Bernstein’s Team Brings Home European Maccabi Gold for Team USA

meMy journey to Berlin began long before July 25, 2015. For me, it began with a thirst for competition, an interest in meeting new people and forging new relationships with people from all over the world, along with a deeper and more meaningful understanding of my Jewish heritage.

The Maccabi Games are much more than the obvious competition of sports. It’s the bond made between Jewish people everywhere, uniting together for a once in a lifetime experience. Some of us are fortunate to recreate these memories in multiple games, others maybe just the one time. Whether it’s for one or more games, it’s a shared journey had only by few.

berlinGrowing up in the Jewish Community Center with my father as an executive director of many, gave me the fortunate opportunity to travel and live all over the United States. Being raised in the JCC meant never being bored, for there were always countless sports to be played and activities to be a part of.

The JCC is where I first began pre-school, which later turned into spending every day after school and every weekend at the JCC. It’s where I met my best friend, where my 15-year passion on the swim team started, where I spent every birthday party, where my brother and I had our bar and bat mitzvah parties, and where I first learned of the JCC Maccabi Games and thus started the passion.

My family and friends were tremendous in helping me reach my goal in traveling to Berlin. When they learned of this opportunity, they showed selflessness and generosity to help me in my efforts and without their love and support, I would not have been so fortunate.

E49B1459Our first stop after arriving in Berlin was the ceremony at Track 17 (where many Jews were transported in cattle cars), traveling straight from the airport, marking the beginning of the emotionally powerful times we spent together. The various Holocaust memorials and the Topography of Terror Museum were educational and necessary to see.
As we marched into the opening ceremony in the Waldbuhne Stadium at Olympic Park with over 200 athletes from team USA, over 10,000 Jews were awaiting us, filling the stadium created by Hitler.

Hearing Hatikva was a very powerful experience. Listening to the President of Germany welcome us and opening the city and their country to us, as well as demonstrating and expressing the feelings of guilt as a nation for the murders of our people was moving. We made history while attending the largest Shabbat dinner ever documented. It was overwhelmingly exciting to see all of us together.

The closing ceremony also brought us all together to trade our team’s gear with one another and finally get our hands on the different athletic apparel we had been waiting to trade for throughout our time there. A frenzy of sorts, all capped off with a dance party to spend our last night together.

The list continues and the many events and memories remain, with the pictures continuously flooding our social media accounts to remind us of our time in Berlin. This was a staple unique experience in my life and one that I will continue to reflect upon and remain humble and lucky to have had the chance to experience.

When I first read the European Maccabi Games would be held in the city of Berlin, I have to admit I was dumbfounded. Dumbfounded at the idea and thought of 2,000 plus Jews visiting a city where the extermination of six million Jews began.

This was a big concern and question of mine before the Games began, but once there, I saw that Germany was more than the Holocaust. There have been tremendous acts of penance toward what was done during the Holocaust and World War II.

The German population has shown remorse, but not only remorse, they have worked hard to rebuild the city and the minds of those living there. I learned a lot by visiting Germany and speaking with Germans, particularly those who are Jewish. I was enlightened to learn that Germany is no longer a country to be feared. Not each German has those same beliefs.

A wise woman reminded me that we in the United States are also guilty of racism, anti-Semitism, war and acts of terrorism. We are not as innocent as we think. Being selected to represent team USA was an honor and a privilege and one that I will never forget. When we arrived in Berlin and spent the next 10 days touring the city, seeing a different culture than ours, meeting people from all over, and competing in the sport we love most meant everything to me.

The women’s soccer team competed in four games throughout the tournament and all while never conceding a goal. We faced the competition with a confident, but never cocky attitude that we were there to compete hard and above all else, win; which is precisely what we did.

Winning the gold medal was a tremendous feeling of pride and gratitude and was a memory that I’ll always have.

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