Five thousand miles from his home in Gloucester, Jonathan Fonveille was part of the hard-charging team that brought home a gold medal for Maccabi USA’s rugby team during the 13th Pan American games held in Santiago, Chile, from December 27, 2015 through January 4, 2016.
It was the first time the 23-year-old Fonveille played with Maccabi USA, joining a dozen other Boston-area Jewish athletes of all ages who earned medals in half a dozen different sports. A few players from New England colleges also competed.
The Pan American Maccabi games, held every four years, feature a large variety of individual and team sports for Jewish athletes. More than 2,500 Jewish athletes from 22 countries participated. The USA team, led by Lou Moyerman, drew more than 300 athletes from across the country on 33 teams in 14 sports.
The Journal recently caught up with Fonveille; Madeleine Katz, a high school freshman at Hamilton-Wenham High, who piled up five gold medals, five silvers and one bronze; Jonathan Stern of Marshfield, a senior at Thayer Academy; and Lawrence Norman, an international executive with Adidas who was born and raised in Belmont. Norman, who once played professional basketball in Israel, was part of the team that racked up its third consecutive gold in the Pan American games.
This was only the second time that the United States sent a rugby squad to the Pan American Maccabi games, according to a Maccabi USA announcement.
“It was great,” Fonveille said, adding that the team had only one practice before playing their first game. “It was a challenge, but also fun to come together as a team.”
Among the highlights were meeting Jewish athletes from around the world, hearing from the president of Chile during the opening ceremonies and playing against the Prince of Wales Club two weeks after that team won the Chilean National Championship.
Fonveille, a graduate of Elon University, thanked Rabbi Steven Lewis of Temple Ahavat Achim in Gloucester for encouraging him and appreciates the support and donations he received from members of his family’s temple, he said.
Fonveille credited impressive players and strong leadership with the team’s success. In addition to the gold medal for Rugby 7s, the team won a silver medal for 15s Rugby.
Fonveille and another team member, Michael Rudzinsky, a player with the University of South Carolina, are both associated with the Malden-based Mystic River Rugby Club, according to club president Brett Willis.
Their success is not surprising to Alex Goldstein, a Boston-based rugby player and enthusiast, and the founder of Boston Maccabi Rugby, a team which is not affiliated with Maccabi USA. According to Goldstein, the Maccabi USA rugby team has a reputation as “one of the most competitive teams” in and out of the Jewish athletic world and boasts the sport’s top American players including Dallen Stanford, who also served as the team’s coach, as well as Zach Test, a record-breaking player.
Qualifying for the upcoming team for the Israel 2017 games will be tough competition, he predicts.
Lawrence Norman feels tremendous pride in being part of the Masters 45+ basketball team, he said in a phone conversation from Athens, Greece, where he’s based as managing director for Adidas Southeast Europe.
“There’s no better camaraderie than at this age and this level of playing against Jewish athletes from around the world. As I get older, I realize how lucky I am to continue to do this,” said Norman, who played for Belmont High and Clark University.
Now a board member of Maccabi USA, Norman said he’s developed enduring relationships through Maccabi including with Brazilian competitor Israel Andrade, his toughest-ever competitor who’s played on three of that country’s Olympic teams.
“He’s a great guy. When we see each other, we just continue the friendship,” he commented.
Fourteen-year-old Madeleine Katz has been swimming competitively with the North Shore Sharks since she was six-years-old. A few years ago, she read a Jewish Journal article about another young Maccabi competitor. She applied as soon as she was old enough to qualify. “I was so excited,” she recalled.
In Santiago, Katz exceeded her expectations, tallying up some impressive medals. Swimming in many challenging meets with the Sharks prepared her well for Maccabi. Her coach, Janet Hardy, was very supportive and offered helpful tips on competing internationally. “It would be really cool to go” to the 2017 Maccabi Israel games, Katz said, but she’s not yet sure if she’ll apply.
Competing in his second Maccabi competition was Jonathan Stern, a Marshfield soccer player who competed in last summer’s 2015 Maccabi European games.
He was excited to be invited back on the team, which had a chance to play in Miami before heading to Santiago, allowing them time to bond, he recalled. While they won against Israel and Chile, they lost in a tough game against Brazil.
“It was heartbreaking,” he said of the loss, which would have garnered the team a silver medal.
“It was all good Jewish camaraderie,” he said of the experience. He’s hoping to play on a division 3 team next year and is unsure of whether he’ll have the opportunity to apply for the Israel 2017 Maccabiah games.
Other local players include: Shani Breiman of Brookline, juniors division women’s soccer; Nathan Cohen of Sudbury and Jason Miller of Needham (bronze, futsal); Rebecca Magee of Concord (bronze, juniors women’s gymnastics for vault); Deborah Milbauer of Milton (silver, women’s field hockey); Allison Schlager of Weston (bronze, youth tennis); and Douglas Sibor of Boston, men’s soccer. Tufts University student Gaston Becherano played on the open men’s soccer team.
Maccabi USA Invites Applications for 2017 Games in Israel
Maccabi USA is seeking Jewish athletes for the 20th World Maccabiah games to be held in Israel July 5-17, 2017. The organizing committee is headed by General Chairman Jeff Bukantz. The USA will field a team of some 1,200 athletes in over 42 sports, in both team and individual sports in the Juniors, Youth, Open, Masters and Paralympic divisions.
The World Maccabiah Games are the third largest international sporting competition in the world and the world’s largest international Jewish event.