Lou Moyerman has competed in the Maccabiah Games in two sports: judo, which he’s practiced for 58 of his 70 years of life, and Bavarian curling, which he learned in an hour and a half.
Regardless of the event in which he’s competing, Moyerman has shown a lifetime commitment to sports, particularly in Jewish communities. In 1981, Moyerman competed in his first Maccabiah Games in judo, and his team won gold. He went on to coach the USA Maccabi judo team for the 1989, 1993, 1997 and 2001 Maccabiah Games, helping him earn an induction in the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame with the 2004/2005 class.
Moyerman’s credentials don’t end there. He was a gold medalist in the 1982 National Masters, the 2002-2003 Midwestern Championships, the 2004 Keystone State Games and an eight-time gold medal winner in the USA National Championships. When he wasn’t competing, Moyerman was coaching Temple University’s judo team — which he formed in 1969 — until 1977. The lifelong Philadelphian and Northeast Philadelphia resident taught physical education in Philadelphia public schools for 35 years, retiring 11 years ago.
Retirement simply afforded more time to invest in Jewish community sports. Moyerman serves on the board of the Maccabi USA Executive Committee and was the general chair for the 21st Maccabiah in 2022.
Most recently, his leadership took him to Germany, where Maccabi USA helped support and compete in the Makkabi Deutschland Winter Games from Jan. 2-9, the first Maccabi winter games since Czechoslovakia hosted the Olympic-style tournament in 1936. Judo is not a winter sport, but convinced by the young, energetic German team to compete in the games, Moyerman picked up Bavarian curling. He had one day to learn the sport, a variation on curling where athletes fling ice stocks with vertical handles across the icy surface toward a target.
“We just want to go over and have a good time and try it,” Moyerman said. “We did.”
Moyerman and the rest of Team USA placed fourth in the event, though Team USA took home 18 medals in the tournament with more than 350 athletes. Though medalless, winning was never what brought Moyerman to Ruhpolding, Germany, for the games.
“I find myself still in awe when I see all Jewish athletes compete,” Moyerman said.
Every Maccabiah game Moyerman has attended has instilled a similar feeling: “I just think it’s a pride. Feeling like we are as good as anybody else. … Whether it’s basketball, soccer — or whatever sport it is — karate, judo, you’re going to go home more proud to be a Jew.”
Sports weren’t always a source of pride for Moyerman, and his foray into judo was not his decision.
When Moyerman was 12, he and his friends spent a day in Center City “horsing around,” when they were approached by a group of kids.
“We basically got jumped by some kids there,” Moyerman said. “Nothing really happened. Nobody got hurt. But the parents of the other boys and my dad started talking about what could they do for us to learn something, to help defend ourselves.”
Moyerman enrolled in a judo class taught by Helen Foos, one of the first women black belts in the country. Though reluctant at first, Moyerman learned to enjoy the sport. It taught him discipline, about competition and getting up after being knocked down.
“It prepares you for life,” he said. “Sometimes I’ve looked at some of the things that I do in life through judo.”
One of the larger Olympic sports, judo has its fair share of Jewish superstars in the sport. In 1964, Jewish athlete Jimmy Bregman competed with the U.S.’s first Olympic judo team, earning a bronze medal. (He won gold in the Maccabiah Games a year later.) Rena “Rusty” Kanokogi, a Jewish athlete from Coney Island, was the first woman to train with male judo students. She coached the U.S. Olympic team in 1988.
The Jewish pride instilled in playing sports with other Jews can help combat antisemitism, Moyerman said. He remembered a young athlete he coached at a previous Maccabiah game attending a talking with an athlete who survived the Munich Massacre, a terrorist attack at the 1972 Olympic games. The young competitor told Moyerman that just attending that talk made the games worth it.
Despite being surrounded by snow and ice for a week, Moyerman’s Jewish pride was “a warm feeling that you get inside your body,” he said.