Sunday, July 21, 2013

Let the Games Begin

After arriving at the hotel in the wee hours of the morning following the Opening Ceremonies, we had our official practice session (i.e. the one scheduled by the Israel Bowling Federation as part of the tournament schedule) and Technical Meeting, which is where we have a chance to review the rules governing the tournament and discuss any questions that arise. Thankfully, things did not get out of hand and any situations that needed to be addressed (and there were more than one) were done fairly and calmly. Kol HaKavod to us all for demonstrating good sportsmanship and good leadership!

Practice went off smoothly and our competition Opening Ceremonies featured some “entertainment.” – rhythmic gymnasts from Israel who gave a brief performance right on the approaches. Whenever there is a gathering, Israelis love to have a ceremony. It’s a thing here, we learn to live with it. Some people took video that we’ll post soon. Gentleman, be ready to cringe at some of the contortions they make with their body!

Shabbat at the Maccabiah is part always an interesting adventure. When you bring together so many Jews from around the world with varying practices and levels of observance, you never quite know what will happen but it’s not likely to be just as it is as home. Friday evening, my teammates and I enjoyed dinner together and sat around telling stories until the wait staff asked us to leave so they could prep for breakfast. It was great to have fun together; we even got to meet Uri’s son who lives nearby (and we met his wife earlier in the week, as well).

For me, I spent a good chuck of my Shabbat afternoon at the beach. It was quite relaxing, I got a little more sun, and I certainly understand why it’s a lifestyle people enjoy not only here but around the world. Dinner and relaxing back at the hotel and we were off to bed.

Finally, we began our competition today. Congrats to my teammates Marc Scherlis and Jim Lewis for taking silver and bronze, respectively, and to my friend Yahav Rabin from Israel for nabbing gold in the Singles Event.  All three bowled well while the rest of the field, by and large, struggled. Jared, Uri and I have some work to do but there is still lots of bowling to go. Marc and Jim will compete together in the Doubles Event while Jared and I will take the lanes together. We’re ready to give it our all!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Oh what a sight!

Going into these Games, we are told often that things will run pretty smoothly but there are some things that will just not happen as planned, especially in the first 24 hours. Case in point: we had arranged an unofficial practice at the tournament site, Bola Bowling in Holon. First it was at noon, then moved to 11 a.m. to give more prep time before the Opening Ceremonies. That necessitated a change in the bus schedule. So far, so good. Until the bus didn’t show up. We waited, and waited, and waited some more, finally deciding to ditch the idea entirely. A few of my teammates took a cab to the center (I wasn’t planning on bowling anyway and didn’t feel the need to see the facility at that point) … and apparently the bus showed up at 11:40 a.m.! Say it with me people …. Hurry Up and Wait!

So this really got some people all bent out of shape but, these things happen. In “retaliation,” some of the people from our hotel took their time getting onto the bus for various reasons. Scheduled to leave for Jerusalem, we pulled away from the hotel around 4:40 p.m. and got to Jerusalem after 6 p.m., which was helpful since it minimized the time we stood around the holding area before the Opening Ceremonies (which began nearly an hour late, but who is counting).

Like usual, the Opening Ceremonies didn’t disappoint. It’s mesmerizing to walk into the stadium – the newly-renovated Kollek Stadium in Jerusalem – and be part of that cacophony of life and celebration. As we marched around the field, waving and cheering with the people in the stands, you forget that there are challenges that face us every day – individually and collectively. You focus on the joy, on the excitement, on the intensity that is filling the stadium and you cannot help but get wrapped up in it. We get to walk in at the beginning of the procession (it goes in alphabetical order, according to the Hebrew alphabet) and then can cheer and watch as other countries walk in – some with only one or two delegates! In fact, this year, a special effort was made to reach out and build connections with “lost communities” in order to connect them to Israel and the Jewish people, lest we risk losing them forever. Check out this article from JTA.

