Cuban Jews: Help Our People Thrive!

Photo by NatalieMaynor

Photo: Natalie Maynor

Cuba has never been on my list of countries to visit. With the uncertainty regarding individual travel, I have always been concerned that I might be entering a country that I may not be able to exit. In 2014, president Barrack Obama eased restrictions on travel to Cuba for United States citizens. Since his election, president Donald Trump has proposed to reinstate many of these limits. Last week I took advantage of this current window of opportunity and participated in an organized trip to Jewish Cuba. During my time there, I discovered a community that was effectively forbidden to practice communal Judaism for thirty years, much like the community in the former Soviet Union. Now, Judaism is blossoming again in Cuba, and many young Cuban Jews are choosing to make aliyah, Jewish immigration to Israel.

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Maccabiah: US Futsal Team Seeking Financial Help

U.S. Maccabiah futsal team.

Among the athletes participating in the 20th Maccabiah Games in Israel in July, the U.S. delegation will include a futsal team. Futsal is similar to soccer, but played on a field the size of a basketball court with five players on each side.

Last year, at the Pan American Maccabi Games in Chile, the team came fourth, losing the bronze medal in penalty kicks to the host after a 3-3 draw.

At the 2013 Games, the team included four players from Greater Philadelphia, in addition to Coach Michael Monheit. Practicing in King of Prussia, the current team only has one local: goalkeeper Ethan Clearfield, who played in Chile as well.

The team is trying to raise $10,000 to ease the burden on the players. Monheit said that “for a number of players the competition and experience will not be possible” without this help:

For many of them, it will be their first trip to Israel and it will be a visit that will change their lives. I assure you, this will be the most significant connection in each of their lives so far to their Jewish heritage.

Currently, the team has raised about $2,000. Monheit said that “every dollar counts towards making it possible for these players to be able to join the team.”

Maccabiah: U.S. Wins Five Basketball Medals

MaccabiUSA: Basketball Open Men's &emdash; BASOMBasketball Open Mens

— by Amir Shoam

The U.S. won five medals — four golds and one silver — in the Maccabiah basketball tournaments last week. The open men’s team won the gold after beating Argentina 87-76. Daniel Robin scored 25 points for the winners, and Philadelphia-born Bryan Cohen added 14. The win marked a great year for Head Coach and Former Philadelphia 76ers General Manager Brad Greenberg, who also won the Israeli championship this year with Maccabi Haifa, and will coach Hapoel Jerusalem in the coming season. “It was an outstanding tournament, and our U.S. open team was really special,” he said to the Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

It was an honor to coach some of the finest young men I have ever been around: hard working, unselfish, intelligent and emotionally mature. Lasting friendships were formed, and a love for Israel was enhanced. Next year in Jerusalem — for me it’s true!

More after the jump.

MaccabiUSA: Basketball Open Women's &emdash; BASOWBasketball Open Womens

In the open women’s tournament final, the U.S. defeated Israel 72-56. Jacqui Kalin finished with 22 points, including 6 three-pointers, 7 assists and 6 rebounds. Alyssa Baron contributed 16 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists. Next year, Kalin will play professionally in Israel with S.A. Ramat Hasharon. Head Coach Jamie Shadian said:

The Games as a whole were a once in a lifetime experience. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to coach players who are unbelievable people as well as talented athletes. Sharing such an emotional and inspirational month with this team will remain one of the most special experiences of my life.

The under-18 men’s team also beat Israel in the game for the gold medal, 78-62. The two standouts of the final game were Spencer Weisz (19 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists) and Anthony Firkser (19 points, 7 rebounds, 5 steals). Head Coach Jamie Chadwin said:

The trip was tremendous. Not only for the basketball competition but for the cultural, emotional connection we all felt. The young men on the Youth Team were special in the way the competed, learned, and represented their country.

The under-18 women’s team cruised to the gold medal, beating Canada 77-26 (!) in the final game. Tournament MVP Drew Edelman, who will play for the University of Southern California in the coming season, scored 30 points and added 14 rebounds. Shelby Zucker finished with 13 points and 6 rebounds. “I could not be more proud of the team,” said Head Coach Sherry Levin.

