Today we are featuring Matthew Halpern, seven-time medalist as an alum of three World Maccabiah Games and one Maccabi Australia International Games. Matthew also serves on Maccabi USA’s Board of Directors. Read below to learn more about Matthew’s extensive history with Maccabi USA.Q: What is the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions Maccabi USA?
A: Life-long friendships. I’m blessed to have created some of my most deep, meaningful friendships as a result of my involvement with Maccabi USA.Q: How did you first become involved with Maccabi USA?
A: I first applied to participate in the Maccabiah in 1996 but did not qualify for the 1997 World Maccabiah Games. Rather than accept that as the end of the story, I was determined to try again and eight years later, I was fortunate to qualify for the 2005 World Maccabiah Games. I’ve since traveled to Israel twice more representing Maccabi USA, as well as once to Australia.
A: Maccabi USA is a unique intersection of two things that are so important to me– Judaism followed by sport (bowling to be specific, but I love just about all sports). When you find something that is so aligned with who you are and what you believe, you stick with it and do what you can to ensure the opportunity is there for others. Plus, I was taught from a young age that participation goes beyond the activity and transcends into leadership, and I’m proud to serve on the Maccabi USA Board of Directors as well as for other Jewish organizations.Q: How would you describe the Opening Ceremonies?
A: There is a moment when the entire delegation is walking toward the field, through the entry tunnel, where everything goes silent for a second. You have a mere second to absorb where you are, what you are doing, and the uniqueness of the moment… and then you are thrust into a circus of music and lights and screaming. Your senses are assaulted from all angles and you do everything you can to take in each second, each moment. You realize you are in a time and space that will be shared by a scant number of people. As you absorb everything going on around you– from the speakers to the shira (song), from the roll call of countries to the roar of the crowd, from the calm of Jews worldwide joining together to the cacophony of thousands of voices singing Hatikva– you realize you are actually living history. It’s euphoric. It’s electric. It’s Maccabiah!
A: While competing in three World Maccabiah Games and one Maccabi Australia International Games, I amassed 2 Gold medals, 2 Silver medals, and 3 Bronze medals. The highlight of all these competitions was winning the Gold medal at the 2005 World Maccabiah Games. Bowling in international tournament play is a multi-day, multi-discipline event. That year, I and our Men’s Bowling team kept comping up short in each discipline– 4th in singles, 5th in doubles, 4th in trios, and 4th in teams. But over those four days, I had amassed enough pins to lead the All-Events competition. I was proud as a Jew. I was proud as an American. I was proud as a bowler. It doesn’t get much better than that.Q: Describe the relationships you developed with other Jewish athletes from around the world.
A: Some of my closest friends are my competitors from Maccabi competition. On the lanes, we’re pretty fierce competitors, but off the lanes, we’re love, laughs, and good times. We may not speak every day, but the bond is always strong. In March 2014, when one of the Maccabi Australia bowlers got married, I and three other Maccabi bowlers from “overseas”, along with some family, made the trip for an incredible simcha (joyous occasion). There are your friends, there are members of your family, and then there are your friends who feel like they are part of your family– and that describes my Maccabi “family”.
A: The short answer: “YES!” Before answering, I’d probably ask them a question: “Why do you want to compete in the Maccabiah Games?” Competing in the Maccabiah isn’t just about the competition, although that is an important component. it’s also about Jewish community, Jewish continuity, and connecting with the Land of Israel. In order to get the most out of the entire Maccabiah Games experience, you have to be ready for each of those elements. If you are, see the short answer above!
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