Here are a few pictures from the inside:

What was a great evening soured a little at the end when the transportation back to the various accommodations was nothing short of a hot mess. We didn’t get back until nearly 2:30 a.m. and we heard reports that some didn’t make it home until after 5 a.m. While this was still an incredible night, these are the details that help accentuate the positives even more. When things run smoothly, all you can do is focus on the great things happening around you. When there are some bumps in the road that could have been smoothed out in some way, the comments will always be, “we had a great time but …” It’s time to get rid of the buts (and no, this is not an anti-smoking advertisement). Whatever we can do, we must do so that our athletes have the best time possible in their homeland. There is no but about that!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Let the Reunion Begin!

Our final day was a busy travel day. Mind you, we didn’t travel very far yet spent most of the day waiting (you remember, “hurry up and wait” … well, it strikes again).

First, we waited at Kibbutz Shefayim to board buses to Kfar Maccabiah. Then we waited around the Kfar for lunch to begin but were rushed into our final team meeting (the big meeting where the banner and flag bearers are announced … it’s kinda a big deal!) Olympic swimmer Garrett Weber-Gale was named the flag bearer and he gave a few brief remarks about how meaningful the experience and the honor were to him. The Maccabiah really does make an indelible mark on so many people for some many reasons. Whether you are an Olympian or your sport has yet to make the Olympic program, these Games are truly life-defining moments.

Pretty much upon arrival, we were informed that we were no longer staying in Bat Yam but would be staying at Kfar Maccabiah during competition (which was changed within 24 hours to the Tal Hotel in Tel Aviv … I feared this would be an endless string of accommodation changes that, thankfully, didn’t materialize). But with this change, a bus was not arranged to take us from Kfar Maccabiah to the Tal Hotel (we are the only U.S. athletes staying there). So we waited, and spoke to a few accommodations managers and our team manager, who were all extremely apologetic and helpful. We spoke to a few Kfar staff members who did what they could to help. But at this point, arrangements were being coordinated through Maccabi World Union, not Maccabi USA, so it was in another set of hands. Though a bus finally did arrive and take us “home,” we did receive entertainment in the form of: 
  • 2 coaches having a verbal tiff in the parking lot – thankfully it didn’t come to fisticuffs but for a while, we weren’t sure how it would end. (True, the Games are about competition and friendship and connecting with Israel, but even sometimes the best of us lose our cool.)
  • A coach who had also been waiting with his team for a bus to arrive couldn’t account for all his athletes; he realized some of them were inside the lobby of Kfar Maccabiah when they should have been ready and waiting to get on the bus. When he spotted them, he yelled a few expletives through his teeth and they ran on-the-double to that bus. We’ve adopted that phrase as well, but mostly for a good laugh!

Finally, we get to the Tal Hotel, we see our fellow bowlers, and it’s as if we’ve never been apart. In most cases, years have gone by but the family is now together (most of us, along with some new additions … we are a loving bunch and graciously welcome newcomers to the group). A little dinner together and a stroll out to the Tel Aviv Port (which is fantastic any night of the week … if you are in Israel, definitely check it out), ending with a beer with friends at a beach-side bar. Not a bad way to end our first day back together.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Family -- what it's all about

Our final day of touring during Israel Connect brought us back to Jerusalem on Tisha B’Av. Tisha B’Av is truly the hardest day – it is a fast day, but you are still permitted to work. Who thought up this amazing combination, I do not know. I don’t usually fast on Tisha B’Av – between the heat and going to work, it takes me a few days to “reset” and get my body back to normal. Even under the best of circumstances, I usually just minimize my meals but don’t fast; in Israel, with competition looming, that was certainly my game plan!

Our trip back to Jerusalem included stops at Har Herzl (which is Israel’s national cemetery) and Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial. In the cemetery, there is a section for top dignitaries of the country but most of the space is used to give honor to Israel’s fallen soldiers. In the same area, you find soldiers of all ranks buried next to one another, recognizing that each life lost is a sacrifice.

Unfortunately, we had to move swiftly through Yad Vashem, but I always notice new things when I’m there. It’s the smaller points, the finer details; the exhibit, by and large, is the same, but they are always acquiring new material to educate and give honor (see, there is a theme here) to those who lost their lives but also those who made sacrifices to save the lives of countless Jews. I’m always moved, though, by the Children’s Memorial. It’s simple in concept – 5 candles and numerous mirrors designed to symbolize the children who perished and the descendants who never had the opportunity to experience life. I still remember walking through the first time, eyes closed, and then opening them inside to see this incredible sight and that moment comes rushing back to me each time I approach that memorial.