Our dominant performance was a product of their hard work, dedication and unselfish team work. On the court it, was amazing to see them come together and execute the game plan against Australia, Canada and Israel. Off the court, we all experienced the wonders of Israel along with the meaningful connections to our heritage, which made the Maccabiah Games a lifetime experience to remember.

MaccabiUSA: Basketball Juniors Boy's &emdash; BASJBasketball Juniors Boys

The under-16 boys team won the silver medal after losing to Israel in the final. The team was led in scoring throughout the tournament by Spencer Freedman, Corey Sherman and, specifically in the final game, Jacob Orender. Jordan Baum led a long list of assist providers. Sam Fieldman and Michael Hayon were the team’s top rebounders. Orender was also the team’s best defensive player.

“It was an awesome and surreal opportunity to participate in the 19th Maccabiah,” said Head Coach Barry Kleiman. “The opportunity for my wife and me to visit Israel for the first time while representing the USA as a coach was beyond a life’s dream.”

As a competitor, one can never be “happy” with a silver medal, but as a coach of many years and games, one learns that there is always a team at the end of a game with fewer points than the other, and in this case that was our team.

I commend the Israeli team for their fabulous effort and great sportsmanship; their win had nothing to do with luck. I commend our team for refusing to give in and continuing to compete until the final buzzer.

Michael Jordan once said, “I’ve never lost a game, I just ran out of time.” We simply ran out of time that day, and remain grateful for the opportunity we had to compete.

Maccabiah: U.S. Wins Bronze in Rugby 15s

— by Amir Shoam

After winning the rugby sevens tournament last week, the U.S. rugby team for the Maccabiah also won the bronze medal in the rugby 15s tournament after beating Great Britain 15-3 in the game for third place.

With this win, the U.S. once again retained its status as the only team to win a medal in each rugby tournament in the history of the games. Head Coach Shawn Lipmam, who previously won medals as a player in five Maccabiah tournaments, broke the record for medals in Maccabiah open category tournaments, as he has seven now.

More after the jump.
Joel Cohen and Jared Braun scored the game’s two tries (5 points each), and Taylor Howden added one conversion kick (2 points) and one penalty kick (3 points). In the semi-final game, the U.S. lost to Australia 10-18. Israel won the tournament after beating Australia in the final game. The two teams that reached the final are the ones that play as a team year-round. Lipman said:

We built a remarkable team that arrived in Israel as the fittest and strongest we have ever assembled. Even though we had trained individually nothing can compare with playing together as a team and getting consistency in execution under pressure. We think we were good enough to have beaten Australia to make the final, but retain lapses on execution hurt us. The game we played against Great Britain for bronze was amazing and an excellent way for us to end. Israel deserved to win the fifteens tournament, and I think it is a good thing for the tournament that more countries are doing well as the competition is becoming more broad based.

Regarding the sevens tournament, Lipman said:

It was a great accomplishment to have won the gold in sevens, as Israel keeps playing international sevens all the time, and we had only two sevens training sessions. We also had to come back from having lost to Israel and tying South Africa prior to the sevens tournament final game. We showed tremendous heart and courage.

Throughout the games, the team suffered with the absence of the injured Zach Test. The 23-year-old is already the U.S. sevens team’s leading try scorer among active players, with 73.

“I am sure Zack Test would have made a big difference for us, but this is a team sport and one can’t rely on a person,” said Lipman. “Rugby is a squad effort, and nothing would have been accomplished without everyone that came, including our amazing support staff.”

Coach Lipman concludes:

More important than winning medals is the fact that this tour changed our players’ lives in very deep and meaningful ways. Every participant in our team is leaving as part of a band of brothers, and now has a family that will always be there with him for the rest of his life. That is the real gold!

Maccabiah: U.S. Wins 67 Medals in Swimming

Marlee Ehrlich, Andi Murez, Jacqui Levere and Leah Goldman (left to right) after the 4×200 freestyle relay competition

— by Amir Shoam

The U.S. swim team for the Maccabiah won 67 medals in the open and junior pool categories during the last week.

