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July 17, 2009

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PAGE 14A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JULY 17, 2009 Olympics hero Lezak finally opts for Maccabiah alIi Hilaire/Creative Commons Jason Lezak By Marc Brodsky NEW YORK (JTA)--For swimmer Jason Lezak, choos- ing the Maccabiah Games over the World Championships came down to more than what happens in the water. At 33, nearing the end of a career that includes seven Olympic medals, Lezak fig- ured this might be his last opportunity to make his Mac- cabiah debut. Lezak, whose record-setting anchor in the 400-meter free- style relay propelled the United States to gold in the 2008 Sum- mer Olympics, acknowledged it was a tough decision. "It came to a point where if I'm going to do it, now is the time," he said. As a professional, Lezak makes his money at events like the Worlds, which this year are being contested July 17 to Aug. 2 in Rome. Plus it's where the best in the world meet. The Californian said it was "the overall experience" that swayed him toward the games in Israel July 12-23. "It was the full schedule, with the sightseeing, the opening ceremony and the competition itself all wrapped into one," he said. Not to mention his July 15 induction into the Interna- tional Jewish Sports Hall of Fame at the Wingate Institute in Netanya. His decision made, Lezak is partneringwith Maccabi USA/ Sports for Israel on a fund- raising initiative in which he will go into the community to encourage young people to live an active lifestyle. "It's something for me to get in touch more with Jewish kids and hopefully inspire them," he said. "I really didn't have anyone like that growing up." Lezak registered one of the most dramatic performances during the Beijing games last August, with his late dash to capture gold for the U.S. in the 400-meter relay. He came from about halfa body length behind in the last 20 meters to nip the Frenchman Alain Ber- nard, a former world-record holder in tle 100 freestyle. The clutch performance not only secured victory for the United States, it also saved relay teammate Michael Phelps' ultimately succesful bid towin a record eight Olympic gold med- als, snapping the mark of seven set in a single Games by another Jewish swimmer, Mark Spitz. Lezak also would win his first individual Olympic medal--a bronze in the 100 freestyle. Since China, corporations including Coca Cola and Roche Labs have called on Lezak to provide motivational speeches to their employees. With his prowess in the relays, he talks about--what else-- being a team player. "I talk about perseverance, how it took a long time to get where I am, how I never gave up," he said. Though the total Mace cabiah package is what ultimately captured Lezak's imagination, don't think the fire doesn't burn to win in Israel. Certainly he will be favored in his two races, the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle. "Gold obviously is the goal," he says. "I'm going to try and win. Winning gold medals in competitions is a wonderful thing." Pearl makes it from Knoxville to Ramat Gan By Marc Brodsky NEW YORK (JTA)--Bruce Pearl's coaching credentials finally caught up with his desire to Lead the U.S. men's open basketball team at the Maccabiah Games. Four years guiding the University of Tennessee, along with hugely successful ten- ures at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the Division II University of Southern Indiana, put him over the top for a spot he says he's wanted for 20 years. "Other more accomplished coaches coached our team," said Pearl, 49, who earned National Coach of the Year honors in 2008. "[Maccabi USA] has known for years this is something I wanted to do." Pearl is part of a 900-mem- ber contingent that is repre- senting the United States at the 18th Games (July 12-23) in Israel. The Americans are among some 8,000 Jewish athletes from more than 60 countries participating in the so-called Jewish Olympics, which are held every four years. Participants as young as 16 compete. Opening ceremonies was held July 13 at Ramat Gan Stadium. Twenty-eightsports are being contested in the open competitions, with 17 for Juniors, four for Youth and 13 for Masters. The host nation easily out- distanced the field in medals five years ago, bringing home 594 to 227 for the runner-up Americans. The Israelis won 228 golds to 73 for the second- place United States. Pearl says he hopes to im- prove on the bronze medal for men's open basketball that the United States earned in '05, but it will be challenging for his young squad to reach the gold-medal game. Dan Grunfeld, a former Stanford University standout now play- ing overseas, is expected to power the team. Grunfeld's father, Ernie, a standout at the University of Tennessee and a solid NBA performer, averaged 20 points as a high school player for the U.S. team that earned a silver in the 1973 Games. For Pearl, his first trip to Israel will be a family affair: Son Steven is playing for the U.S. squad, daughter Jacqui is the team manager, and parents Bernie and