The day ended with a short reflection session and the Maccabi USA B’nai Mitzvah Ceremony at Kedma Gardens, followed by a seudah mitzvah (meal after a celebration). The ceremony was nice and meaningful to those who took part. To me, one of the great moments of the week took place during dinner (which, by the way, was in this fantastic banquet hall at the facility). A member of the Tae Kwon Do team had befriended two other athletes that hadn’t really found their place among their teammates, or any of the other athletes, for that matter. The details, notwithstanding, they looked for a table that all three could sit at but by the time we entered the banquet hall, the pickings were slim. Instead, we made room for them at our table, introduced ourselves, and had a very pleasant meal together. That is the Maccabi spirit – when we call ourselves a “family,” we really mean it.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Trifecta

Each Maccabiah, when we look at the schedule for Israel Connect (formerly known as “pre-camp”), the day that is always the longest is the Dead Sea-Masada Experience-Bedouin Hospitality Trifecta. Don’t get me wrong, each are enjoyable in their own way but when combined together, it makes for a very long day. Especially when there is practice at 7 a.m. and, as we’ve discussed, bowlers are not usually morning people.

Our first stop was the Dead Sea. Understandably, it was very hot and we had time to go in the water and relax with the rest of the delegation. I’m not a huge fan of the Dead Sea. In fact, I find it pretty gross – not because of the salt content (the fact that you can float at will is pretty amazing) but the water has a greasy, grimy feel to it. As per Meryl’s request, I dipped my toes in (actually, I walked in to about my calves, true story) and then decided I had my fill of greasy, salty water and worked on my tan. I call that a pretty good afternoon.

We then ascended Masada. Fortunately, we had a great tour guide (if anyone needs a guide, let me know; I’m happy to make a recommendation), who gave us great insight into the various rooms and spaces of King Herod’s fortress atop the mountain. One of the team photographers was with our group and took a photo of me and Jared in this long room that had been used for storage but could easily have been a bowling lane. So we threw a few metaphorical shots down the lane; now I’m just waiting for the photos to get posted (they looked really great … I’ll include a link as soon as I see it).

Finally, we made our way down the mountain and headed to dinner at the Bedouin experience. At this point, we’d sweated gallons in the heat at both the Dead Sea and Masada; we were tired, our clothes were sticking to our backs, and we probably didn’t smell too fresh. And on top of that, the heat tires you out. We were just happy to sit and have a fairly relaxing dinner (and very tasty too) with some of the people from our bus. Incidentally, not only did we have a great tour guide but our bus-mates were wonderful as well. Hats off to the Open Karate and Open Tae Kwon Do teams – we had some great times.

Leading up to the games, a big question was what to do in observance of Tisha B’Av, when we mark various tragedies that have happened in Jewish history (the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem, the Crusades, etc.). Sometimes the Jewish calendar doesn’t always fall out in the most ideal way, and all you can do is make the best of the options available. Sadly, some did not get to participate at the Bedouin tent because they headed back north for a more traditional pre-fast seudah (meal) and the reading of Eicha, the Book of Lamentations. I hope each group had a chance to spend a little time discussing Tisha B’Av, especially as we went through Jerusalem and walked through the Temple excavations.

It’s late, we’ve had a long yet eventful day. And it all happens again tomorrow. Laila Tov!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

If I Ever Forget Thee ... Jerusalem

Shavua Tov. We had a nice Shabbat at the base. My teammates went to practice and touring yesterday; I took the concept of Shabbat being a "Day of Rest" literally, by catching up on some much needed sleep. I had a chance to relax on the base with some others who had stayed back. As Shabbat came to a close, we recited Havdalah with the rabbis at the Kibbutz and then had some pizza, rather than trekking to Kfar Maccabiah for a BBQ with the rest of the delegation. Apparently, when the group from Shefayim made their way to the Kfar for the BBQ at the last Games Motzei Shabbat, they only spent about 20 minutes at the BBQ when you factor in the end time of Shabbat and traffic. I was just as happy leisurely relaxing and having a few slices of pizza.