“The U.S. team was a closely bonded team with great team spirit,” said open team head coach Barry Roffer. “I would say we did an outstanding job at the competition.”

Olympic champion Garrett Weber-Gale, who served as the open team’s co-captain alongside Rebecca Lewinson, won the 50 and 100 meter freestyle categories, and broke the tournament’s record for 50 meter with 22.12 seconds. Andi Murez won the 50, 100 and 200 freestyle categories for women, setting records on all events. Eric Friedland won both 100 and 200 meter breast roles, including a 1:02.73 minutes record in 100 meter.

The U.S. women’s swim team, which included Marlee Ehrlich of Cherry Hill, N.J., broke a Maccabiah record in the 4×200 meter freestyle relay with a time of 8:23:29. Ehrlich also won a silver medal in 400 meter freestyle, and a gold medal in 800 meter freestyle. Today, she also won a bronze medal in the 5-kilometer open water race.

More after the jump.
“My teammates and I were able to bond quickly, which helped lead to a highly successful meet for Team USA,” she said. “Representing the U.S. was an extreme honor, and I know that I am going to cherish the memories I made on this trip.”

The American junior girl swimmers won all individual races but one. Isabelle goldsmith and Morgan Smith were standouts in this division. Judd Howard was the standout in the junior boys’ category.

Maccabiah: U.S. Wins Gold in Rugby Sevens

Team Captain and Tournament MVP Dallen Stanford receiving his two trophies

— by Amir Shoam

It was harder than one might have expected, but the U.S. has won its first gold medal of the 19th Maccabiah games yesterday (Wednesday), after defeating Israel 17-14 in the final of the rugby sevens tournament. The rugby 15s tournament will start tomorrow, but the team will hold its first match of it on Sunday, against Canada (10 a.m. EST, Wingate Institute).

“It was the best Israeli rugby team I have seen in the games,” said Head Coach Shawn Lipman, who previously won medals in them five times as a player, to the Philadelphia Jewish Voice. “The match could have gone either way. We wanted to have the level of challenge that we have prepared for, and now we know that the 15s tournament is going to be hard.”

Tries by Willie Rudman, Team Captain Dallen Stanford (tournament MVP) and Joel Cohen (5 points each), and one successful conversion kick for Standford’s try by Taylor Howden (2 points), provided the team with a promising 17-7 lead. Israel rallied back with a successfully converted try, but the U.S. managed to hold its opponent from scoring any more points.

More after the jump.
On its way to the final, the team had lost the lead in two of its three round-robin stage matches: On its first match, South Africa came back to a 12-12 draw against it after trailing 12-0. On its second match, Israel upset the score, from a 5-0 trailing to a 5-10 win. However, on its last round robin match, the U.S. thrashed Great Britain 35-0 to finish the stage second, after Israel, and win the ticket to the final match against it.

The greatest success story of the tournament, according to Lipman, was Jarett Brotz of Cherry Hill, N.J. After the trials for the team last January, the back-row forward was put on the reserve list. “We saw potential in him, but he needed to work on his fitness,” explained the Coach. As previously-qualified players could not eventually join the trip, Brotz was called to fill in. During the training in Israel, he was chosen as one of the 12 players out of 29 to participate in the seven-a-side tournament. As the tournament progressed he earned increasing playing time, and shined on the defensive side. “He will be one of our most important players in the 15s tournament,” concluded Lipman.

The opening ceremony for the Games will be held today in Jerusalem (1:30 p.m. EST, Teddy Stadium), with almost 9,000 athletes participating and 30,000 expected viewers. Many of the tournaments will start tomorrow (Friday).

19th Maccabiah Games Kick Off With Rugby Sevens Tournament

Team Captain Dallen Stanford with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat

— by Amir Shoam

The opening ceremony of the 19th Maccabiah Games will be held next Thursday, but one American team wants to be wearing gold medals for it. One of the earliest tournaments of the games will be of rugby sevens, with the U.S. team taking on South Africa, Israel and Great Britain tomorrow (Wednesday) in the Wingate Institute, Netanya. On Friday, the four teams will be joined by Australia, Canada and Chile for an 11-day rugby 15s tournament.