Barbara from Boynton Beach are coming along. His fiancee will be joining him, too. Pearl expects it to be a life-altering experience for himself and his players. "It's coaching the U.S. team, representing the Unit- ed States of America in an international competition and coaching the game of basketball, the game I love, and doing it in my Jewish homeland," he said. "It doesn't get any better than that." While Pearl may be a Mac- cabiah novice, women's field hockey coach Mim Chappell- Eber will be making her fifth appearance, her third as a coach. She recalls the bridge collapse in the '97 Games that killed four Australians and carrying the banner for the U.S. team in the 2001 Games. "Being there represent- ing the United States as an American Jew, and going to Yad Vashem and religious places, the Wailing Wall, you just become more immersed in the religious culture," says Chappell-Eber, whose daughter, Ariel Eber, is the team's goalie for the second straight Maccabiah. Pearl says he wants to visit the religious sites and "see where it all began." "I'm looking forward to getting off the plane and kissing the ground, thank- ing the people there for all that they do for us," he said. Among the activities for some Maccabiah partici- pants will be a bar mitzvah ceremony. The U.S. team will work with Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, who was appointed team rabbi. "The Maccabiah is one of the most exciting and inte- grated Jewish experiences I have ever been involved in," Kula said in a news release from Maccabi USA. "It is an expression of a global Maccabi USA Bruce Pearl (1) with Bonnie Rudin and former NBA center Danny Schayes at a fund-raising gala for Maccabi USA in April 2009 in which he served as the emcee. Jewish community in which people's passion--sports-- combines with a love for Israel, a developing Jewish identity and an affirma- tion of Jewish unity. Just imagining a bar mitzvah overlooking Jerusalem for some 200 athletes who never celebrated their bar mitzvah says it all." Kula will lead services at such sites as Yad Vashem and Masada. Field hockey is a family affair By Marc Brodsky NEW YORK (JTA)--Mim Chappell-Eber can hear the 50,000 fans cheering as the U.S. team walked into Ramat Gan Stadium for the opening ceremonies of the 2005 Mac- cabiah Games, the members in their red, white and blue making a circle around the field. It was the fourth Macca- biah for Chappell-Eber, the coach of the women's field hockey team and a former player. But this time she was accompanied by her daugh- ter, Ariel Eber, the team's goalie. "Representing the country with her was a great bonding experience," says Chappell- Eber, who made her Mac- cabiah debut as a sweeper in 1993, then returned for the '97 Games as a player-coach. "It's not often you get to coach your children in a setting like that representing your country." "Overwhelming and excit- ing" is how Eber remembers the moment. Mother and daughter re- QuickStix Ariel Eber recalls her first Maccabiah Games opening ceremonies, in 2005, as "overwhelming and exciting." turned to Ramat Gan Sta- dium for the July 13 opening of the 18th Games as part of the 900-member U.S. con- tingent. Eber, 26, of Westfield, N.J., is in goal again for her coach/ mom as the United States tries to improve on its bronze medal performance from '05. She is the only returning player from the U.S. squad. Chappell-Eber, 54, of Plainfield, N.J., says this year's unit is the most tal- ented she has guided at a Maccabiah. "There are no high school players; they're all in college or out of college," she says. "We have a former under-21 national player and a national indoor team player"--her daughter. "If we keep our heads, I do my job and they do their job, we'll win gold." Chappell-Eber, who is married to a Tel Aviv native, and Eber say the mother- daughter relationship is no problem on the field. "It's no different than playing for anyone else," says Eber, a former all- conference performer at the University of Vermont. "On the field I don't think of her as mom, I think of her as my coach and treat her the same as any other coach I have." Mom offers the same line. "I reward her and punish her just like anyone else," Chappell-Eber says. "I try not to be harder on her than anyone else. I've had to cut her from teams." Besides the on-field re- lationship, the two bring another unique perspec- tive: They are black Jews. Chappell-Eber converted 27 years ago, though she says that living in Brooklyn in an apartment building with many Orthodox Jews, she "always felt Jewish." "You go to the Maccabiah Games, with 62 countries, you don't just see the Ashke- nazi Jews you see inAmerica," she says. "Indians, South Americans--every country that has Jews in it, they're all there. "Me being a black Ameri- can and being a little different from Jewish white America, it's great to see the differ- ences. So often in the United States you just think of one type of Jew." Eber recalls from the '05 trip, "Near Netanya where we stay, you tell them you're with the Maccabiah, they get so excited, they don't care what color you are."