Today was our third practice session. We continued our individual competition on "freshly oiled lanes," at least according to the head mechanic at the bowl. We all bowled within 20 pins of one another, so bonus pins today were critical. Marc still holds a small lead on me, though Uri picked up a little ground while Jared continues to stay close, as well.

Our sightseeing today is in the Old City of Jerusalem. The largest city in Israel with a diverse population of 800,000 people, Jerusalem is a holy place to many and has some of the most breathtaking views you can find. We began at the Haas Promenade, a common spot for groups to begin their time in Jerusalem. After taking in the view, we recited the Shehecheyanu to mark this occasion and received a quick overview of what makes up the city.

We then walked through the Old City, absorbing more than 2,000 years of history in our few hours. Out guide also took us through King David's Palace and to Robinson's Arch, as we looked at how it was constructed and how it was destroyed.

Finally, we approached the Western Wall.  We had a chance to we view it from an overlook point earlier in the day and it didn't disappoint. But there is nothing like came to the Wall, holding your breath as you approach, taking in this site that we face each time we come together in prayer. I felt my heart beat louder and louder as I walked down the ramp to recite Mincha, the Afternoon Prayers. As usual, I was overcome with emotion, soaking in as much as I could, not knowing when I'll return (but I will return, that is a guarantee). BTW, I kissed the Wall for you, Meryl.

Tonight is a quiet night at the base. I have to turn in our passports lest we don't get our Games credentials. I'll also probably get a few things for work out of the way before relaxing with everyone and enjoying another Israeli evening. Laila Tov.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Connecting with Israel

Part of the Maccabiah experience for Maccabi Team USA is the Israel Connect program, which is the educational and cultural component of our time in Israel. Our itinerary includes time in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv as well as a journey to Masada, the Dead Sea, and Bedouin hospitality. We pack a lot into just a few days; it's a great opportunity for first-timers in Israel to get a snapshot of the land and for those returning to reconnect with the key places in the State of Israel.

We began with a day In the greater Tel Aviv area. The City of Tel Aviv is a great epicenter of so many historical and revolutionary moments in Israel. It is the place where the declaration for Israel was made by David Ben Gurion, home to the first skyscraper in Israel, and the place where you can find some of the greatest a beaches in the world.

We began where the first families who came into Tel Aviv established the city and charted the path where the leaders of the fledgling country took those noble actions. We also stopped by Nachalat Binyamin, where the artists were out selling their wares (happens on Tuesday and Friday only), and Carmel Market, which was bustling with people shopping for Shabbat, or just looking to grab fresh, delicious food.

Our last major stop was to Rabin Square, where we learned about the final moments of Yitzchak Rabin's life before he was shot at point-blank range after a speech about peace. I still remember where I was when that happened in November 1995. For me, it's akin to remembering where you were when Kennedy was assassinated.

The day ended with a little R&R at Bell Beach in Herzilya. Before that, we drove along the Yarkon River and by Yarkon Park (think of it as the Central Park of Tel Aviv). The Yarkon River has been cleaned up over the past number years by JNF, after it was the site of a tragedy during the 1997 Maccabiah. Among the Australian athletes who perished in that tragedy were two bowlers, Yetty Bennett (z"l) and Greg Small (z"l). Their memories continue to be a blessing to our Maccabi Bowling family.

We began our day early with practice at Herzilya Bowling at Kenyon Sheva Cochavim (Seven Stars Mall). I had gotten used to practicing in Ramat Gan (just as I had gotten used to spending pre-camp at Kfar Maccabiah) so it was a new experience for all. The staff was very nice and accommodating though I'm not really sure when they last conditioned the lanes. Still, though, we had a good practice that included some open bowling and head-to-head friendly competition.

Basically, everyone was bowling against the field, even though we spread over two different pairs. After each game, the top scorer earned 30 bonus pins, 20 bonus pins for the next scorer, 10 bonus pins for 3rd place, and no bonus to the lowest score. Scores we close across the board, but after Day 1, Marc has a small lead over me, followed by Uri and Jared. Well pick up the "competition" on Sunday and then close it up on at our last practice on Monday.

