JEWISH Australian sports fans – it’s time to mark your diaries and get excited! The 2019 Pan American Maccabi Games begins in just three weeks in vibrant Mexico City. And the Australian delegation, led by Barry Smorgon, is 138-strong – the largest Australia has ever sent to the Pan Ams.
The Aussies, who received their green and gold uniforms last week, will send junior, youth, open and masters teams to compete in 11 sports at the Games, which will see thousands of athletes from 23 countries, including Israel, participate from July 5-15.
Here’s a taste of what is motivating some of team Australia’s members as the Games draw near.
One moment of one day – May 29, 2016 – changed everything for Melbourne’s Shvartsman family.
Talented young Brighton FC player Mark Shvartsman, who was 12 at the time, was cheered on as usual at Dendy Park by his number one fan, his dad Albert, when suddenly his father collapsed.
Mark’s mum, Marina, quickly arrived at the ground and recalled watching paramedics trying to restart Albert’s heart, “but they couldn’t do anything”.
Three years on, Mark is preparing to go on his first international football trip as a valued member of Maccabi Australia’s youth football team at the Pan-American Maccabi Games.
His mother is certain that Albert would be “so very proud of him”.
Bravely, Mark had returned to training in mid-2016, but then pulled out of the sport because the memory of what happened on the field that day proved too much to deal with at that time.
But his love of football drew him back, so he joined Maccabi Caulfield FC Colts, where he received wonderful support from his fellow players, and coach Nathan Maiorana.
Mark, now 15, is enjoying a new lease on life and can’t wait for the Pan Ams to start, knowing his father will be watching on from above, with pride.
Imagine having your sporting dream of representing Maccabi Australia taken away from you … three times.
Those were the cards Victorian representative beach volleyball player Max Curtis was dealt, with multiple knee reconstructions forcing him out of a trio of Maccabiah Games.
But next month, Curtis will finally pull on the green and gold singlet when he steps onto Mexican sand to partner young gun Dakota Lipton in the men’s beach volleyball competition at the 2019 Pan Ams.
If that was not inspiring enough, Curtis will combine his Games experience with his honeymoon, having wed Jordana Rothman in March.
“I’m really excited,” Curtis said. “Since attending the Maccabiah games as a spectator in 2005, I’ve always wanted to participate as an athlete – and to be going now with my wife, as part of our honeymoon, is pretty special.”
Curtis and Lipton have adopted an on-court strategy to optimise their strengths, and take account of any loss of agility associated with Curtis’ knee condition.
They met after Curtis switched from hardcourt to beach volleyball after his second knee reconstruction, and began coaching Mount Scopus College’s team, where Lipton was a player.
Lipton then replaced Curtis at the 2017 Maccabiah Games, when Curtis succumbed to injury. What a difference two years, and self-belief, can make.
There’s no better illustration of what representing Maccabi Australia is all about than the youngest and oldest members of the 12-strong tennis team heading to Mexico.
Aged just 16, Sydney’s Alex Placek – who trains at Maccabi NSW Tennis Club – is ranked in the top 50 in Australia for his age, and has played in tournaments across Australia and in the Czech Republic already this year.
He will board the plane accompanied by teammate and true Maccabi tennis legend, 85-year-old Bert Rosenberg, who remarkably was runner-up at the men’s over-80 doubles final at the 2019 Australian Tennis Championships, representing NSW.
Placek, who idolises Roger Federer and has already sought advice from Australia’s highest ranked male player, Alex de Minaur, will make his Pan American Maccabi Games debut, while Rosenberg will appear in his second, adding to his six previous Maccabiah Games caps, spanning several decades.
“I really appreciate the opportunity to be able to go and play a part in the Jewish community through Maccabi,” Placek said, “and just opening my perspective on how to improve, where I’m sitting and how I can get to the next level.”
JAKE ROSENGARTEN & AJN STAFF