The 2015 Pan American Maccabi Games, also known as “the Jewish Olympics,” were held in Santiago, Chile this winter from December 26th to January 4th. Deerfield swimmer Madisen Siegel ‘17 competed for the Unites States. “I first found out about Maccabi games online in early September. The applications were due soon and they told us whether we qualified or not in November,” said Siegel.
Siegal spoke about the simplicity and uniform qualifications for joining the team, saying, “Because everyone’s official swim times are online, we didn’t have an actual tryout. The coach could compare our times via USA swimming and chose people that way.”
During those 10 days, over 3,000 athletes from 19 countries competed in 18 events. Siegel represented Team USA in the youth swimming division. Out of the 11 events Siegel swam in, she received six medals. She earned gold medals in the 200m Freestyle Relay, the 200m Medley Relay, and the 400m Medley Relay. She also won bronze medals in the 100m Butterfly, the 50m Backstroke, and the 100m Backstroke. These achievements helped Team USA finish the games with more medals than any other country, followed closely by Chile.
Although these athletes competed against each other, the competition unified them through their shared religion. All attendees were self-identified Jews, and all denominations were represented. Siegel noted, “Despite the language barrier, Hebrew united us all.”
A Friday Shabbat Service was held during the competition. At Which all 3,000 athletes, in addition to coaches and other staff members, gathered to pray together. Also, 12 of the 19 countries were South American, so Siegel explained that it was “interesting to see Jews from an area of the world that is predominantly Catholic.”
At the Opening Ceremonies, all of the athletes came together to celebrate their athleticism and Judaism. Athletes swapped apparel to remember the moment. “The USA apparel was really popular. Everyone wanted some of it,” Siegel remembered. She traded for a jacket from Costa Rica, a swim cap from Brazil, and a hat from Israel.
For the last four days of the trip, all of the athletes took part in a service project to benefit the surrounding community in Chile. Team USA packaged food and other supplies for underprivileged families in the city of Santiago to try to counter the lack of welfare services from the government.