Noah Springwater with teammate Evan Conti
Playing in the World Maccabiah Games is one of the greatest experiences a young Jewish athlete can have. It’s a chance to compete at a high level, meet fellow Jewish athletes from all over the United States and the world, and visit the wonderful sights that Israel has to offer. We asked 2009 Juniors Basketball gold medal winner Noah Springwater (above left with teammate Evan Conti), who now plays Division I NCAA College Basketball at Columbia University, to share his experiences at the 2009 World Maccabiah Games with us. Read below to find out all about his pre-Maccabiah Games training, his favorite sights he saw in Israel, highlights from his team’s gold medal run, bonding with participants from the USA and overseas, and much more.
Noah Springwater on Getting Involved….
I first started playing in the JCC Maccabi Games when I was 14. During my time with the San Francisco JCC Maccabi team I went to Houston, San Diego, and then hosted in San Francisco. Through the JCC Games I heard of the Maccabiah Games, and decided to attend a tryout in L.A.
On Pre-Maccabiah Games Training…
The first time the team met was for a weekend in the Spring in Philly. We stayed with a couple of teammates who were based around the area and practiced for a couple of days (one of the practices was at the Sixers practice facility), attended a Sixers game, and got to know the guys I would be in Israel with in July. We spent the first 4-5 days training and practicing twice a day. When we arrived in Israel in July, the official delegation pre-competition camp began, and we would practice in the mornings and travel/tour around the country in the day and evenings.
On Sightseeing in Israel…
The Dead Sea was my favorite experience, along with Masada. There’s nothing like the Dead Sea, with the weightless feeling in addition to the spa-like treatment from the natural minerals and clay. One of my most vivid memories from the Games was when we were at the Dead Sea and our head coach Brian Shiff gets off the bus, overzealously takes his shoes off immediately, and then proceeds to burn his feet so badly on the hot clay that he gets sick on the spot and has to be carried back to the bus. It was a horrible series of events, but Shifty sure did know how to make us laugh through his enthusiasm for all Israel has to offer. Masada is an incredible site, with its unbelievable views and rich history. I still remember going up to the top of Masada and being so terrified of the lift. I almost had a heart attack when I looked down.
Teammate Tyler Seidman at the Western Wall
On the Maccabiah Games Social Experience…
There actually was a surprising amount of time to get to know everyone, or at least if felt that way. You’d think that in a weekend, along with just a couple of weeks of traveling and competition, you wouldn’t feel such a close connection with those around you, but that’s the beauty of the Maccabiah Games. There are so many powerful experiences and defining qualities that are coming together. You have the shared passion for sports, the unique experience of Israel, the influence of traveling together and being out of our comfort zones, the power of competition, and most of all, everyone feels the strength in the Jewish community around the world. Because of all these aspects, the bonds that you make with your teammates, coaches, and fellow community members are greater than expected. There were a couple of social activities—we went to a concert and had a delegation BBQ, but when I was in Israel, I was only 16, so my experience of the Israeli nightlife wasn’t all that extensive.
On Meeting Athletes from Other Countries…
There were a few times when we would come into contact with other delegations aside from the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. One time a group of Argentinian athletes came by my room and wanted to trade gear. I ended up with a sweet pair of Argentina sweatpants in exchange for only a couple shirts.
Clowning with Jack Borenstein, Ethan Harel, Cole Stern, and Josh Cohan
On Maccabiah Games Highlights…
1. A proud moment for me was being elected as Captain for the team.
2. When teammate Cole Stern drove baseline in the semi-finals against Argentina (winner advanced to gold medal game) and dunked on a kid. It really was one of the most unbelievable plays I had ever seen from a 16-year-old. Cole was super-athletic and caught the ball in the short corner with his back to the baseline. He took one dribble from just inside the key and flew over the helpless Argentine defender. There weren’t many kids who could jump like Cole, especially at our age in ’09.
3. One of the more inspiring and enthusiastic teammates I had was Evan Conti. Evan was a skilled, energetic player from Queens who cherished his Maccabiah experience as much as anybody. Evan fell in love with Israel and his Jewish roots. If there was anyone who experienced a new appreciation for the Jewish community through the Maccabiah Games it was Evan. Evan was our leading scorer, but his biggest moment came in the gold medal game against Israel. He scored about 32 points and played the game of the tournament with professional scouts in attendance. After the game a scout from the Haifa Heat (pro team in Israel) wanted to keep in touch with Evan, and basically offered him a contract on the spot with their developmental team. Evan’s enthusiasm and appreciation for Israel so positively affected me and our teammates, and his performance in the gold medal game was nothing but fitting to cap off the experience. Evan again won the gold medal in the 2013 games with the Open team.
On the Opening Ceremony…
The Opening Ceremony was and still is to this date the most extraordinary gathering I have ever been a part of. There were thousands and thousands of athletes, and being able to walk out when “USA” was announced was truly an honor and such a unique experience. There were also thousands of fans, parents, and Israelis in attendance. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke briefly, and there were different performances on the center stage.
At the Opening Ceremony (L to R): Jordan Freed, Mike Buchwald, Me, and Mike Avery
A Recommendation for Future Participants…
As an athlete, what better way of combining all of these important and personally defining aspects of one’s life. Judaism, Israel, sports, community—you get it all from the Maccabiah Games. Many people get the opportunity to go on Birthright and experiences like that, however the Maccabiah Games is competitive, and you have a chance to win a gold medal at one of the largest sporting events in the world. It’s like the Olympics, and not everyone has the opportunity to represent their country in addition to experiencing Israel.
Before the Opening Ceremony (L to R): Ethan Harel, Jack Borenstein, Josh Cohan, and Matt Sherman
Evan Conti at the Opening Ceremony
Me and Coach Shifty
Previously: Maccabi Memories with Stuart Weitzman