“The U.S. has never sent a rugby team as committed, conditioned or talented as this one to the games,” said Head Coach Shawn Lipman to the Philadelphia Jewish Voice. “We have exceptionally high standards for ourselves, and are absolutely dedicated to coming home with two gold medals.”

More after the jump.
Due to the weather conditions and the high intensity of the 14-minute long sevens game, the tournament will start at 17:20 Israel time, and the final game will be played as late as 22:20. The teams will have to finish the round-robin stage in one of the top two places in order to win a ticket to the final.

The Philadelphia area will be represented in the team by Jarett Brotz from Cherry Hill, N.J.

Jarett Brotz of Cherry Hill, N.J. (Photo: Jewish Community Voice)

The team practicing on a tour of Tel Aviv’s old neighborhoods

And in Jerusalem, even without a ball

Maccabiah Basketball Coach Teaches the Importance of Relationships

Barry Kleiman with wife and team manager Marcie

— by Amir Shoam

When Barry Kleiman, coach of the Under-16 basketball team for the Maccabiah, was 19, he worked as a counselor at a sleepover camp in the Philadelphia area. One day after lunch, when he and the other counselors were playing basketball, a 12-year-old girl named Donna asked them to teach her how to play. She kept playing with them every day during the camp, and in the next two summers, in which she also attended the camp. The two had not seen each other for the next 30 years. When a camp reunion meeting, which Kleiman could not attend as he was living in California, was approaching, he asked his close friend, who also worked in the camp as a counselor, to look for Donna.

It turned out that since the camp Donna had represented Queens College in the All-America women’s basketball team, was selected to the all-star game of the Women’s Pro Basketball League, represented the U.S. in the 1985 Maccabiah Games, and became the PGA Tour’s senior vice president of strategic development. Later, Donna Orender became the president of the WNBA.

More after the jump.
The two have become friends again, and afterwards met again on the basketball court in the 2011 JCC Maccabi Games in Springfield, MA, as Orender’s twin sons participated in the basketball tournament. One year later, Orender, also one of Maccabi USA’s vice presidents, recommended Kleiman for his current position. “I feel honored about that,” said Kleiman, “I know there were other people who were qualified for this job, but I got it because Donna knew me as a coach and as a person and was sure about me. This story shows the importance of creating and maintaining relationships.”

This principal has also led Kleiman in selecting the squad for the coming tournament: “I wanted to pick not only good basketball players, but also people that I wanted to spend four weeks in Israel with,” he said.

Before the trials, I asked each player to write a letter about their motivation and expectations regarding the tournament. I wanted people who would listen, play strong, and know how to work with people they had not known before. I enjoy improving those aspects in players during a season, but it is not something that you can do in one week of training before a tournament.

Among the chosen players are four from the Lower Merion High School: Corey Sherman of the school’s first team, and Michael Berg, Jeremy Horn and Eli Needle of the freshmen team. An interesting coincidence considering that unlike other coaches, Kleiman did not pick players who had already known each other on purpose.

“I was awed to hear that four kids from one high school made it to a national team,” said Berg.

It is not very often that I can experience something as big as that with people I literally see every day in classes. I have always wanted to visit Israel, and the fact that I get to do something that I really like while I am there makes it a great honor. The players who made it from the tryouts were all very good, and I expected them to make it. I also remember a couple of twins from Florida [Orender’s sons, Jacob and Zach], as well as a tall guard from Illinois [Jordan Baum].

“I was quite nervous about the trials,” admits the 15-year-old forward.

I do not consider myself a good tryout player because I am not a “flashy.” Additionally, I am a perfectionist, so whenever I did something wrong, I would think about it for a long period of time during the tryout. I respect Coach Kleiman very much for seeing my value as a player.

“Winning the gold is the goal for me, and I am sure that most of my teammates feel the same,” continues Berg. “The whole experience is special, but we go there to win and represent the U.S. the way we should.”

Based on the east coast tryout sessions and Coach Kleiman’s words, we don’t have too much size. I expect us to be a quick-running and sharp-shooting team. We should not expect anything less than winning.