One more thing about this bowling center: the have lanes 6, 11, and 13, but also lane 17 with no 18. That's just how they roll, literally.

Time to go unplug and get ready for Shabbat. Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom from Kibbutz Shefayim in Eretz Yisrael.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A few anecdotes from the airport/departure

  • The humidity continued to rise as we drove from Teaneck to JFK International Airport. As we were getting close to the curb at Terminal 4, it starts to pour and I had four bags (suitcase, bowling equipment, briefcase, and backpack) to navigate. I make my way inside and the terminal has now become a quasi-sauna -- even the birds flying around were seeking refuge somewhere. Oh what a start ...
  • I got through the interrogation with no problem and approached the check-in counter. My ticket is printed and the agent (Anna) asks how many bags I'm checking; I reply two. She asks me to put the heaviest bag on the scale, which is my equipment bag. When the scale registers 31kg (which is about 65 lbs.), Anna says the words you hate to hear in any situation: I need to call my supervisor. Really?!? This wasn't even security and already my bowling balls were creating an issue! Anna's supervisor said I would have to pay the overweight baggage fee; I explained that we had worked out with Gil Travel that we can bring bowling equipment that exceeds the standard weight limit. Anna then called her supervisor again, who comes to the counter, goes back to his station, and then gives his approval. Whew!
  • Athletes are gathering at the gate along with other passengers who are lucky enough to be on our flight. When boarding begins, it's every man and woman for themselves as we just queued up and made our way to the front of the line. No greeting over the intercom and no boarding by row or section. I just saw someone wave their hand and say "it's time, let's go." It was probably more chaotic as the "line" flared out but I bypassed the pack on the right side and made my way through the checkpoint. Next destination, seat 52D (a coveted aisle seat, for those keeping score at home).
  • Finally, we were scheduled to depart at 7 p.m., which comes and goes and we have not moved from the gate. 7:10, 7:15, still nothing. Finally we start moving, but we're talking inches (ok, maybe feet, this is a 747 after all). Around 7:30 p.m., the pilot gets onto the intercom and announces, in Hebrew, that we're number 25 in line to depart. I react and then the pilot remakes the announcement in English, at which time most of the plane reacts. Even though the flight attendants asked us to remain seated, it was a lost cause as athletes got up to get something from their bag or chat with one another to pass the time. Finally, around 8:05 p.m., we take off ... no announcement or warning for flight attendants to be seated and prepare for take-off. We just get to the front of the line and go ... "hurry-up-and-wait" is in full effect. Now it's time for the Maccabiah!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

I'm leaving for Israel in less than 24 hours ... wait, what?!?

Over the past few weeks, I've been accumulating a bunch of stuff for this experience. When the UPS or FedEx delivery person, or even our mail carrier, would stop by our office with a new package, I couldn't wait to tear into it! Whether it was bowling balls, our team and competition apparel, a box of assorted bowling accessories (shoe covers, tape, etc.), or the American flags I got to help decorate the hotel, the items kept coming and the pile o'stuff at my apartment kept growing.

Between all the packages, all my equipment, and all my clothing, I had amassed a nice "wall of fun" in my apartment. Various boxes and bags lined the wall, soon to be replaced by various piles of all the contents. Somehow, it all fit in my bags, though I wouldn't be surprised if my suitcase is over the weight limit (N.B. it was,  but not enough for El Al to charge).

The evening began with me stopping in every store I could think of to buy a very important accessory -- a personal fan to use at the bowling center during competition. When you bowl, especially in warm conditions, your hands tend to swell, a lot. While there is an air vent on the ball return, it's not practical to stand there the entire time. Not only does it prevent those who are actually taking their turn from using the vent, but when bowling with nine others on the lanes, if everyone crowded around that little vent, it would be the most sought after location in the entire center.

I had wanted to get a small, AA battery-operated fan. Turn it on and the blades spin around. Should be easy, right? WRONG. Of all the stores I went to (about a dozen in all), I found only one and the blades looked like they would rip off at any time for almost no reason at all.

