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August 12, 2012 2:29 pm

Maccabiah Games: The Jewish Olympics

avatar by Yossi Goldstein

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Schneider during a game against Vancouver - October 6, 2006.

The past few sports weeks have zoomed by us like a NASCAR driver on the homestretch of the Talladega Speedway.

There was the NHL Free Agent contracts carousel that bordered on the insane. We closed the curtains on the NBA’s Dwightmare Drama with Orlando center, Dwight Howard, traded to Hollywood and the LA Lakers, in a four-team blockbuster trade worthy of a movie in its own right. And, of course, we had the Olympics and its own once-in-four-years production.

The Olympics, as many are already aware, is the worldwide sporting event where athletes from various nations around the world compete in what is supposed to be a harmonious environment. Of course, there always seems to be a hiccup or two along the way.

This year’s Games were no exception, as the Lebanese Judo team refused to practice within viewing distance of their Israeli counterparts. Many had hoped for a meeting between the two Judokas to settle the score, but, alas, that wasn’t meant to be.

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Israel’s best chance for medaling at these Olympics was blown away when Lee Kurtz finished sixth overall in Windsurfing, an event previously proven to be golden for Israel.

Additionally, USA gymnast Alexandra (Aly) Raisman garnered much praise and support for her musical choice during her floor-exercise routines, when it was discovered that she picked the Israeli  “Hava Nagila” tune and then mentioned fallen Israeli coach and athletes who were murdered during the 1972 Munich Games upon winning gold.

To paraphrase the adage, “If you can’t beat them at their own game, then start your own,” Jewish athletes predominantly take part in the Olympic-like Maccabiah Games, held every four years in Israel, since the Games’ inception in 1932.

That’s not to take away from the success some Jewish athletes, Raisman and Jason Lezak, among others, have had in 21st century Olympics.

Through Raisman helping the United States to its first gymnastics team-Gold since 1996, performing her floor exercise to the “Hora,” and Lezak’s spirited finish in the 4×400 meter swim at Beijing in 2008 that helped teammate Michael Phelps become the winningest Olympian at a single Games, these two showed that Jewish athletes can hang tough with the best of the world.

To the many other Jewish athletes, however, who find they are misrepresented or simply cannot qualify for their chance at Olympic glory, they turn to the Maccabiah Games for international exposure.

In a recent statement that was for the most part missed by many media outlets which were caught up in the Olympics hoopla, Maccabiah USA (MUSA) announced that former NHL player, Mathieu Schneider, will serve as Director of MUSA’s Ice Hockey team for the 19th Maccabiah Games, to be held next July in Israel.

During his pro career, Schneider won a Stanley Cup with Montreal in 1993, played in 1,289 games, netted 233 goals and totaled 743 points. The native New Yorker is the All-Time leading Jewish scorer in NHL history, and was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2000.

Another title you can bestow upon Schneider is that of Renaissance Man.

After retiring from playing in 2010, Matty Ice continued his long involvement with the Players Association when he accepted a position as special assistant to NHL Players Association Executive Director, Donald Fehr, and is now deeply involved in the labor talks between the NHLPA and the NHL Owners. Schneider will bring his extensive experience to MUSA, where he’ll oversee all aspects of its ice hockey program for the upcoming Maccabiah Games.

“I’m thrilled to be involved with Maccabi USA and working on this exciting project,” enthused a cheery Schneider. “My experiences representing the United States in international competition have been among the highlights of my career.

“I’m very much looking forward to helping put together the best possible teams of Jewish hockey players to represent the US next summer in Israel.”

The US will be sending teams to compete in the Juniors (birth years 1995-1998 with conditions), Open (19-years-old and up), and Masters (40-years-old and up) divisions at the Games.

The two-time US Olympian (1998, 2006), Schneider, also represented Uncle Sam as a member of the Junior and Senior National Teams, and is a sure-bet to bring leadership to MUSA’s ice hockey division, where he’ll aid in the recruitment of players and coaches, as well as serve as its ice hockey spokesperson. Matt will be assisted in his roles by an advisory board made up of current and former professional players, and others with strong hockey ties.

“As a Stanley Cup Champion and Olympian who had a distinguished career in the NHL, Mathieu brings knowledge, experience and excitement to the USA’s World Maccabi Games Ice Hockey program,” exclaimed Jeff Bukantz, Chairman, USA World Maccabi Games Organizing Committee.

“In his role as Director, Matt is a formidable and respected presence who will not only focus on our team’s success, but will make sure the athletes enjoy the overall international experience.”

Tryouts for all three divisions of the USA Hockey Teams will take place August 17 – 19 in the Philadelphia area.

In building Jewish pride through sport, one player at a time; there seems to be no better time to gear up for that then now.

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