Toronto athletes earned medals on land, in the water, on ice, and, if you count the flight of a golf ball, in the air as well, at the recently concluded JCC Maccabi Games & Artsfest in Stamford, Conn.
Swimmer Chad Walt, a Maccabi veteran, earned a gold, two silver and a bronze medal to pace the Toronto team, while swimmers picked up 20 medals in the pool in just the first three days of competition.
Altogether, about 100 athletes aged 13-16 represented Toronto at the Stamford Games, which ran from Aug. 7 to 12. The team was bolstered by a number of young athletes from Montreal, which did not send its own team to the event. In total, about 1,400 athletes from North American cities, as well as Great Britain and Israel, participated in the Maccabi event, while St. Louis, Mo. and Columbus, Ohio, hosted smaller gatherings of Jewish athletes.
Toronto’s team was among the largest at the Games, along with those from Stamford, Philadelphia, Pa. and Orange County, Calif., said Alex Voihanski, head of the Toronto delegation.
Golfer Jake Fromowitz came home with a silver medal, while the ice hockey team earned gold, the boys under-14 basketball team won a bronze medal, and girls soccer earned a silver. Finishing out of the medals were a second boys hockey team, which lost in the bronze medal match, a boys baseball team, which finished eighth, a second girls soccer team (4th), and the boys under-16 basketball team (4th).
The inclusion of ice hockey marked a departure for the junior games, which until this year featured only an inline version of the sport. But inline hockey only attracted about five or six teams each year while a dozen teams showed up for the on-ice competition, with other cities turned down because of the unavailability of ice time, Voihanski said.
Toronto White won the tournament with a golden goal in three-on-three overtime in the championship game. They defeated a team from Fort Lauderdale 3-2 when Josh Forberg took a pass and walked in on the opposition goalie and deposited a backhand shot in the five-hole, Voihanski said.
The team was coached by Spencer Hyman, who played NCAA hockey at Michigan and who now coaches the Markham Royals. He’s the brother of Toronto Maple Leaf forward Zach Hyman. Both played for Canada in hockey at the 2013 Maccabiah Games in Israel. Hyman was joined as coach by Noah Schwartz, who played college hockey at the University of Western Ontario and who was also a member of Canada’s gold medal team at the 2013 Maccabiah.
The White team consisted of very talented AAA and AA players, as did Toronto Blue, Voihanski said. Altogether, some 70 to 80 players tried out for the Games.
Toronto Blue lost in the bronze medal game to a team from Greater Washington in what Voihanski called a “fog bowl.” Because of the high humidity, fog covered the ice and no one could see more than a few feet. The Washington goals were scored on slap shots from the point that the Toronto goalie never saw, he said.
In under-14 basketball, the boys team captured the bronze medal by beating Israel by three points in “one of those crazy up and down games,” Voihanski said.
“It’s always a nice feeling to play Israel,” he added.
In girls soccer, a strength of the Toronto team for the past few Games, Toronto Red and Toronto White were top seeds. Red destroyed Orange County, a strong team, by an 8-2 margin in the round robin play but lost to OC in the gold medal final.
The girls played in 40-degree heat and couldn’t regain the high level they attained in round robin matches.
“Our girls were gassed. They just didn’t have it the rest of the game,” Voihanski said.
Toronto White, which was undefeated in the round robin competition, lost to Los Angeles 2-1 in the quarter-finals.
Voihanski credited Menashe Levi, “Mr. Maccabi,” for the success of the girls teams over the years. A well respected soccer coach in the GTA, Levi “is the biggest reason the program even exists,” he said.
In 2010 , the first year he was put in charge, it didn’t look like Toronto would even send a team to the summertime games. But Levi “convinced us to keep the program open and bring his team. They won the silver medal,” he said.
In 2011, Toronto brought 21 athletes to the game, and increased that number in subsequent years: 46 in 2012, 55 in 2013, more than 90 in 2014 before topping out at around 100 athletes in 2016.
Levi’s positive reputation and credibility enticed other coaches to join the Maccabi effort, and they in turn brought in more and more athletes each year.
The Maccabi organization honoured Levi’s 10-year involvement as a Maccabi coach by presenting him with a framed jersey, photos and medal.
Other swimmers winning medals include: Ry Cyna, one gold and four bronze; Ron Alesker, one bronze; Breana Dibatista, two bronze; Jacklyn Russel, one bronze; Maya Ginzburg, one gold and one silver; Rachel Klotz, one silver; Caroline Sorojourn, one silver.