Bowlers from across the globe will compete this month in the third-largest international sporting competition in the world — but it’s not the Olympics. It’s the 19th Maccabiah Games in Israel, and Americans will be among those rolling for gold.
A demonstration sport in the 1988 Olympics, bowling failed to find a permanent home there. In contrast, men’s open 10-pin bowling debuted in 1989 in the Maccabiah Games — held every four years in Israel and often called “the Jewish Olympics” — and has been included ever since. Women’s competition began in 2001. The countries that compete in bowling include Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Israel, Mexico, South Africa, Sweden and the United States.
Jared Goldschen of Woodland Hills will be one of several Southern Californians on the U.S. team when the opening ceremonies take place July 18 for more than 9,000 athletes from 70-plus countries. At 28, Goldschen — who began bowling at age 7 when his grandparents took him to the lanes while babysitting him — is one of the youngest members of the team.
Goldschen was a regular league bowler over the years and won several scholarships. He began bowling in earnest at UC Santa Barbara when an ankle injury prevented him from playing his other sport, volleyball. A consistent 190-230 bowler, his highest score is 299 — one pin short of a perfect game.
A tax consultant who is participating in his first Maccabiah, Goldschen carries into competition the strong Jewish values he learned from his family and at his temple, Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills.
“What I’m looking forward to most at the games is competing with athletes with the same values,” Goldschen said. “I think that sometimes the joy in competing gets lost in the need to win. But when you are competing with integrity, losing and winning aren’t that important.”
American bowlers first got their chance to compete in 1993, thanks largely to the efforts of bowling industry veteran Marvin Cotler. In 1990, he read about the Maccabiah debut of bowling and was troubled that there had been no American team. The national office of the U.S. contingent was in his hometown of Philadelphia, so he went to find out why American bowlers hadn’t participated.
“I asked the wrong question of the wrong person at the wrong time, and I ended up the chairman of bowling,” Cotler said.
He hustled to organize a team in time for the 1993 games and is still involved; it’s a labor of love that has brought him great satisfaction.
“Aside from watching my children and grandchildren being born, I think it was one of the biggest thrills marching in on opening day [of the games]” Cotler said.
To date, Maccabi USA bowlers have won seven gold, eight silver and seven bronze medals in the games, said U.S. team co-chair Matthew Halpern. The team to beat has been the elite Israeli national team. Still, Meryl Romeu, the other co-chair of the U.S. team, has high hopes.
“Some of our applicants for the 2013 men’s team did very well in the 2011 European Maccabi Games in Vienna, so we expect our World Maccabiah Games team to be extremely competitive,” she said. “Our women’s team has potential as well.”
Halpern and Romeu are veteran competitive bowlers who have bowled in the Maccabiah Games before. Halpern, director of administration for a synagogue in New Jersey, has competed at all amateur levels — from local to international — and has bowled six 300 games. Romeu, a software development manager in Atlanta, has an average of “around 200” and has won three silver medals and one bronze at the Maccabiah Games.
Fielding a competitive team presents several challenges for the Americans. Chief among them is identifying top-flight competitive Jewish bowlers. While American Jews have excelled in bowling, including Hall of Famers Marshall Holman and Mark Roth, there is no national Jewish-American bowling organization or team from which to draw. Team officials rely heavily on networking and personal research to recruit applicants, including poring over competition lists looking for names that sound Jewish.
Availability for competition is another challenge. Most adult bowlers have jobs and family responsibilities that can make it difficult to get away for two weeks of competition abroad, even though the games — which extend through July 30 — are held in the summer.
Jim Lewis of San Diego was a member of the 2009 U.S. team, and he will compete again this summer. A professional bowler for seven years, including a stint on the national tour, Lewis has bowled more than 10 perfect games and was the Professional Bowling Association’s Western Region rookie of the year in 1989.
A financial consultant now, Lewis also owns three bowling pro shops in the San Diego area. When he’s getting ready for a competition, Lewis bowls three to four times a week, swims, walks and does weight training. After all, those pins aren’t going to fall down all by themselves.
“If you play at the Maccabiah Games, or something like it, it’s sport,” he said. “You get to compete against people who are serious and skilled.”