An Athlete’s Journey – Yael Yonah

What was it like to meet your teammates for the first time?

Initially our Head Coach, Meredith Shifman, entered us in the Big Apple Tournament so we could meet each other and play together. Then, right before we left for Budapest, we participated in a training camp as a team. We got along and meshed really well together at the training camp. Training camp also prepared us for the European Games. Landing in Budapest was really exciting because we had already been together for 2 days, and when we landed, we were really excited to get started and go right into it.

Why did you choose to compete?

The location of the Games, Budapest, was really important to me as a Jewish athlete. It made it even more special to say that this place has a bad past from the Holocaust, but we were able to go there compete and find success. Playing the sport you love, being around Jewish athletes, it was something I couldn’t wait to do again. My grandfather passed away a year ago which was really hard for my grandmother because they did everything together. My grandmother lives in Jerusalem and my grandmother and cousin came to Budapest to see me play. Neither of them had ever watched a field hockey game before and now they had the opportunity to watch me play. It turned something on in me, this is the sport I play, this is the intensity of the sport I play. Getting to experience this trip with my family made it more special.

How did you feel during Opening Ceremony?

Having competed at the 2017 Maccabiah Games, Opening Ceremony was something I was looking forward to. This time around, it truly felt as though I was part of the USA team. Prior to walking in, we got to meet other USA athletes and get to know them. Through these meetings, we developed relationships and then supported each other at our respective competitions. It was a crazy experience to walk into the stadium, with USA on your shirt, everyone in the stadium is looking at you, being on this big screen – you’re not only representing your religion but you’re representing your country.

What was it like to meet other Jewish individuals from around the world who shared similar passions and interests of yours?

Specifically, for field hockey, all the teams got really close. The USA team got especially close with the Argentina Field Hockey Team – a very competitive team. It was great to meet the other girls who play a different style of hockey and speak a different language. We respected each other and made really good friends with the other teams. At the Opening Ceremony, I was also able to talk to the Israeli teams because I am bilingual. It was amazing to connect with other people from around the world, not just the teams we were playing against, but to meet people from everywhere who have the same passion as you for athletics and religion.

How would you recommend this experience to a friend/family member?

My initial involvement was in 2017, when I learned of the opportunity from a family friend and Maccabi USA volunteer, Marc Backal. I think it’s so important for everyone to be involved – not only is it an amazing experience, it’s a trip with a purpose. Everywhere you go, it means something. Not everyone gets to represent their country and that also makes it special.

What were the highlights for you during these Games?

A true highlight for me was the progress that the team made throughout the Games. As a team that doesn’t get to practice together regularly, it’s hard to get used to each other’s style of play. We made tremendous progress from beginning to end, it was exciting to see that and for us to work on our formation. We had amazing corners and execution on our goals – once one person scored it gave the drive to score another. Additionally, the friends you make on the team, because you’re Jewish and a field hockey player, you become lifelong friends. These relationships last long beyond the duration of the Games.