stuart2

If you were a member of the 2009 and/or 2013 USA Maccabiah Team, then you are probably aware that famous shoe designer Stuart Weitzman was on our Masters Table Tennis team. We asked Stuart to share a few highlights from his experiences traveling to Israel to compete in the Games for our new Maccabi Memories series, and he told us all about the relationships he built with both foreign and American Table Tennis players, his favorite sightseeing trip, standout athletic events he got a chance to watch live, and much more.

Stuart Weitzman On His Table Tennis History…

I think almost everybody had a table in their basement or their friend’s basement. It was a childhood game that we all loved to play. My competitive play was on my high school team. Then college and business took over, and I didn’t have the time to keep up with my many sports, except for Squash. Anyone who has ever played Squash knows that by 40 or 50 , you pretty much have to give it up if you want to keep your knees. That’s when I went back to playing table tennis.

Like riding a bike, once one has played table tennis, it stays with you. While visiting friends, I saw their son playing with a group of guys and invited myself to join them. To my surprise I won the few games we played. I thought that table tennis would be a good replacement for the game of Squash that I had just given up — a fortunate turn of events — for it eventually introduced me to Maccabi USA.

On Getting Involved with Maccabi USA…

I have a lot of friends involved with the Maccabi experience who played Tennis or Golf—those are sports where you have a lot of Masters groups. After years of listening to them discuss their great experiences, I became a bit jealous and decided that I’d like to join one of the Maccabi Masters teams also.

I connected with the Table Tennis coach, Joel Roodyn, who was a champion player as a teenager while he was living in London. He put the team together. I didn’t get to meet the rest of the team until I arrived in Israel. As I spend much of my time in Spain, I was not around when Joel organized most of the training events; so I sharpened my game on my own. That didn’t help much as I was a 70-year old competing against 40-year old former champions; but I must admit that 2 or 3 points off any of them was more thrilling than beating the obvious novice.

stuartteam

On Visiting Israel…

Over the years, my wife set up and sponsored ongoing educational programs in Bat Yam, in support of a school for underprivileged children. She goes there very often; and I joined her on one of those trips, which turned out to be a rewarding experience. How do you beat seeing children take advantage of opportunities that they might not have ever had and showing such appreciation for the person who made it possible for them.

As a family, we took our daughters to Israel, enjoying my eldest daughter’s Bat Mitzvah on Masada. I found Israel to be a wonderful place to teach my children their heritage. I also traveled to Israel once with American and South African shoe manufacturers, with the intention of helping some Israeli shoe factories participate in the world market; and then again on vacation; and finally for the last two Maccabiah Games.

On Building Relationships with American and Foreign Athletes…

The Maccabi experience is the best possible way to meet fabulous people from all over the world. Previously, my visits to Israel were with family and friends, exploring many sites of historical significance. Joining the Maccabiah Table Tennis team, however, gave me a different opportunity, meeting not only the other members who came from all over the USA, but also meeting athletes from some of the 70-80 countries of the world participating in these Games.

My first Israeli contact was an ex-Table Tennis champion who became my training partner. With him I went to one of the clubs where some of the best players trained and who were nice enough to give me tips as well. They also seemed as interested in knowing about America and its Jewish population as I was with theirs. I also met some of the young athletes participating in the open sports whose primary goal was competing to win medals. It was a true pleasure listening to their hopes and passions over dinner.

I met a Table Tennis player who hitchhiked from Moldova. It was his lifelong dream to visit Israel and participate in these Games. Who would even imagine that there are Jews in Moldova, or even know where it is! This put in perspective for me how we are a world-wide community; some much more fortunate than others; and why mutual assistance is so important. I couldn’t help admiring what this young man had wanted to do and how he was determined to find a way to do it.

I played two matches against the Cuban team. I had no idea how difficult it is for them in Cuba — 90 miles from the USA, but a world apart. It certainly made me appreciate what we’ve got in our country. In spite of the economic differences, the Cubans talk and joke about the same things we do. It was easy to bond with them, as Jews so often can do. No doubt my knowledge of Spanish helped. The Cubans were sponsored by people from the USA, and this gave them their first opportunity ever to come to these Games.

On World Maccabiah Games Competition…

I was a basement player, and I was a good one, but at the Maccabiah I met people who played Table Tennis as a serious sport. I’ll continue to say, there is no sport where there are more people who think they are really good when they are not. I was one of those guys who beat everyone in the basement. I thought I was a champion. What I picked up from the Maccabiah players was more proper ways to swing, better positioning, and improvements on the serve. I never paid specific attention to these aspects of the game, as I was doing better than well playing against guys at my level.

stuart

On World Maccabiah Games Highlights…

The Opening Ceremony was fantastic. There were tens of thousands of people, among them Israel’s important politicians. The accompanying entertainment was world-class. There couldn’t have been a better way to start my Maccabiah experience. Outside of my sport, I did get to see the USA Masters Basketball team win its gold medal. These middle-aged guys played like college kids. In 2009, I saw Jason Lezak swim in three races, adding to his gold medals, which he won the year before in Beijing. Perhaps my most singular experience at the Games was the Chess competition. Only in the Jewish Olympics would Chess be added as a sport.

On Sightseeing in Israel…

I’ve been to all the traditional sights a few times, but I was told by someone at the Maccabi organization to visit this laundry outside of Tel Aviv that covered as a bullet factory. It was constructed during the British occupation in the late ‘40s. It was excavated underneath and the bullet factory was built below this giant laundry. It is still there, and is open now to the public. This is where all the bullets were made for the Sten machine gun. They were being stockpiled and made ready in the event a war broke out when independence was declared — the laundry itself and workers maintaining full-time jobs and others working below making the bullets. This is now a mini-museum, with the machines in full working order — quite a story of ingenuity and in its own way unique and not comparable to the traditional sites in Israel.

A Recommendation for Future Participants…

The Maccabiah Games are a world-class event, drawing the best Jewish athletes from around the world. If you are a competitive athlete, you must go. These Games are one of the top three sporting events in the world, after the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games. For those of us who go as Master athletes, our satisfaction comes from both the competition and the support that our fees give the Maccabi organization – solid reasons to go as a Masters athlete. In addition, you will meet wonderful people from so many countries; you will get to tour Israel with well-planned trips organized by Maccabi USA and generally enjoy a country that makes you feel at home. Everyone I know who has participated, has loved the experience. You will too.

Like Maccabi USA on Facebook and follow Maccabi USA on Twitter!