Samantha Baron and her 16-year-old daughter, Navah, have been preparing to play squash for Team Israel in the upcoming Olympics-style 20th Maccabiah Games.
It was something Baron was looking forward to sharing with her daughter, though, unfortunately, Navah’s Maccabiah plans have since changed.
On June 19, they returned from the hospital after confirming an athlete’s worst nightmare: Navah had a fractured ankle and won’t be able to play. (But give her another four years until the next games and you’ll surely see her on the court.)
Squash has been a staple in Baron’s athletic life since she was growing up in Philadelphia. She began playing while a student at The Shipley School — but only because she had to, at first.
Students had to pick three sports, she recalled from her home in Tel Aviv, where she moved after making aliyah in 1996 at 22 years old.
When looking over the usual suspects, like soccer or volleyball, nothing stuck out to her.
“Whatever the other options were, I did not want,” she laughed, “and squash attracted me because I like tennis and I like racquet sports — I always liked Ping-Pong and badminton and matkot [an Israeli game similar to beach tennis] and all these things.
“And I didn’t like any of the other options so just by process of elimination I started squash.”
She played through her school years, including at the University of Rochester, before taking an 11-year hiatus from the court.
Once she was in Israel, she got back into it — this time also introducing Navah, her oldest daughter, to the game when she was 3 years old (her youngest, who is 6, will play in a group starting next academic year while her second child didn’t pick up the squash enthusiasm).
Her love for the game brought her to the Maccabiah Games in 1997, where she was to play for Team Israel before an injury prevented her from participating. She finally played in 2005 and 2009. In 2013, she was selected but got tennis elbow two weeks before the games and couldn’t play.
This year, she gets another chance. She was looking forward to being able to participate in the games with Navah, who represented Israel in the Annual European U17 (under 17 years) Team Championships in Prague in May.
Baron noted her daughter will still participate in the ceremonies and parties during the two weeks the games take place. She might even referee and keep score for others’ matches.
The buzzing atmosphere of the games — which will take place in Israel July 4 to 18 and include about 7,000 Jewish athletes from 80 countries in addition to 2,500 Israeli athletes, according to reports — is what sticks out to Baron, and she is excited to be able to still share it with her daughter and family flying in from Philadelphia.
“Every year it’s really exciting that people come from all over the world and people really get into it here,” she said.
“They’re very excited to accept people from all over the world, even if somebody’s just bringing one team or one person, like a tiny country if they just send one person, people get excited.”
She was looking forward to cheering on Navah during her games in the juniors’ division for squash singles, but this time Navah will be able to support her mother as she competes in the women’s open.
“Just the whole atmosphere and environment of it, it’s amazing every time,” Baron said.
She’s excited to meet people from all over the world but especially anyone from the Philadelphia area.
“If anyone’s coming from Center City, they should look for us at the party and events. I love all the time that I meet anyone from Philly,” she said.
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