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First Person: I Won Gold in Argentina at an Inspiring Maccabi Pan-American Games

David Tannenbaum, with gold medal

The Maccabi Pan-American Games recently concluded in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Some 4000 Jewish athletes from 24 countries competed for medals in 20 sports in an expression of Jewish pride through athletics. I was fortunate to be among the 650-member Team USA and competed as a cyclist in the 60-69 age group in two races, a 16-km (10-mi) time trial and a 72-km (45-mi) road race. I won both races in my age group and brought home to Arizona two gold medals!

Team USA began our Maccabi Pan-American experience with a garden reception and barbecue at the residence of the American Ambassador to Argentina, Marc Stanley, at his official residence, Palacio Bosch. We passed Ambassador Stanley’s red, white and blue mezuzah on our way into the Palacio, where his large collection of menorahs was on display. We enjoyed Argentine, American and Israeli foods and were entertained by a tango dance performance. At the event, northern Arizona’s Leah Rosenfeld, an accomplished runner and multiple Maccabi medal winner, was named as a Team USA banner bearer. She would go on to win a silver medal in the mile run, and gold in both the 5 km and the half marathon in the women’s 30-39 age group.

The official opening ceremony took place December 28 in Buenos Aires’ Movistar Arena. The colorful parade included athletes, family members, coaches, support and medical personnel, members of national and international Maccabi organizing committees, and Argentine Jewish community members. The 15,000-seat arena was filled nearly to its capacity. Among the speakers at the ceremony was Argentina’s newly inaugurated President Javier Milei.

For all the joy that international competition brought the diverse assembly of Jewish athletes, the shadow of the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel hung over the Games. Though Team USA retained some 95% of its enrollment after the attack, a number of athletes from several countries, citing security concerns, declined to attend. Indeed, Team Canada withdrew from the Games. The Argentine Maccabi organizers assembled a security team that included Argentine national and local security forces as well as private security firms. The teams received support from both the American and Israeli embassies. I felt a strong security presence at all of the event venues and the Games experienced no significant security incidents.

The organizers of the Games extended a special invitation to athletes from Israel. Among them were survivors of the 7 October attack. Two young Israeli men wounded in the attack only 83 days earlier; one in a wheelchair and the other using a cane, helped award medals at the cycling time trial. Two others, Sharon Cohen and Heim ben Hemo, gave Team USA emotional firsthand accounts of their experiences during the attack at their homes near the Gaza border. Sharon protected her family as Hamas fighters entered her kibbutz and her home, killing and seizing friends and neighbors. Heim and only one other armed Israeli civilian held off 150 Hamas fighters at a key intersection, thus protecting seven villages and some 4000 residents. But Sharon and Heim had not come to Buenos Aires to make speeches. Their daughters, reunited for the first time since the attack, were on the Israeli under-18 volleyball team. In the end, sports, not grief, won the day.

Coming events on the international Maccabi calendar include the European Maccabi Youth Games in the United Kingdom, July and August 2024, and the Maccabi World Games in Israel, July 2025.

David Tannenbaum, 62, of Hereford, Ariz., is a systems analyst at Fort Huachuca. He competes in three sports, cycling, powerlifting and the throwing events in track and field.