Winning was far from everything for four Deerfield residents who won medals in the 19th Maccabiah Games, a worldwide quadrennial competition for Jewish athletes, which concluded last week in Israel.
Scott Plonsker, Michael Goldberg, Adam Rabushka and Marissa Levy were proud of the medals they won—two gold, one silver and four bronze between them—but feelings of patriotism, new friendships and competing on an international stage with 12,000 athletes meant as much.
“It made me feel very patriotic,” karate gold medalist Plonsker, a 2013 Deerfield High School graduate said. “The karate team started yelling ‘USA, USA,’ (and it) really got me pumped up,” he added describing some of his feelings during his come from behind gold medal victory.
Neither Levy, Rabushka, Goldberg nor Plonsker had competed on an international stage before making it the first time they had represented the United States in international athletics.
“I felt very proud when I put on the USA shirt,” Rabushka, a 2012 Deerfield High School graduate and an Emory University sophomore and track team member, said. He won bronze medals in the 110 and 400-meter hurdles and was a member of the silver medal winning 4x400 relay quartet.
Worldwide Friendships Made
Another meaningful part of the experience was getting to know athletes from around the world while passing familiar faces from home as they went from place to place.
“We were with (athletes from other countries) 100 percent of the time,” Levy, a 2013 Deerfield High graduate who took singles and doubles bronze medals in badminton, said. “When we went out to dinner we were with the Israeli team and the Guinea-Bissau team.” Guinea Bissau is a west African nation of 1,647,000. “We learned a lot from them. They were very open.”
All four athletes formed new friendships and made promises to stay in touch. Plonsker has already been communicating with Giorgi Elizabarashvili of Georgia, the man he defeated for the gold medal.
“It’s hard to communicate but we try,” Plonsker, who will study at the University of Illinois later this month, said of the language barrier. “He wanted a video of the match. I made a lot of friends, mainly from the England and Canada.”
For Goldberg, getting to know other athletes was more of a challenge. He, along with 1988 Deerfield High School graduate Michael Orzoff, a Chicago resident, were part of the gold medal winning United States senior—over 40—hockey team which defeated Canada for the title.
Hockey was not played in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem but Metula, a small northern Israel community with an excellent hockey rink, according to Goldberg. “It’s surrounded on three sides by Lebanon,” he said describing the town’s isolation.
Language of Sport Creates Bond
Hockey itself helped create a bond between the American, Russian and Canadian teams. “We were all connected by hockey, not politics,” Goldberg said. “We had the international language of hockey.” When it was over, Goldberg and a Russian player traded jerseys.
Like the Olympics, there are opening ceremonies with a parade of nations. That too made the experience special. “It was unbelievable, a surreal experience,” Plonsker said. “There were 35,000 people in the stands. It was nuts.”
In addition to Goldberg, Plonsker, Levy and Rabushka, Deerfield and the United States were represented in the junior division by Ellie Madenberg in karate and Jordan Baum in basketball. They are both Deerfield High School students.
Baum helped the United States take a silver medal in junior basketball.
“Athletics is an important part of the fabric of life in Deerfield,” Goldberg said offering his opinion of how a community the size of the Village put so many on one international stage. “Deerfield is heavily populated with Jews.”
Levy, a National Merit Scholarship finalist who will soon head to Rice University, thinks Deerfield is a breeding ground for success. “Deerfield really supports what its citizens are doing and pushes them to succeed.”
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