The 21st Maccabiah Games took place in Israel from July 12-26. U.S. President Joe Biden attended the opening ceremony in Jerusalem alongside Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid and President Isaac Herzog, becoming the first U.S. head of state to appear at the
Among the thousands of athletes from countries all over the world at the “Jewish Olympics,” many were from the Philadelphia area or had Philadelphia ties. Several spoke to the Jewish Exponent about their experiences.
There was one unifying theme in all of their reflections: It was really cool to be there.
The Penn Valley resident and incoming senior at Harriton High School helped lead the United States’ U18 basketball team to a gold medal in the three-on-three tournament. In a semifinal game against one of two Israeli teams in the field, the point guard assisted on a basket, hit a three and buried some free throws to turn a late five-point deficit into a win. After beating the other Israeli team in the championship before a packed crowd, Abrams threw the ball in the air and jumped for joy with his teammates.
The American teenager said he came away from the experience with a new appreciation for his religion. He especially enjoyed unplugging on the Sabbath.
“You eat dinner with the people you love on Friday night,” Abrams said. “I want to be more in touch with people than my electronics.”
Rosenblum, a Radnor resident, rising senior at Radnor High School and point guard on the school’s boys’ basketball team, played on the United States’ U18 five-on-five team. His role was to back up Yogi Oliff, a standout point man from the Chicago area who will play for Washington University in St. Louis, a Division III school, next year. Rosenblum embraced his role and provided a spark off the bench, scoring baskets, assisting on others and stealing the ball from opponents, during the team’s undefeated gold medal run.
On his first trip to Israel, he also felt like he grew to understand his people more deeply than before. Rosenblum and his teammates plan on staying in touch, holding reunions and giving each other places to stay during future college visits.
“Just how well Jewish people stay together and look out for each other,” he said. “Within the first week or so we were basically family.”
Benaim was born in Philadelphia, grew up in Bucks County and attended Ohev Shalom in Richboro with her family. After the family moved to Australia when she was 15, Benaim picked up netball. And then, after she made aliyah with her husband in 2007, she participated in her first Maccabiah Games in the all-female sport in 2009.
This year, the 47-year-old participated in her third Maccabiah Games for Team Israel in the master’s division for athletes 35 and older. She also served as an assistant coach for Israel’s senior netball team for players between 19 and 35. In both events, Benaim’s teams earned silver medals. She now has a bronze medal and three silvers in her Maccabiah Games career.
Benaim, who lives in Ra’anana with her two daughters, would love to win gold in the future, but that’s not why she keeps playing in the games.
“To walk into an opening ceremony, wearing the jersey of Israel and to see the entire world, basically, it doesn’t get old,” she said. “You have that wow effect. You feel like you’re a part of something important.”
Menche, whose story about realizing her dream of making aliyah was featured in the Jewish Exponent in July, played in her first Maccabiah Games on that Israeli senior netball team that Benaim helped coach. The Northeast Philadelphia native, who moved to Israel with her husband and daughter in 2020, picked up the sport as a college student studying abroad in Australia. Then, years later, she rediscovered it in Tel Aviv as a way to meet people in her new home. That led to a look from Team Israel’s head coach, Shan Berman, and a spot on the national team.
In the Maccabiah tournament, Menche, a former point guard in basketball at Stern Hebrew High School in Philadelphia, played wing defender, wing attacker and center, a position much like point guard. Her assists helped swing the momentum toward Israel in two games leading up to the championship. But in the title matchup against Australia, Israel fell a little short.
Still, a silver medal wasn’t bad. Neither was playing for the Jewish home of her dreams.
“It was great to represent Israel,” she said. “It was cool to be around Jewish athletes from all over the world.”