Among the 10,000 athletes who competed in July’s Maccabiah Games in Israel were three from Camden County: Luke Ravitz of Voorhees and Ari Greenberg and Devon Stopek of Cherry Hill.
The Maccabiah Games are an Olympic-style competition hosted by Israel for Jewish athletes all over the world and all Isreali citizens, regardless of religion. This year’s main venue was Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem.
Ravitz, an incoming senior at Eastern Regional High School, played with the U18 Hockey Team, which took a silver medal after a 4 to 3 loss to the Canadian National Team. The competition for hockey was limited because only three teams attended, but Ravitz said the experience was completely unforgettable despite limited competition.
“Our first game was right before the opening ceremony, so they had all of the athletes there,” he recalled. “We had 11,000 people watching us … It was a really cool experience playing in front of that many people.
“It’s probably something that will never happen again for me.”
Ravitz not only had to get accustomed to the country, cuisine and new surroundings, but he also needed some time to break in the freshly made game ice. The arena the hockey team played in is for basketball, and it was only shortly before the games that the surface was turned to ice.
“At first, the ice was pretty rough, so as we played more on it, the ice conditions [improved and] we obviously got used to it …” said Ravitz, who represented the USA for the first time in his hockey career.
The athletes arrived in Israel a week prior to the games, which gave them the opportunity to explore the country, visit national landmarks, try the food and even catch up with family. Ravtiz’s sister Sophie is spending the summer in Tel Aviv-Yafo for a college study abroad program. Out of all the foods he tried during the three weeks there, Ravitz did develop a preference.
“Shwarma was definitely my favorite … schnitzel was meh,” said Ravitz, who also gave that rating to the hotel’s food menu. Greenberg was not as much a fan of the Israeli food and looked forward to Chipotle once he got back to America.
The incoming junior at Cherry Hill East had a strong showing on the track, earning one gold and two silver medals. Greenberg took gold in the 800 meter and silver in the 4×100-meter and the 4×400-meter relays, and also competed in the U18 division.
“When I first started, and around my sophomore year, I did [only] distance,” he explained. “I’m mainly an 800 runner, but in Maccabiah, I was fast enough to be in the 4×100 and 4×400.”
Much like Ravitz, Greenberg was intrigued by the arena he performed in, which is different from the typical South Jersey athletic field. He also enjoyed the heightened atmosphere, encouraged by a higher level of athletes than those who would typically compete in a high-school meet.
“Everyone around me looked like an athlete, and everyone looked at me as a [professional] athlete,” he noted. “After I got my gold medal, I had little kids asking to take pictures with me. I thought that was very cool.
Greenberg and Ravitz both described the Dead Sea as one of their favorite sightseeing spots on the trip.
“The mud was very cool,” Greenberg said.
Much like anyone after a long vacation, the athletes longed to get back home, to get ready for the school year and into the groove of high-school sports. Ravitz and Greenberg will both compete for their schools in the upcoming season and look forward to building off of their Maccabiah medals.
Ravitz’s next goal is to earn a division-one hockey scholarship and continue playing for the next few years.