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Max Behr at 18th Annual Maccabi Games

[Archived from October 9, 2009]
[by Phyllis Shaikun]

Winning a medal in tennis is difficult at any age, but to win one at the senior level seems to have as much to do with your mental outlook as with your physical prowess on the court. Just ask Max Behr, a retired dentist who returned recently from the 18th Annual Maccabi Games in Israel with his fifth Master’s Medal in the sport. He captured his first in Argentina in 1994.

This is the 72nd year for the Maccabi Games, which are played in Israel every fourth year. Behr notes the games began in 1936 in response to Adolph Hitler’s refusal to let Jewish athletes compete in the Olympics held in Germany that year. The Maccabi Games alternate with the Pan Am Games, which are held every four years in South America. In that way, Jewish athletes are able to compete in a large international sporting event every two years.

More than 900 American athletes competed in this year’s Maccabi games with a total of 7,500 Jewish athletes representing 51 countries. Behr pointed out that a dozen of the athletes competing at the master’s level (age 65 and over) were at least 80 years old and represented communities around the world.

More important to Behr than the athletics is that the games provide a social environment where athletes can connect with one another – an especially important point for the younger competitors. He makes the point by emphasizing that a number of weddings have come about as a result of contacts made at the games.

Competition is keen as athletes go against one another in golf, tennis, track, swimming, volley ball, basketball, soccer, field hockey, softball and all the other Olympic sports, which are played in venues throughout Israel. Behr played at Ramat Hasharon. He reports that practices normally began around 7:30-8 a.m. and ended by noon since the weather in Israel is normally quite hot and humid that time of year. The seniors’ schedule is not as rigid as it is for younger players, and he is just as glad.

Behr jokes that when he thought about competing against fellow masters-level athletes this year, he figured the last man standing would be the winner, but he did have some tough competitors. Actually, this is the first year 80-year-olds competed in the games because he and his peer group have been “aging up” but are still physically able to compete.

He and his wife, Harriett, were impressed with the opening ceremonies and enjoyed being with the Israeli contingent. They appreciated having the opportunity to take part in Shabbat dinners and to attend family services at the hotel. They also had a great time visiting with their Israeli relatives and touring the country with them.

“I consider it an honor and a privilege to be a part of the games,” says Behr. I compete because I want to encourage others to be a part of it. Since team tryouts are held around the country, it’s easy to find a place to qualify.” He first tried out in Philadelphia and later in Florida.)

“I find it exhilarating and inspiring to watch the young men and women come up to represent their communities and their countries at the games” he continued. “You realize how small you are in time. It humbles you. You are thankful every day that you still have the energy to play.”

Participants proudly wear their Maccabi shirts in Israel and at home to show their support.

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