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A Family Affair

This summer, over 10,000 athletes congregated in Israel from around the world, to participate in the 20th Maccabiah Games, the largest Jewish sports competition of its kind and third largest sporting event internationally, after the Olympic Games and FIFA World Cup.  Held quadrennially in Israel, sportsmen and women from 85 countries competed in 45 sports.

The Jewish Olympics are a favourite forum for international athletes of all ages (from 15 to 70+) to come together, display their superlative sports skills and experience a Mediterranean taste of ‘life in Israel’. Scrutinizing the score board, it’s clear to see that South Africans had a lot to contribute.  Placing 6th (out of 85), the SA team returned home with 36 medals.  However, this number did not include the many South Africans who represented Israel, several of whom had some sterling achievements.  In some cases, it was even a family affair!

Following in his father's footsteps - Issy Zimmerman's double gold at the 20th World Maccabiah

The sweet taste of success - Issy (far left) with fellow medallists

Issy Zimmerman proved to be a powerful force to reckon with, cycling his way to two gold medals both for the 21km Individual Time Trial and 84km Open Road Race in Modiin.  Competing without the support of a track team, this win for Issy was particularly impressive.  This is not the first time the Zimmerman family stole the gold. In the 1953 Maccabiah Issy’s dad Maldwyn won first place in the Welterweight Boxing 66kg category, the same weight category that Issy ‘sailed’ to success in.  For Issy, participating in his 3rd World Maccabiah was ‘an honour’, doing so with 10,000 Jewish athletes ‘a thrill’, winning gold medals ‘a bonus’ and seeing the achievements of fellow SA athletes ‘truly incredible’.

A family of winners (L-R: Robyn Ginsberg, Maeve Samuels, Keren Gordon)

Maeve & Jillian (centre) with fellow medallists Lynne & Viola         Robyn Ginsberg 

Maeve Samuels took home not one, but two medals - a gold in the Tennis singles and silver in the doubles. Her daughter Robyn Ginsberg and grand-daughter Keren Gordon (both from Raanana) also whisked up two bronze medals playing netball for Israel, setting the impressive family tally at four, covering three generations and two countries..  As a family friend put it: “Amazing but hardly surprising from this talented trio! Kol HaKavod…”


L-R: Stanley & Jillian Milliner took home 4 maccabiah medals, in squash & tennis (credit: David Kaplan)

The Milliner siblings also secured four Maccabiah medals between them, with Stanley winning gold in the Squash team event (60+) and bronze in the individual. It was the 3rd Maccabiah in a row that Jillian was able to defend her tennis singles gold and this time even added a silver medal in the doubles.  “It was an amazing Maccabiah and couldn't believe that I was able to achieve what I did in the brutal heat.” Another former South African, Janine Strauss also took gold in the (55+) doubles and mixed doubles.

L-R: Margaret Porat, Debbie Chitiz and Rona Joffe celebrating their achievements

Other impressive achievements of Israeli former South African athletes included Margaret Porat’s personal scoop of four gold medals in the Swimming Masters (50M/100M Freestyle and 50M/100M Breastroke), followed closely by Rona Joffe who excelled with three gold medals (in her fourth maccabiah) for the 50M/100M Backstroke and 200M Individual Medley. Debbie Chitiz finished with three maccabiah medals, winning a silver in the 200M freestyle, and double bronze in the 400M freestyle and open water 5KM event at the Sea of Galilee.

Collectively, Israel won 470 medals in total (from 2500 participants), and one can only wonder how many of them were secured by our skilled former Southern Africans.  Congratulations to all those who participated and ‘caps off’ to the especially talented medalists.


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