Did you hear the one about the Jewish linebacker? If you did, don't tell it to Jed Margolis, executive director of Macabbi USA/Sports for Israel. "The joke is always that there are no good Jewish athletes, but that's not true, especially in Southern California," Margolis said. "Some of our Southern California Maccabi athletes are the best in their sport."
From Dec. 24, 2003-Jan. 4, 2004, 57 of those California athletes participated in the 10th annual Pan American Maccabi Games in Santiago, Chile. According to Macabbi USA, more than 2,000 Jewish athletes from 20 countries were participating, making the event larger than the Winter Olympics.
The all-Jewish competition provides a unique opportunity for the athletes who are used to open playing fields. Jon Levin, a Team USA golfer from Huntington Beach, is thrilled with the prospect.
"When I played professional golf, I was in the minority. I was often the only Jew. I can't wait to be around fellow Jews from all walks of life who all excel in athletics," said Levin, who played on the Asian Golf Tour.
The Pan American Games, which take place once every four years, are an offshoot of the Maccabiah World Games in Israel. Athletes participate at junior (13-16), youth (17-19), open (12-62) and masters (35 and up) levels in sports ranging from baseball to table tennis.
With this year's official dual theme of "Now More Than Ever" and "If Not Now, When?" the 2003 games emphasized the importance of building a worldwide Jewish community. Maccabi USA sent over 400 athletes, its largest delegation ever, as a sign of Jewish strength, solidarity and unity.
"Part of our goal is to celebrate Jewish athletes, and the other part is to simply bring Jews from around the world together," said Margolis, who played basketball in the 1973 Maccabi Games.
Zak Murez, a Venice High School swimmer, was looking forward to socializing with other Jewish teens from around the world.
"I'm excited to meet new people, hang out and talk and have a good time," said Murez, 14, whose family belongs to Mishkon Tephilo. "I just know we're going to have so much fun together."
For more information, visit www.maccabiusa.com/panam.htm.