“Goal! USA leads!” the commentator screamed. In the 61st minute, in front of thousands of screaming fans, and millions more watching around the world, Megan Rapinoe gave the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) the lead that eventually propelled them to their second straight FIFA Women’s World Cup title over the Netherlands.
Since its inception in 1991, the USWNT has won 4 FIFA Women’s World Cup titles and has placed top-3 in each tournament. Beyond their successes as athletes, the USWNT team has been making a difference by elevating the need for equality of female athletes, both in terms of pay and public recognition.
As an avid sports fan, watching the USWNT celebrate their most recent title got me thinking about the role that influential Jewish athletes have played in my life and the impact they have had on their sports and our society. We are fortunate to live in a time when Jewish athletes are celebrated for the contributions they have made to the world of sports and, much like the women of USWNT, have become household names. For example, a few years ago Aly Raisman, a two-time Olympic gymnast, performed her floor routine to Hava Nagila in the 2012 Olympics. Some of you may even have heard her speak at BBYO's International Convention in Orlando. She is an athlete who embraces her Jewish identity and has intertwined it with her athletic identity. Agnes Keleti is another great example of a Jewish athlete who has made history. As a Holocaust survivor and an Olympian, her 5 gold medals, 3 silver, and 2 bronze showed the world in the 1950’s what Jewish women were capable of and what real strength looks like. And, of course, Sandy Koufax is famously known for refusing to play in a World Series game because it fell on Yom Kippur. Like the USWNT, these athletes have made a difference in the way that we envision world class athletes and used their athletic platform to elevate important topics.
This week’s win was a great reminder that sports is about so much more than just amazing athletic performances. It felt amazing to join millions of fans across the world in cheering on the USNWT, to look to them as examples of strength and inspiration.
Think you’ve got what it takes to be an athletic superstar? All the athletes above started somewhere, whether it was team practice after school, playing in leagues or clubs, all working incredibly hard to get where they are now. If you’re an aspiring athlete, consider weaving some Jewish values into sports through the JCC Maccabi and Artfest Games. The Maccabi Games are an Olympic-style sporting competition that provides teens a once in a lifetime opportunity to not only play the sport they love, but do so in a nurturing, yet competitive Jewish environment. This summer 78 Chicago area youth athletes are headed to Detroit and Atlanta to participating in this summers’ JCC Maccabi Games. To learn more about the JCC Maccabi Games, click here or contact Julie Minor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sam Grobart is not only a Teen Engagement Specialist, but a die-hard Chicago sports fan. His favorite soccer team is the Queens Park Rangers FC. When he is not cheering for QPR, the Bulls, or the Sox, he is playing sports himself. Sam would love to chat with you about sports and can even help you connect your passion for sports with the Jewish community.