MONTREAL — Returning early this month from sunny Buenos Aires to wintry Montreal, Leon Elfassy was looking forward more than ever before to the 18th “chai” edition of the Maccabiah Games coming up in July 2009 in Israel.
“This was a fantastic tune-up for the Games,” he told The CJN.
Elfassy, who heads Maccabi Canada’s national athletic committee (NAC), was one of 26 Montrealers who returned early this month after taking part in the 10-day-long, 11th edition of the Pan-Am Maccabi Games in Argentina.
Maccabi Canada national athletic committee chair Leon Elfassy, left, and president Allen Gerskup, right, pose in Buenos Aires with mixed doubles tennis bronze medal winners Mike and Monika Yuval.
In all, the Canadian delegation numbered an impressive 175 people and included other Maccabi Canada officials, such as president Allen Gerskup, and NAC member Alex Brainis, board member Jerry Henechowicz, and national treasurer Ami Lohr, all of Toronto.
More than 1,000 participants came from the United States, and in total, some 3,000 from 30 countries took part in the Games.
Canadians amassed 14 medals: a team gold in open men’s softball (the final was against the United States); five silvers (two in youth boy’s basketball, covering three age groups, as well as two in swimming, and one in master’s swimming); and eight bronzes (three in gymnastics, one in swimming, one in master’s mixed doubles tennis, one in junior boys’ basketball, one in beach volleyball, and one in chess).
The only medal for a Montrealer was the bronze in tennis, garnered by Monika and Mike Yuval, one of the founders of an annual tennis fundraiser at the tennis club he owns on Nun’s Island.
Elfassy said he’s very confident that a number of the Canadian athletes who took part in South America could qualify for the big 2009 event, despite the fact there are never any tryouts for the Pan Ams, and if you pay the $6,000 it takes to get there, you go.
Yet the Pan-Am Maccabi Games, he said, go a long way to reaffirm what the Maccabi movement is all about: fostering future Jewish leadership and creating bonds between Jews around the world.
The highlight, Elfassy said, was marching into the opening ceremonies at a tennis stadium filled with 12,000 people. Calgary’s Marnie Krell, who ended up winning a bronze in beach volleyball, carried the colours, and the host city, which boasts a Jewish community of 220,000, was warm and welcoming, Elfassy said.
It’s the largest Jewish community in Latin America and has hosted the Pan Am Maccabi Games twice before, including the inaugural edition in 1964. One of its agencies, Lamrot Hakol, hosted the athletes.
“We’ve been overwhelmed by the response and feedback we’ve gotten from everybody, including family members who also went,” Elfassy said. “We were there: the Maccabi movement supporting a Jewish community that was supporting the games.
“This was the type of thing that once you’ve participated, you’re hooked for life.”
Other Montrealers completing in Buenos Aires included Taylor Garner (men’s open basketball); Norman Katz, and Chaim Edelstein (tennis); Phil Levi (golf); Robert Bohbot (a member of the gold medal men’s softball team); and Eliott Azeroual, Max Rosenfeld, Stephen Fox, Jonah Sosowicz, Adam Gazith, and Rory Bokser (members of three junior boys’ basketball squads).
Elfassy said Maccabi Canada is now accepting applications for coaching, assistant coaching, and managing positions for the Maccabiah Games in 2009. The deadline is Jan. 31.
As many as 500 Canadian Jewish athletes are expected to compete, so Elfassy advised interested individuals to download the necessary form from the Maccabi Canada website, maccabicanada.com, as soon as possible.
Alternatively, you can call Sharon in Toronto at 416-398-0515, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for Montreal inquiries.