Tucsonans fare well at Pan American Maccabi Games in Brazil

Sao Paolo, Brazil, is “a weird place,” with the most skyscrapers in the world but also teeming slums, says Tucsonan Josh Landau, who was there for the 12th annual Pan American Maccabi Games, held Dec. 26-Jan. 2.

Tucsonan Josh Landau, left in second row, with teammates at the opening ceremony of the Pan American Maccabi Games in Brazil.

“We were staying in a really nice four-star hotel and you look out our window and across the street is this slum. It was really an awakening experience,” says Landau, who was a member of the U.S. Men’s Open Soccer Team.

While the poorer neighborhoods might have presented a good opportunity for volunteer activities, Landau explains that unlike the JCC Maccabi Games for teens, which always feature a “Day of Caring and Sharing,” the Pan Am games are much more competitive and there was no social action program.

Now a sophomore at the University of San Diego, where he plays soccer and is studying finance and accounting, Landau had played on the Tucson JCC team in 2008.

Nevertheless, participating in the Pan Am games was still an extraordinary experience, says Landau. “We had a lot of really good players, a mix of college players and a couple of professional players,” he says, explaining that the pros were second-tier players who may not be household names but have played against the likes of David Beckham. The U.S. team took the silver medal, losing in the final round to Brazil.

“It was a good bonding experience to get to play with a bunch of new guys who share the same religion, and in a foreign place. It’s not something you get to do often,” says Landau.

Landau was also excited that the U.S. team played in honor of Ethan Zohn, a Maccabi USA alumnus who was the winner of TV’s “Survivor: Africa.” Zohn used his Survivor prize money to co-found Grassroots Soccer, a nonprofit organization that uses the sport to educate African youth about HIV and AIDs. Landau has contributed to Grassroots Soccer through his B’nai Tzedek teen philanthropy fund (B’nai Tzedek is administered by the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona in partnership with the Jewish Community Foundation). Zohn, who has Hodgkins lymphoma and recently suffered a relapse, was the honorary coach for the U.S. Men’s Open Soccer Team, whose members wore warm-up T-shirts honoring him, adds Landau.

Tucson teens Shawn Spitzer and Dakota Kordsiemon, who participated in the JCC Maccabi Games in Israel this summer, also were part of the Maccabi USA team in Brazil. Spitzer played on the junior boys’ soccer team, which won a silver medal, and Kordsiemon played on the junior boys’ basketball team, which took bronze.