“I try to ignore any expectations,” concludes Kleiman. “In the last tournament the U.S. won the gold, but due to the age restriction those are not the same players this time. I try not to manage aspirations, but reality: to be as good as this team can. I expect the players not just to try to score, but to do everything yachad — together, so that this tournament will become a great memory.”

U.S. Under-16 basketball team for the Maccabiah:


  • Jordan Baum, Deerfield, IL;
  • Ofek Belkin, El Paso, TX;
  • Michael Berg, Merion Station, PA;
  • Sam Fieldman, Roslyn Heights, NY;
  • Spencer Freedman, Pacific Palisades, CA;
  • Michael Hayon, Calabasas, CA;
  • Jeremy Horn, Wynnewood, PA;
  • Eli Needle, Merion Station, PA;
  • Jacob Orender, Jacksonville Beach, FL;
  • Zach Orender, Jacksonville Beach, FL;
  • Corey Sherman, Penn Valley, PA; and
  • Isaac Siegel, Amherst, MA.
Coaching staff

  • Head Coach: Barry Kleiman;
  • Assistant Coach: Dave Goldman;
  • Assistant Coach: Jake Shechtman; and
  • Manager: Marcie Kleiman.

New Jersey Swimming Champion Getting Ready for the Maccabiah

Rebecca Lewinson of West Windsor, N.J., who will reprsent the U.S. in the Maccabiah Games this summer, has already won almost any swimming title she competed for: at the New Jersey High School State Championship, she won the 100m Breast category three years in a row. She is currently a member of the Princeton University Swim Team, and won two Ivy League Championships in three years. In the 2009 Maccabiah, at the age of 17, she competed in the open age category and won the gold medal in 200m Breast, silver in 400m Medley Relay, and bronze in 100m Breast.

The 6-foot-tall athlete, who will turn 21 next Wednesday, started swimming at the age of 9, which is relatively late for a competitive swimmer. By the age of 15 she was ranked second in the National Age Group Rankings for 200m Breast.

“I love the fairness of the sport: If you work hard, you do well. I also enjoy the opportunity for improvement,” Lewinson said in an interview with The Philadelphia Jewish Voice. “Being a part of a team completely changes the sport. Racing for my high school and college team is probably my favorite part of the sport, and motivates me to be a better swimmer.” However, she said that swimming is “a huge time commitment,” involving practices before and after school:

In high school, I gave up a lot of social time in order to train and compete. It seemed like the end of the world then, but I now realize that swimming’s time commitment taught me a lot about prioritizing and time management, and opened many doors for me. In college, swimming has definitely contributed more to my life than it has made me sacrifice. The friendships I have made and lessons I have learned far outweigh anything I missed out on for swimming.

In the coming Maccabiah, the International Relations student will compete in 200m and 400m (her best race) Individual Medley, 100m and 200m Breast, and 100m and 200m Fly. However, winning medals is not her only goal: “I hope to swim my heart out for my team, but I also expect to meet people that I will be friends with for the rest of my life,” she said.

I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to Israel to compete for my country and have the experience of being surrounded by thousands of Jewish athletes from around the world. Being Jewish has allowed me to connect with people in my community and University. I am actually remaining in Israel after the games to pursue research for my Senior Thesis.

Lewinson is a part of a family of female athletes: Her mother was captain of the Syracuse track team and a professional dancer. Her older sister competed on the varsity track team and swim team at Widener University, and her younger sister dances and is being recruited to compete in college for a crew. Unlike her mother, she is not planning to become a professional in her sport:

Although I would love to compete for the rest of my life, trying to make a living out of swimming is not realistic and would not allow me to pursue my career goals outside of the pool. I will be a senior in college next fall, and I look forward to seeing how far I can push myself during my last year.

Five Philadelphians in U.S. Futsal Team for the Maccabiah

Due to its similarity to soccer and the smaller field and number of players, futsal is an extremely popular hobby around the world. “Futsal in Brazil is like basketball or baseball here in the U.S. In fact, at younger ages they play it instead of soccer,” explained Michael Monheit, chair and head coach of the U.S. futsal team for the upcoming Maccabiah Games.

