David Groverman Helps Athletes Find Jewish Identities, But First Had to Discover His Own

Dave Groverman, right, at the 2022 Maccabiah Games in Israel (Photo by Sandy Slater)

David Groverman lettered in soccer, lacrosse and wrestling at The Haverford School and helped lead its wrestling team to three consecutive Inter-Academic League championships from 1968-’70. So, as he put it, you can imagine how he felt about Judaism when his religious parents told him he couldn’t play in a Haverford soccer game on Yom Kippur during his senior year.

Groverman was the team’s captain.

A few years later, though, he decided to try out for the U.S. wrestling team for the 1973 Maccabiah Games in Israel. Groverman, who also wrestled at the University of Pennsylvania, made the team and wanted to go. It was a free trip to Israel for being a good wrestler, he explained.

But the trip helped him understand why his parents hadn’t allowed him to play that day.

Groverman met survivors of the Munich massacre at the Summer Olympics in Germany the year before. He met Holocaust survivors and visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to Shoah victims, for the first time. The wrestler won the gold medal in his 125-pound weight class at that competition. But decades later, Groverman doesn’t remember the wrestling as well as the awakening.

“Judaism became real to me,” he said.

Ever since, the Blue Bell resident has worked to help other Jewish athletes make the same connection.

From left: Jake Kornblatt and Dave Groverman organized The Peace Tournament in Israel together. (Courtesy of Jake Kornblatt)

In the 1981 Maccabiah Games, Groverman coached the U.S. team that included four Jews who hadn’t had bar mitzvahs. The team threw bar mitzvahs for them at the Wailing Wall. It became a tradition.

Three years later, he organized the first “Philadelphia Youth Maccabiah team to participate in the first North American Maccabiah Games,” according to his bio on the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame’s website. Philadelphia sent 50 to 60 athletes to Detroit for the games that year and sends hundreds today.

And this year, the 50th anniversary of the Munich massacre, Groverman helped organize “The Peace Tournament” in Israel. Sanctioned by United World Wrestling, the tournament welcomed athletes from North America, Europe and Asia. It included a team from Morocco, the first time that an Arab country participated in an athletic competition on Israeli soil.

“The success is measured by the fact that the national team of Morocco came to the tournament,” Groverman said.

As an athlete, Groverman understands what’s expected of them. Athletes a lot of times, especially successful ones, are recognized as leaders in the community, he explained. This is true for Jewish athletes, too, and the expectation from a young age often motivates young people to work as hard in life as they do in sports.

The 70-year-old credited his commitment to wrestling for shaping him into a successful businessman. As a commercial real estate developer, the Blue Bell resident builds shopping centers in North Philadelphia, West Philadelphia and the suburbs, among other places.

Dave Groverman, back right, red shirt, posing with the U.S. wrestling teams for the 2022 Maccabiah Games in Israel (Photo by Larry Slater)

This is why Groverman works so hard to build the connection between sports and Judaism. A successful athlete is likely to become a successful man or woman. A successful Jewish athlete is likely to become a productive member of the Jewish community.

He also believes that wrestling, in particular, can mold a kid. It’s a test of character in which the strongest person does not always win. It’s the kid who, as the former Haverford standout puts it, “knows things.”

“It’s a very coachable sport where you can develop a kid and challenge him and they can become a very good wrestler,” Groverman said.

In a sense, Groverman has become his parents. Judaism is important to him outside of the sports arena, too. He’s been a member of Congregation Beth Or in Ambler for almost 40 years. All three of his children, son Peter and daughters Leslie and Jennifer, had b’nai mitzvahs there.

But while Groverman and his wife Linda kept a Jewish home, they did not keep a kosher home. Nor did they pressure their kids to marry Jews. One of their daughters married someone who isn’t Jewish, but the couple is raising their kids Jewish. Groverman said he’s fine with that, and that he would also accept whatever religious path his children choose.

“They knew that Judaism was important,” he said of his kids.

Groverman has devoted much of his adult life to helping young people find their Jewish identities, and he wants to continue to do that.

Dave Groverman, left, red shirt, celebrates a win for a U.S. wrestler. (Photo by Sandy Slater)

The coach and his fellow Peace Tournament organizers, co-chairmen Jake Kornblatt and Aviram Shmuely, are already planning the next tournament. Groverman said it may be annual or semi-annual. He also wants to bring in more Arab countries.

Shmuely, a national wrestling champion in Israel and the chairman of New York Athletic Club Wrestling, came up with the idea for the tournament by reminding Groverman of the 50th anniversary of Munich that was approaching. But Shmuely said it was Groverman who drove the effort to organize the competition. The Philadelphian was “involved in every little detail from accommodation to venue to politics to safety,” he said.

“He’s a very intense guy,” Shmuely added.

Groverman was especially keen on making sure Morocco participated. He pushed to take care of whatever the team couldn’t afford. The organizer felt that hosting an Arab country would be a great way to remember the victims of the massacre and to show that “we move on with peace,” Shmuely said.

When the Moroccan athletes arrived at the Israeli airport, they were nervous, according to Shmuely. The Israeli said he could see it on their faces. But then people approached them, talked to them and took pictures with them. Shmuely credited Groverman.

“It was a tremendous success,” he said. “The next peace tournament is already in the works because of him.” JE



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