Former Maccabi USA President Bob Spivak Dies at 85

Robert Spivak. Courtesy of the Spivak family

By Gall Sigler

Robert “Bob” Spivak, the former president of Maccabi USA and an International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame inductee, died on May 25. He was 85.

Spivak was born in Philadelphia in 1936 and attended Central High School. After graduating from Muhlenberg College, he embarked on a lifelong career at the investment firm CMS Cos. He retired to Yorktown, Virginia.

In 1977, Spivak visited Israel with two friends and attended the Maccabiah Games.

“He was very moved by that experience,” his son, Michael Spivak, said.

Upon returning to the United States, Spivak became determined to revamp the United States Committee Sports for Israel, which was responsible for sending Jewish American athletes to the games. The organization “did not have a lot of funding and was not well-known at the time,” Michael Spivak said.

Together with a few friends, Spivak assembled an organizing committee. They moved the organization from New York to Philadelphia. In 1981, he became the organization’s president, a position he held for two decades. That, he believed, was his greatest success.
In an interview Maccabi USA conducted with Spivak, he called the organization “a second family.”

Spivak was committed to providing an opportunity for Jewish athletes to compete in the Maccabiah Games. As president of Maccabi USA, the successor of the United States Committee Sports for Israel, Spivak oversaw a substantial increase in the number of American athletes participating in the Maccabiah Games — from 350 in 1981 to 600 in 2001, per the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

“Bringing Jewish athletes to Israel was his love and his passion,” Michael Spivak said.

Together with the Maccabi World Union and the JCC Association of North America, Spivak helped develop the Maccabi Sports Camps. The camps, held locally throughout the United States, increased awareness among Jewish communities about the Maccabiah Games and Maccabi USA at large.

Spivak viewed the Maccabiah Games as more than a sports event.

“Marching into Ramat Gan stadium and tens of thousands of Jews cheering” encapsulated the importance of the Maccabiah Games to him, Michael Spivak said. While he grew up in a non-practicing environment, Judaism was central to Spivak’s life.

“He believed that Judaism was a brotherhood, and he found a way that he could connect in his own way to Judaism and Israel,” Michael Spivak said.

Spivak was committed to the betterment of society through sports. During his tenure as president, Maccabi USA supported the Israel (Ilan) Sports Centre for the Physically Disabled, as well the opening of a sports and recreation facility in Ben Shimen Forest in Modi’in, Israel, in 1994.

Throughout his time as president, Spivak spearheaded the Maccabiah Games Pre-Camp, which aimed at providing participants with a cultural experience in Israel — in addition to an athletic one. Every senior athlete competing in the games arrives in Israel for a week-long educational program learning about Israeli history and culture.

“He strongly believed it was not just about going and competing; he wanted a full immersion in Israel, culturally and historically,” Michael Spivak said.

In an interview on the Maccabi USA YouTube channel, Spivak said of the pre-camp program, “We hoped that would be enriching in some way for the kids’ lives … what we did not realize is that it would also enrich our lives.”

Perhaps the most significant challenge Spivak faced as president came during the Second Intifada in 2001. Due to security concerns in Israel, the Maccabi USA board was split as to whether it was safe for American athletes to attend the Maccabiah Games.

Spivak “felt strongly, after consulting with all the board members, that the organization should go through with it” and participate. Eventually, the games were held as planned, with the American delegation present.

“It was a celebration of support for Israel,” Michael Spivak said.

In 2001, in recognition of Spivak’s “significant contributions to the State of Israel and society through sports,” he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Spivak also became the first non-Israeli named president of the World Maccabiah Games in 2013.

Beyond his work with Maccabi USA, Spivak was involved in the Jewish community and was a board affiliate in the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish National Fund, Jewish Community Centers of Philadelphia and Boys Town Jerusalem.

Spivak is survived by his wife, Ann Taylor Hogge; siblings Joel and Lynn; children; and grandchildren.

Gall Sigler is an intern with the Jewish Exponent.


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