Philadelphia Native Playing for Israel in Maccabiah Games

Aviva Menche (Courtesy of Aviva Menche)

Growing up in an Orthodox household, absorbing her community’s strong Zionist values, studying Torah at Stern Hebrew High School in Northeast Philadelphia, Aviva Menche recognized that Jewish prayers were often about aspiring to go to Israel.

She kept asking herself what seemed like a straightforward question: If all Jews had the option, why didn’t we just do it? Then, after her graduation from Stern, Menche lived in the holy land for a year to study Judaic subjects at Midreshet HaRova.

Upon returning, Menche, then Aviva Koloski, would ask her mother why Jews always said ‘next year in Jerusalem.’ Why not this year?

Karine Koloski had raised her daughter Orthodox and sent her to Orthodox schools, so she couldn’t exactly disagree. But she did at least try to argue, saying well, why not next year in Jerusalem?

It only worked for so long.

In 2020, at age 28, it was next year in Jerusalem for Aviva Menche and her husband of five years, Ariel Menche, who had the same dream. The Jewish couple made Aliyah that August with their one-year-old daughter Eden. Less than two years later, Aviva Menche is representing her holy land in the 21st Maccabiah Games, the Jewish Olympics, from July 12-26.

The Philadelphia native was a standout basketball player at Stern, leading it to a 40-27 record in four years as a starting varsity point guard. In the Maccabiah Games, she is playing a similar role in a different sport: netball, in which players pass the ball up and down a court and try to score in a net. They just can’t dribble or leave their assigned territories.

For Team Israel, Menche is a wing defender, center and wing attacker. Center is her strongest position since it’s similar to point guard, requiring players to find open teammates up court. But Menche is less experienced at the new game than other players, so she focuses on the more defensive wing role.

Israel is 2-1 in the tournament after beating England on July 18. The four teams in the netball field are playing a double round robin to decide the top two, who will then meet in the championship.

Menche also works as a marketing manager for Fluence Corporation, a water and wastewater treatment company, takes care of her young daughter and is an active member in two synagogues. The Tel Aviv resident has no longer just made Aliyah; she’s an Israeli.

“Sometimes I look at my husband and say, ‘We’re doing it,’” Menche said.

Back in the U.S., Karine and Aviva’s father Steven Koloski moved from the Northeast to Cherry Hill, New Jersey seven years ago. Today, they belong to Sons of Israel, an Orthodox synagogue in the township, and their lives still revolve around their religion, keeping Kosher, observing the Sabbath and celebrating the holidays.

While their three sons, Aviva’s brothers, are still in the U.S., the Koloskis hope to make Aliyah one day, too. Aviva is encouraging it in the same way that her mother used to tell her to wait until next year.

“It’s sad when I don’t see her all the time. But Israel is home,” Karine said. “One day we’ll be there.”

The parents visited their daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter last August, but they were not able to make the trip for this year’s Maccabiah Games. Ariel is sending them pictures, though.

And perhaps no one is more aware of Aviva’s progress in her new sport than her mother. According to Karine, Aviva discovered the sport as a student at the University of Pennsylvania during a semester in Australia. Then, after making Aliyah, the longtime athlete rediscovered the sport when she joined a Tel Aviv team in Israel’s eight-team league.

Aviva Menche plays netball. (Courtesy of Aviva Menche)

She was looking for something to do and a way to meet people in her new home, and she found what her Tel Aviv coach described as “an absorption center for immigrants.” Her teammates were South African, Australian and English. Menche started going every Sunday.

“It was a good mix of social and competitive fun,” she said.

The former point guard liked netball because it allowed her to focus on her favorite part of basketball: setting up teammates. This past season, as a center and wing defender, she helped lead her Tel Aviv team to the championship and got noticed by the national team’s coach, Shan Berman.

“I was super excited,” Menche said. “This is crazy, to play on a national team.”

It’s even more special because it’s her nation’s team. Menche says living in a Jewish country gives her a sense of comfort. The holy land’s rhythms, like on holidays and the Sabbath, follow those of the Jewish people.

Sometimes she misses the U.S., but then she looks around.

“Look how beautiful Israel is,” Menche says. JE

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