Finally, I made my last stop before going to the bowl for a final few games before departure. This store wasn't producing anything either, but I finally found a small-ish, table-top, D battery-operated fan. Hopefully it will work well and will be worth the hassle. I guess it will be fun for the whole family (or at least whoever is bowling near me).

I was happy with my last games of practice. I've been subbing the past few weeks on Tuesdays in a doubles league (4 games) at T-Bowl. The first three weeks, I shot 959, 921, and 834 (mostly because it took me until the last game to actually get my game in order). I knew I wanted not only good scores but a night of quality shots to complete my at-home practice on a high note. 237-239-241-228 / 945. I was throwing the ball well, getting good reactions on the lanes, and was pleased that the IQ Tour Pearl finally started reacting well for me (I had my doubts based on the few times I used it but knew I'd figure it out, too).

Ok ... now I'm ready ... to finish packing (but you already read about that!)

Sunday, July 7, 2013

6, 11, but no 12 1/2

Friday was my last practice session with Uri. True to form, he had bowled about 10 games before I even got there. Understand that he asked me to come by around 2:30 p.m. but I told him I couldn’t get to the bowling center until about 4:30 p.m. He said it wouldn’t be a problem and that he’d keep the lanes warm for me.

I threw a game of practice, getting loose and trying to focus my head. I did anything but as I sprayed shots all over and could barely through the ball correctly. I certainly didn’t look like someone getting ready for competition.

As I’m throwing my practice shots, I’m getting more and more aggravated. Uri just watched, added a few words of “encouragement,” and let me get it out of my system. I’m usually pretty collected when I bowl, but sometimes my emotions – and my mouth – get the best of me. So let’s just say I wasn’t myself that first game of practice.

I settled down and focused as Uri and I began bowling a few games together. Still, I didn’t feel quite right; my timing was a little off and I my shots weren’t lining up how I wanted. I managed to squeak out a 200 game but wasn’t happy. My last few frames, though, I realized that I was opening up my shoulders rather than keeping more square as I needed to on the condition. From there, things clicked back together and the scores reflected it: 265 and 245.

Overall, I’ve been bowling well the past few weeks and months, which gives me a lot of confidence as we enter the final week before journeying off to Israel. It’s the basics I need to keep in mind, the foundation of my game. After that, everything will fall into place.

I’ve got one more opportunity to bowl here in the U.S. this Tuesday, and then we’ll be on the lanes Friday morning for our first practice session in Israel. Looking forward to our first team practice session together in Israel … hopefully they’ll be a lane 6, lane 11 and no lane 12½!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Independence Day!

Today’s a strange day for me … both times I’ve competed with the Maccabiah, we’ve celebrated July 4th in Israel (complete with fireworks, which must have unsettled the neighbors around Kfar Maccabiah). So being home for Independence Day in a Maccabiah year is not such a familiar experience.

So let me finish bringing you up to speed on how we assembled our Men’s Team. Disappointed that we lost three qualified bowlers from our applicant pool, we continued our efforts to recruit … and then Hurricane Sandy hit. On top of everything else, we had planned on naming our team around November 1, which was obviously delayed as life here in the Northeast was anything but normal. When things got back on track in mid-November, we appointed six men and four women to the Open Ten-Pin Bowling Team for the 19th World Maccabiah Games. Think the task was complete? Sadly, you’d be wrong.

In a matter of weeks, two men had withdrawn their names and we immediately replaced one spot, with the second replacement soon to follow. For awhile, we had our six men in place as we tried to complete our women’s roster. But one by one, our women were withdrawing their names, as well, leaving Meryl as our only female competitor. That’s when the top Maccabi Team USA leadership made the decision not to send a Women’s Bowling Team. Though that was certainly the biggest blow we had been dealt to date, we continued to forge on.

The final obstacle was when one of our men withdrew from the team in mid-June. By that point, trying to find a replacement was nearly impossible, and through we tried to find someone last minute, our efforts were futile. So, we’ll be travelling to Israel with a five-man roster.

