Liberal MP Anthony Housefather is hoping once again to bring home a suitcase full of shiny souvenirs from the Maccabiah Games in Israel.
Four years ago, the then-mayor of Côte-St-Luc, Que., won seven medals in Masters swimming.
Now, as the MP for Mount Royal, Housefather is aiming to do his country proud in an astonishing number of events: 50-, 100-, 200- and 400-metre freestyle, 50- and 100-meter backstroke, 50- and 100-metre butterfly and 200-metre individual medley in the pool, as well as the distance open water swimming event at Kinneret lake.
The Games officially open on July 6 at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem and conclude on July 18.
“Of course I hope (to match it), but that would be pretty difficult, even though I am swimming faster this year than I was four years ago. I will do my best,” he said.
“I am always incredibly proud to represent Canada, but being the first member of Parliament from any country – as far as I know – to seriously compete at the Games … is going to put the spotlight on me this time.”
Housefather, 46, also competed twice at Maccabiah meets as a Junior.
Taking part in the Maccabiah Games “is important to me because it brings together Jewish people from all over the world, each representing our countries,” he said. “We have the opportunity to bond over sport and get to know one another and develop friendships and relationships.… That, together with the opportunity to compete at an international level, makes it exceptionally special.”
Over 100 of the more than 600-member Canadian team going to the 20th Maccabiah Games – sometimes referred to as “the Jewish Olympics” – are from Quebec, said Maccabi Canada Quebec co-chair Daniel Smajovits.
That includes about 80 to 85 athletes, as well as coaches, trainers and other staff. The final roster is determined almost up to the time they leave, due to injuries or other unforeseen circumstances, he explained.
Athletes are divided into Junior (up to age 18), Open (any age) and Masters (over 35) competitions, in some 20 different sports.
The Quebec team has the distinction of having the youngest and oldest Canadian athletes: 13-year-old Galia Oliel-Sabbag in rhythmic gymnastics and tennis player Brahm Faber, who turns 85 in July.
At the 2013 Games, Faber, on his first trip to Israel, struck gold, beating the Israeli champion in his age category.
Faber, who only started playing tennis competitively at around 40, thinks it may be tougher this time because he will be playing in a younger age group, as the Maccabiah does not have an 85-plus category.
“My hopes this time are to enjoy the total experience of being part of the Canadian team,” and being among thousands of athletes from around the world, he said. “Parading into Teddy Stadium at opening ceremonies with 30,000 fans in attendance is amazing.”
Going into the last Games, Faber, a longtime Mount Royal Tennis Club member, was ranked No. 1 in Quebec and No. 2 in Canada. He’s still on the courts three times a week.
“I am playing pretty well.… I am ranked probably No. 2 in Canada and recently won the Eastern Canadian Super Seniors Championship in Toronto, and also have been selected by Tennis Canada to play in the upcoming World Championships.”
Oliel-Sabbag, a member of Questo Rhythmic Gymnastics since 2010, recently placed third at the Eastern Canadian Gymnastics Championships and finished fifth overall in her category.
“As a sport, the grace of rhythmic gymnastics has always inspired me,” said the Royal West Academy student, who also has a budding acting and modelling career. “I am so excited to represent Canada and compete in Israel against the best Jewish athletes in the world.”
She has been training four days a week after school and another six hours each weekend in preparation, learning clubs and ribbons, two events she has not competed in before.
With all the other Juniors, Oliel-Sabbag will be leaving a week ahead of the Games to take part in a five-day educational tour intended to connect the youngest participants with the country on a cultural level.
Another Masters athlete from Quebec who is expected to do well is Ironman triathlete Kayla Segal.
It may seem counterintuitive, but competing in the Maccabiah’s much shorter triathlon will be harder for her than the more-gruelling Ironman triathalon, of which she has completed 13.
That’s because Segal, 39, is an endurance athlete. “My body only kicks in after a certain distance,” she said.
‘I am so excited to represent Canada and compete in Israel’
The Ironman is a 3.8 km swim, 180 km bicycle and 42 km run (a full marathon), whereas at Maccabiah, she’ll be covering 1.5 km in the water, 40 km on the bike and 10 km running.
Add to that the fact that Segal is returning after a serious back injury last September.
She is going to her first Maccabiah to fulfill a promise she made to herself in 1997, the last time she was in Israel.
She is also entered in the 5 km open water swim, the 21 km run and the 20 km bicycle events.
“I’ve only been back running since March because of the injury, which involves neurological damage, the result of 20 years of racing,” she said.
Segal ran her first triathlon in 1996 and first marathon in 1999. She’s lost count of how many she’s done since then, but believes it’s somewhere between 30 and 40. She never misses the Boston Marathon, and this April was no exception, although “I forced myself to finish by walking,” she said.
‘I forced myself to finish by walking’
Her goal is to compete in the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii next year, when she turns 40.
Other notable Quebec athletes to watch at the games, according to Smajovits, are Jordan Glazer, who is on the Junior baseball team and, in Open competition, wrestler Gabriel (Chooky) Choueke.
Glazer, 17, who just graduated from Royal West Academy, was named one of Canada’s top 160 amateur baseball players at Tournament 12, which was held in Toronto last September.
A player in Quebec’s Ligue de Baseball Junior Elite, Glazer is known as a versatile and smart player. He has said: “I pride myself on my work ethic, whether on or off the field. I can play every position on the field, except catcher.”
Choueke, a Vanier College commerce graduate, has represented Canada internationally on several occasions in freestyle wrestling.
Also of note, Roy Salomon of Montreal, a stalwart of both Maccabi Canada and the international movement for many years, will be one of the Maccabi World Union flag-bearers at the opening ceremony.