As Canada’s record delegation of more than 500 people counts down to the start of the Maccabiah Games 18th, “chai” edition in Israel on July 12, Montreal’s own contingent of 135 is expecting some very strong performances.
Although only 17, Montreal golfer Daniel Knight will tee off with the older guys.
“It’s really exciting. The excitement is really building,” said Leon Elfassy, head of Maccabi Canada’s National Athletic Committee.
Elfassy, who was taking calls on his BlackBerry at a record clip during an interview with The CJN, said that three Montreal athletes, while technically juniors – below age 18 – would be competing in an older age bracket because of their precocious levels of talent.
They include Dollard des Ormeaux swimmer Jason Galet, a member of Canada’s junior national swim team; Elm Ridge golfer Daniel Knight of Westmount, a Selwyn House student, and triathlete Greg Amiel.
All are 17, but were deemed good enough for seniors level competition because of their prodigious potential, Elfassy said, adding that they are medal contenders.
Also in the running for medals at the “Jewish Olympics,” Elfassy said, is freelance senior wrestler David Zilberman, who competed at the Beijing Olympic Games last summer and will be under the always-watchful eye of his dad, Victor, who is leading the entire wrestling team to Israel.
Other local standouts include father-and-son bowlers Ronnie and Josh Pottel, who will compete in the men’s masters and open competition respectively.
Ronnie is 55 and Josh is 20, and Josh, on his 19th birthday, set a national three-game record in his age group by scoring 836. He has also bowled a perfect game that was part of a string of 19 strikes in a row.
Prominent local competitors also include 41-year-old Sylvan Adams, one of Canada’s top cyclists in his age group; masters tennis player Monica Yuval, and Jonathan Krausz, a member of the junior men’s basketball team, Elfassy said.
He said Montrealers would comprise most of the water polo team that’s headed to Israel, one of many team sports Canada will compete in.
“We’re sending six basketball teams, six soccer teams, three softball teams, two volleyball teams. It’s amazing. We’re the second-largest delegation after the U.S.”
Montrealer Gary Ulrich, head of Maccabi Canada’s national fundraising efforts, is grateful to all Canadians, including the many Quebecers, who gave financial support to the athletes despite the troubled economic times.
The cost of sending individual athletes is $7,500.
“I think I made 1,800 phone calls, and in the end, 99 per cent said yes,” Ulrich said.
Ulrich attended his first Maccabiah Games in 1961 as a basketball player and has been to every other one ever since.
In 1985, the year hockey legend Jean Béliveau – at Ulrich’s suggestion – agreed to head Canada’s mission, Ulrich, who was then president of Maccabi Canada, was at the Games with his three-year-old daughter.
Over subsequent years, he said, she went to other games, not as an athlete but as a Jew, and subsequently went on aliyah.
“That’s what the Maccabiah is really about,” Ulrich said. “It’s about Jewish identity and building a future generation of Jewish leaders.”
Along with Elfassy and Ulrich, local Maccabi leaders who will be in Israel for the Games include former Maccabi Canada president Roy Salomon; national athletic committee member Teddy Miller, and Ruth Kovac, a Maccabiah Games national vice-president.
Elfassy said others expected to attend include Alan Azuelos, a Jewish General Hospital physician who has been to many Maccabiahs, and physiotherapists David Whiteman and Ira Snyte.
“We take special pride in everyone involved, from the fundraisers to the coaches,” Elfassy said.