While it could be worse, the lack of a sixth man does prevent us from maximizing our medal opportunities. Our competition is made up of five disciplines: Singles, Doubles, Trios, Five-Man Team, and Masters. During Singles and Teams, everyone will compete in the day's discipline while also accruing scores for their All-Events total (which is its own medal opportunity and is used to determine who will compete in the  Masters competition). During Doubles and Trios, some bowlers will only accrue scores for their all-events and will not be eligible for a medal opportunity because we cannot field the full roster of entries into those competitions. Ideal … not really. But at the end of the day, this is the hand we’ve been dealt and we’ll certainly make the most of it.

The struggle to get to this point has only made us all stronger – cliché, yet true. You can now see how there were moments of great joy and periods of sheer frustration throughout this entire process. But there will be more enjoyment to come as we make our way to Israel and to the competition, that’s a guarantee!

Ok, enough about the past. With each passing day, I’m more and more excited to be spending three weeks in Israel with my teammates – Jared Goldschen, Jim Lewis, Uri Peled, and Marc Scherlis. B’Shavua Haba’a B’Yisrael – I can’t wait to greet you all next week in Israel

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Who We Are, What We Do

Some background …

Maccabi USA is the governing body which coordinates the participation of Jewish athletes from the United States in the World Maccabiah Games, as well as the Maccabi Australia International Games, the European Maccabi Games, and the Pan American Maccabi Games. As our mission statement proclaims, “Maccabi USA endeavors, through sports, to perpetuate and preserve the American Jewish community by encouraging Jewish pride, strengthening Jewish bonds and by creating a heightened awareness of Israel and Jewish identity.”

In total, Maccabi Team USA is more than 1,130 members strong, the largest delegation EVER to travel from the U.S. to compete in an International Olympic Committee-sanctioned event. We’ll also have the support of more than 300 friends and family that will travel to Israel to cheer us on, along with all our friends and family back home. It’s truly awesome to be part of this delegation.

I’m proud to be affiliated with Maccabi USA as an athlete and Board Member. But as anyone who has volunteered their time knows, volunteer work is inspiring, energizing, and exhilarating and challenging, demanding, and exhausting, all at the same time. For this year’s Maccabiah, I was named chair for the Open Ten-Pin Bowling Team, which gave me the responsibility of selecting this year’s six-man roster and raising some additional funds in support of our efforts. While I never thought it would be all roses and daisies, there were days and weeks it was tough to even find a petal.

Every time the Maccabiah approaches, the joke among bowlers (especially from the U.S.) is that we need to find bowlers … who are Jewish … who are competitive … who can commit to a three-week experience … and who can meet the financial commitment. Each additional requirement reduces the potential talent pool exponentially. And while I’m sure all sports face these challenges in their own way, I can only tell you from personal experience how comical and frustrating this really is.

There were a lot of ups and downs, and there were times it really seemed the ups would never come. For example, in October 2012, as we were reviewing and interviewing applicants, we thought our Men’s Team was in very good shape as we had a strong pool of top-flight bowlers. Unlike other delegations, our bowlers don’t usually have the chance to get together in advance of the Maccabiah. For various reasons, we did away with on-site tryouts after the 2001 Games and have relied on other means of evaluating interested bowlers. So when the talent pool presented us with many bowlers who could ably represent us in Israel, we felt were in very good stead. And then the bottom started to fall out.

As I mentioned, representing the U.S. in the Maccabiah is a three-week commitment. Many of the athletes are at a point in their life where they are on break from school or have other flexibility in their schedule and can take this time away from home and work. Historically, though, bowlers tend to be at a point where they are into their career, have a family, and are not able to commit three weeks away from those responsibilities – that’s one of the requirements that reduces our potential talent pool. And so it went that in a matter of days, three athletes all removed their names from consideration because they couldn’t commit the time. Then the bottom continued to fall out…

