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Students bond, build pride at ‘Jewish Olympics’

Northeastern student Hilary Smith won a bronze medal for the U.S. field hockey team in July at the 19th Maccabiah Games in Israel, the third largest sporting event in the world. But her most memorable experience did not take place on the playing field. Instead, it occurred when she visited Yad Vadshem, Israel’s official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

“It was an extremely emotional experience I wouldn’t have wanted to share with anyone other than my teammates,” said Smith, a third-year psychology major and former midfielder on Northeastern’s field hockey team. “As sad as it was, it was also hopeful because many of the people who suffered during the Holocaust were now home.”

Smith is one of four Northeastern students who participated in the Maccabiah Games. Last Friday, they recounted their experiences in Israel over Shabbat dinner at the university’s Hillel House.

Often referred to as the “Jewish Olympics,” the Maccabiah is an international athletic event held in Israel every four years. In July, some 10,000 Jewish athletes from 72 nations competed in more than 30 sporting events ranging from baseball and basketball to judo and Greco-Roman wrestling.

Northeastern students represented three countries—Spain, Australia, and the U.S.—and participated in a trio of sports—soccer, field hockey, and track and field.

Laura Coyne, a fifth-year architecture major and former mid-distance runner for Northeastern’s cross-country team, won a bronze medal for the U.S. track and field squad in the 4×400 meter relay. “It was the last event of the meet and the entire stadium was cheering us on,” recalled Coyne, whose trip to Israel was financed in part by the university’s Hillel House as well as the Northeastern student group Huskies for Israel. “At the awards ceremony, the feeling of accomplishment was rewarding and truly unforgettable.”

The opening ceremonies, in Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium, were equally memorable. In recorded remarks, President Obama told some 30,000 fans that the Games were a “great reminder of how sports can bring people together, and also a great example of friendship between nations, especially between Israel and the United States.”

Fourth-year student-athlete Laurence Braude took Obama’s sentiments to heart and quickly made friends with dozens of athletes from all over the world. Some of them plan on visiting him at Northeastern, where he plays soccer and studies psychology.

“It was a rare experience,” said Braude, a midfielder who scored a goal and an assist for Australia. “I think I would lose count if I tried to name all the nationalities of the athletes I met in the opening ceremonies alone.”

Once the Games began, each Northeastern student formed a tight bond with his or her teammates. In preparation for each soccer match, Spain native Jonathan Sultan sang songs with his newfound friends.

“I’ll always remember the pride of representing my country,” said Sultan, a first-year computer science major who played in the Games’ junior circuit. “It was an amazing two weeks.”