Several young athletes from Bellmore-Merrick returned from Israel last week with medals in hand, having competed and done exceptionally well at the 2022 Maccabiah Games.
The games are an international sports competition that takes place quadrennially in Israel. They were first held in 1932, with 14 countries and 390 athletes. This year, 80 countries and thousands of athletes participated. The athletes must be Jewish or Israeli.
The games this year began with an opening ceremony on July 14, which President Biden attended, and lasted two weeks. Before the event began, the athletes took part in Israel Connect, a birthright program that connects them with the country and Jewish history.
Three local athletes — basketball player Brianna Frier, swimmer William Siegel and soccer player Isabelle Sivin — competed in the juniors division, for those under 18. Jessica Nachamie, a softball player and a 2021 graduate of John F. Kennedy High School, competed in the open division, for those over 18.
Frier competed on Team USA’s 16-and-under girls’ basketball team, and took home a gold medal. A basketball player since second grade, Frier, 15, is a rising junior at Wellington C. Mepham High School, and lives in Bellmore.
Frier’s father, Dov Frier, is the co-president of All In One Athletics, a camp that merges intense basketball instruction and academics. Through the business, Dov said he had a number of Israeli contacts and clients, so he knew about the games, and Brianna tried out for the American team last summer outside Philadelphia. She found out she’d made the team in February.
Siegel, 15, is entering his sophomore year at Sanford H. Calhoun High School. The Merrick resident swims year-round with the Long Island Aquatic Club, and for the Bellmore-Merrick Sharks during the school year.
Siegel found out he’d made the team last fall. He won a gold medal in the boys’ 1,500-meter freestyle and a silver in the 800 free, and finished fourth in the 400-meter individual medley.
Sivin, 16, a rising junior at Kennedy High, also lives in Merrick. She has been playing soccer since age 4, and is a member of Kennedy’s varsity team. She tried out for the games last August on Randalls Island, in New York City.
Outside school, Sivin plays for the East Meadow-Farmingdale Soccer Club. The 16-and-under Team USA girls’ soccer team won a gold medal, beating Canada in the semifinals and Netherlands in the finals.
Nachamie, 19, of Merrick, attends Skidmore College in upstate Saratoga, where she plays softball. Her father, Andrew Nachamie, explained that Jessica also tried out for the games last summer, in California.
Team USA’s open softball team earned a silver medal, beating Canada, which earned bronze, but losing to Israel in the finals. Something cool, Jessica’s dad added, was that Morgan Tesser, a former teammate of Jessica’s at Kennedy, was playing for Israel.
Frier said that arriving in Israel to compete was an incredible experience. “It was really wild,” she said. “Everyone thought we were celebrities. It was surreal and crazy being there — and it was a lot of fun.”
She was one of 11 girls from across the U.S. chosen for the basketball team, and while they had never met before, she said it was like they’d known each other all along. “When we first got to the airport, we just connected, because we were going to become a team,” she recounted. “We all just became so close.”
For Siegel, connecting with his faith and being able to compete made the experience unforgettable, he said. “The swimming was important, but also to be able to visit, tour and learn about Israel is what really excited me,” he said. “The friendships I gained during the experience will last a long time, and it was great to get out and see the homeland, and learn about the history of the Jewish faith even more in depth.
“As a Jewish kid,” he added, “just to be able to swim in Israel was an honor, but winning an event and coming in second in another made it all the more special.”
Sivin said that learning to work with her teammates, all of whom had different styles of play, was challenging, but they quickly meshed. And the opening ceremony, she said, was simply amazing.
“There were so many people there — the whole stadium was filled,” she recalled. “We were all wearing matching outfits — it felt like the real Olympics.”
Andrew Nachamie, who went to Israel to see Jessica compete, said she had a wonderful experience. “It was wonderful,” he said, “as far as a connection to Judaism.”
“It was such an honor to represent the United States in competition,” Jessica wrote in an email the Herald. “It was a thrill to meet so many people, and make so many friends during the time in Israel, and I will treasure the entire experience.”
For more on the games, visit MaccabiUSA.com.