I’ll finish our brief walk down memory lane (get it, lane) in my next post. But I can’t continue without mentioning my dear friend, Meryl Romeu, who for most of this experience was my co-chair and was set to be an athlete for these Games, as well. Since we met eight years ago, prior to competing together in the 17th World Maccabiah Games, we’ve become close friends and great supporters of one another. When the opportunity to co-chair the Ten-Pin Bowling Team for the 2011 European Maccabi Games in Vienna came along, we both jumped at the chance and jumped even faster to serve as co-chairs again for these Games. In April, when the decision was made not to send a Women’s Bowling Team (more to come on that in my next post), I assumed responsibility as chair for the Men’s Open Ten-Pin Bowling Team. Since that time, it is has been my goal to lead this team with the same sense of commitment, respect, and love Meryl demonstrated. While I’m truly saddened to complete this experience without Meryl as my partner, she is always part of our Maccabi Bowling Family. Always.

HaKarat haTov: Finally, it’s a great opportunity to “recognize the good work” of Maccabi USA. Recently, Maccabi USA was selected by the United States Olympic Committee as one of 35 Multi-Sport Organization partners for its ability to cultivate a national interest in sport and increase opportunities for participation internationally, nationally and at the grassroots level. And, just this week, in pursuit of using sports to create heightened awareness of Israel and Jewish identity, Maccabi USA recently raised money to ensure that the Bulgarian and Romanian teams – who are both dealing with major financial issues – are able to participate in the upcoming Maccabiah. Kol HaKavod to us all!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Acquiring the Tools and Keeping my Sanity

It’s hard to believe that 16 months of planning – including hundreds of phone calls and e-mails, countless conversations, numerous disagreements, and tons of laughs along the way – will soon reach its zenith. During these 16 months, if you’d have asked me if I thought I’d actually make it to this point, the answer would have changed by the day – sometimes by the hour! Yes, it’s been that kind of ride but I’m so glad to be along for the fun.

Before I get into the history, let me give a snapshot of the present and paint a road map for the next month. The final leg of this adventure begins on July 10 and I’m slowly acquiring all the tools I need for my three weeks in Israel as part of the 19th World Maccabiah Games, sometimes referred to as the “Jewish Olympics.” I’ve received my team and competition apparel, I’ve drilled my new equipment (thanks Storm Bowling for your support), and I’m gathering all the odds-and-ends I’ll need to keep my sanity (which is more “odds” than “ends,” in case you are keeping track).

I’m also trying to get in as much quality practice as possible – subbing on Tuesdays at T-Bowl; practicing with my teammate, Uri Peled, roughly once a week; even trekking up to Connecticut to bowl a NEBA stop with my friend and competitor, Paul Loberman of Great Britain (though he is now a proud U.S. resident, just saying). And I’m trying to get all the details in place to be away from my beloved Congregation Beth Sholom in Teaneck for three weeks – while our rabbi and executive assistant are in Israel, as well (talk about great timing). To say there is never a dull moment is the ultimate understatement.

What can you expect in this blog over the next month? Well, you’ll get a play-by-play of what we are doing, where we are going, and how we are faring in competition. Along the way, you’ll meet my Maccabi Bowling Family and will get a bird’s-eye view into what life is like when we get together. Above all, you’ll have a chance to experience the highs and lows of the Maccabiah from the comfort of your office/living room/bedroom, etc. Though it won’t nearly be as much fun, I hope you’ll have a lot of good laughs (mostly with us, sometimes at our expense) as we experience all the Maccabiah has to offer and throws our way.

A quick disclaimer: while I hope you check back daily to read this blog and keep up with all the activities (and the hijinx that ensue), please know in advance that some posts (or parts, thereof) will be written in “bowler-ese”. This blog will not only serve as a means to connect everyone to what is taking place in Israel, but will also be my diary to capture what happens on the lanes. Some of that will be technical and I promise I’ll try to not bog you down with too much jargon. If you come across a blog post that is filled with references about “angles,” “axis rotation,” “carrydown,” “pin carry,” or some other unfamiliar terms and your eyes start to glaze over as you stare at the screen, push through and, I promise, you’ll come across something funny or stupid that will entertain – and maybe inspire – you.

More to come … there is still plenty to share about all that transpired which got us to this moment. Get comfortable and keep your favorite snack handy. We’ve got a great month to come and I’m glad you are coming along for the adventure.