World Maccabiah Preview: Many from region going to international games

Editor’s Note: Three additional profiles accompany this story.

The 20th World Maccabiah Games, sometimes referred to as the “Jewish Olympics,” will open in Israel on July 4, with several representatives from this region on the United States team.

The games are viewed as the third-largest sporting event in the world. It has been held in Israel every four years since 1932, with a hiatus from 1935 to 1950. Maccabi USA will bring a team of around 1,100 athletes who will join 8,750 Jewish athletes from 80 countries, participating in 43 different sports.

Competition is in four categories — Junior, for ages 15 to 18; Masters, for older competitors; Open, for the best athletes regardless of age; and Paralympic, for those with physical or intellectual disabilities.

Amir Peled, chairman of the 20th Maccabiah, said “it brings together Jews to meet each other here in Israel, and unite around their common love of sports and of the Jewish people.”

The Maccabiah opening ceremony will take place on July 6 at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem. The Games will be held throughout the country through July 18.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said “This year, in addition to hosting the 20th Maccabiah games, Jerusalem will be celebrating 50 years of the city’s reunification. It is amazing to see the extent to which the city has developed, grown, and improved in all areas, and especially in the field of sports.”

Lior Berman makes Junior hoops squad

Lior Berman, who just finished his sophomore year at on the varsity basketball team at Mountain Brook High School, is pulling double duty this summer, competing on the national Juniors basketball team at the World Maccabiah Games, then coming back to Birmingham to compete in the JCC Maccabi Games.

Berman, a 6-foot-3 guard, started playing basketball at the Levite Jewish Community Center. He participated in tryouts in Philadelphia last September and made the team. Mountain Brook won the 7A state championship, and Berman has seen recruiting interest from the University of Iowa.

After four Pan-Am Games, Martin Freeman going to World Maccabiah

Martin Freeman, who will be making his first trip to the World Games in Israel, became involved with MaccabiUSA in 2003 when he offered free massages to any of their athletes in the Washington area.

“I quickly received an email asking if I would be interested in going to Chile in December with TeamUSA for the Pan Am Maccabi games,” he said.

Freeman graduated from Auburn and got his law degree at Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham. “Once I was well established in my job” at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, he went to massage therapy school at night. “I was always interested in massage therapy growing up,” he said.

He has been a massage therapist for the U.S. team for the last four Pan Am Maccabi Games, and will have that role with the U.S. team in Israel this summer.

Though he lives in Maryland, he maintains his Alabama ties as a member of both Huntsville congregations, and plans to build a home on retirement property near Lake Guntersville in Scottsboro.

He also opened two funds to support and grow Jewish life at Auburn, the Martin Moss Freeman Auburn University Hillel Fund and the Auburn University Jewish Scholarship Fund.

Blitz heads to Maccabiah Games after second All Big Ten softball season

Birmingham’s Rebecca Blitz will be part of the U.S. Open women’s softball team. She recently completed her junior year at Indiana University, where the outfielder was second team All Big Ten for the second year in a row, and second selection Academic All Big Ten.

For the second year in a row, Blitz led the team with a .338 average, 54 hits and 16 stolen bases. She had a team-high .357 average in Big Ten play, with 25 hits and 13 runs coming in conference games.

For her career, Blitz has a .344 average, good for seventh in program history. Her 104 career runs is sixth in Hoosier history and makes her just the ninth player to score 100 or more runs. In addition, her 60 stolen bases puts her fifth all-time at IU.

Seth Cohen named to tennis team

Seth Cohen of Birmingham will be part of the U.S. Open tennis team at the World Maccabiah. Head coach Lonnie Mitchel announced the team on Feb. 23.

Cohen picked up tennis “when I was six or seven years old” and played on the junior high and high school teams. He was ranked the No. 7 player in the state and now plays club tennis for the University of Alabama.

He was part of the 7A state champion Mountain Brook High School tennis team, winning the five seed singles championship in April 2016.

In 2012, he won gold in table tennis at the JCC Maccabi Games in Memphis, and competed in tennis in the 2013 Maccabi Games in Austin.

During his first semester last fall, he traveled to Long Island for the tryouts, then found out by email that he had made the team.

He said it is “great” and “humbling” to represent the U.S., but he is most looking forward to just seeing Israel. A former student at the N.E. Miles Jewish Day School, “I’ve learned about it all my life, but I’ve never seen it,” he said.

Also representing the region:

Also on staff at the Maccabiah Games will be accommodations manager Kyle Southall and athletic trainer Daniel Lindsey of Birmingham.

Steven Pearl, assistant basketball coach at Auburn, will be an assistant coach for the U.S. Open men’s basketball team. A Tennessee alumnus, Pearl was part of the gold-medal U.S. team at the 2006 Maccabi Games in Sydney, Australia, and the 2009 World Maccabiah in Israel.