Two years ago, Monheit established the American Futsal Academy in King of Prussia. “Before that, clubs in the area used futsal for practice, but there were no actual futsal clubs here,” he said.

We established a new club in order to bring together the best futsal players in Greater Philadelphia, and we won the northeast championship in three age categories in our debut season, and in two age categories last year.

Monheit, an attorney and internet marketing manager for his living, took the reins of the Maccabiah team nine months ago. In the final squad for the tournament he included four players from Greater Philadelphia. “We selected many players from the northeast because we wanted to be able to practice frequently,” he explained. “Futsal depends a lot on timing, set plays and coordination between the players. In this way it reminds of basketball more than of soccer.”

While the popularity of the Major League Soccer has increased since the arrival of European stars in their early 30s such as David Beckham and Thierry Henry, futsal is a bit different game: Each team has five players on a field about the size of a basketball court. “Due to the smaller number of players, the players need to be more versatile,” said Monheit.

The four field players switch positions all the time, and even the goalkeeper has an important role in starting counter-attacks after he makes a save. Because of the size of the field, the transition from defense to attack is a lot quicker. For soccer teams, futsal is an important practice way for those aspects.

“Most of our players played soccer for most of their lives and only recently started playing futsal regularly,” continued the coach.

Futsal is growing around the world and about 20 teams will participate in the coming tournament. Despite that, I believe that we have a real chance to win a medal. We practice a lot and participated as a team in northeast tournaments. If you defend well, you can keep the score low and have a chance to beat a technically better team.

One of the players in the team is Monheit’s son, Matthew. The 21-year-old played soccer since the age of 4 and until last year, including the famous Coppa team in high school and the varsity team of MIT, where he studies environmental engineering. He has also participated in the previous Maccabiah Games with the Under-19 soccer team.

While being able to play in all four field positions, he prefers to play as the pivot — standing close to the opposition goal and taking advantage of the defense’s marking of him to create scoring opportunities for the two wingers playing on his sides.

“In the coming tournament there will be teams that are better than us, like Brazil and Israel,” said Matthew. “Winning a medal won’t be easy, but I think it’s possible.”

Unlike other players, which are often coached by their fathers in early ages, it’s the first time that my father coaches me. I really enjoy it. It helps me understand the game on the team level, and I also help him in the organization of the team, like an assistant coach.

On the other side of the field you can find Mike Markovitz, who plays as a “defender.” In addition to being the last line of defense, he coordinates the attacking play. In ninth grade, after 10 years of playing soccer for local teams, he joined the Lower Merion Velez, where under an Argentina-born coach which was specialized in futsal he participated in a few tournaments every year. At 20 years old, he captains the University of Pennsylvania club team, as he chose to focus on his bio-medical engineering studies and not to join the varsity team, which practices more often. In the summers, he plays for Philly United in the national Under-23 soccer league.

After representing the U.S. in smaller Maccabi tournaments in Argentina, Italy and Australia, he was hoping to qualify to the soccer team for the coming Maccabiah, but was eliminated in the trials as he was injured at the time and could not play to his full ability. To his fortune, Monheit was present in the trials and advised him to join his team.

“After watching some of our rivals in video, I think we have a good chance for a medal,” Markovitz said.

I really like the squad that we have. Since most of our players are young, if we keep holding practices after the tournament we will return much better for the 2017 games. I am very excited to play for this team and to fly to Israel for the first time.

Full U.S. squad for the tournament:

  • Jesse Goleman from Pittsburgh, PA;
  • Ari Lewis from Jericho, NY;
  • Michael Markovitz from Blue Bell, PA – University of Pennsylvania;
  • Matthew Monheit from Philadelphia, PA – Massachusetts Institute of Technology;
  • Alexander Moshal from Wynnewood, PA – George Washington University;
  • Noah Rothstein from Los Angeles, CA – George Washington University;
  • Nicholas Salinger from Newton, MA;
  • Powell Schneider from Cambridge, MA;
  • Samuel Stein from Bryn Mawr, PA; and
  • Samuel Stone from Maplewood, NJ – Bryant College.