despite the fact that most college football games fall on Saturdays. The economics major says his unique journey has a deeper meaning. “I wanted to inspire kids, I wanted to inspire belief in Hashem,” he said on Jewish sports podcast The Ball Habatim, using a Hebrew term for God. “If you believe in Hashem and you believe you can do it, nothing will hold you back in life.”
Zevi Samet, 20
Basketball phenom at Yeshiva University
Taking the reins of Yeshiva University’s decorated basketball team from NBA G League player Ryan Turell was no small task — but Zevi Samet, a 6-foot-1 guard from Monsey, New York, did not disappoint in his freshman season. Samet scored 558 points last season, a program record for a rookie. He led all of Division III in 3-pointers per game (3.96) and was selected as the Skyline Conference Rookie of the Year while earning a spot on the All-Skyline first team. He topped 30 points six times, with a season-high of 40. Samet has also said he would consider playing professionally in Israel.
Ben Saraf, 17
Israeli NBA Draft prospect
Ben Saraf is a 6-foot-6 point guard in his first season with the Israeli Premier League team Ironi Kiryat Ata. Saraf, who attends high school in Ramat Yam, is not yet a starter on the team but made his debut earlier this month in the Israeli Basketball League Cup. He appeared in the Adidas U18 Next Generation tournament each of the last two years, scoring 75 points in four games in this year’s competition in February. Last year, Saraf played for Elitzur Maccabi Netanya in Israeli basketball’s second tier, averaging 13.7 points in 32 games. He has been touted as a possible prospect for the 2025 NBA Draft by Sports Illustrated and by Josh Halickman, who covers Israeli sports for the Jerusalem Post and his own site, Sports Rabbi.
Audrey Schildkraut, 16
State champion in girls flag football
Audrey Schildkraut is a three-sport athlete at Ridgewood High School in Ridgewood, New Jersey, where in her sophomore year she played junior varsity soccer, varsity basketball and most notably, flag football. In only its second year of existence, her school’s girls flag football team went undefeated on its way to winning the state championship in June — by a score of 47-6. Schildkraut had a game-altering interception during the final, which was played at the training facility of the New York Jets (the NFL team sponsors the club sport in North Jersey, along with Nike and Gatorade). Schildkraut was one of only three sophomores, all from her school, named to the First Team All-North Jersey for girls’ flag football. Flag football is on the rise in the United States, particularly among girls — according to a study by the Sports Business Journal, around 474,000 women between the ages of 6 and 17 played in 2022, a 63% increase from 2019.
Jonah Soltz, 17
Member of USA Gymnastics men’s junior national team
Jonah Soltz, a senior at Stadium High School in Tacoma, Washington, is a member of the USA Gymnastics men’s junior national team. Heplaced first in his age group at multiple events in the 2022 and 2023 Men’s Washington State Championships, and he qualified for the 2023 Xfinity U.S. Gymnastics Championships that took place in late August. Soltz has earned several top-five finishes in numerous events at national competitions, including in all-around, parallel bars, floor exercise and pommel horse. He also competed at the 2022 Maccabiah Games in Israel, where he earned a silver medal and was part of the gold medal-winning U.S. team. Soltz has said his goal is to make an NCAA DI team and to compete internationally.
Nelson Vickar, 17
Amateur hockey goalie on an NHL path
Nelson Vickar is a top goalie prospect who currently plays for the under-18 team in the St. Louis Blues’ AAA amateur hockey league, which is supported by but not officially affiliated with the NHL team. Vickar previously played for the league’s under-16 team as a 15-year-old, posting an .867 save percentage in 16 games in the 2022-2023 season. And in May, Vickar was drafted by the Madison Capitals of the United States Hockey League, the top junior ice hockey league under USA Hockey. The junior at Ladue Horton Watkins High School in St. Louis has high prospect ratings from the Scouting News, which ranks promising athletes. Vickar attended a Jewish elementary school and has been to Israel three times — including to watch his father Aaron compete in the hockey tournament at the Maccabiah Games, which he did in 1997 and 2017.
Maia Weintraub, 20
Olympian with several gold medals at international championships
Fencer Maia Weintraub is currently ranked No. 4 in women’s senior foil in the United States and No. 17 in the world. A junior at Princeton University, Weintraub has won numerous championships and gold medals at U.S. and international fencing tournaments, including U.S. national championships in 2019 (at age 16) and 2023. She has also taken home several gold medals at multiple fencing World Cups and at the 2019 European Maccabi Games. The Philadelphia native’s success earned her an alternate spot on the U.S. team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but expect her to keep climbing the ranks.
Danny Wolf, 19
7-footer on the rise at Yale
At 7 feet tall, Danny Wolf is likely among the tallest Jewish athletes in all of sports. Wolf, who hails from Glencoe, Illinois, is in his sophomore season at Yale University, where he appeared in 21 games off the bench in his freshman season and earned the team’s rookie of the year honor. This summer, Wolf won a silver medal with Team Israel at the FIBA under-20 European Championship in Heraklion, Greece, where he led the tournament with 12 rebounds per game and was second with 17.7 points per game. Wolf said the opportunity to play for Israel was an experience he won’t forget. “Just being able to represent Israel in a way that I haven’t been able to do in the past is something that I shouldn’t take for granted,” he told the Jerusalem Post.