Nika Kononov performing at the Pan-American Maccabi Games.

By Ellen Braunstein, Special to Chicago Jewish News

Fifty years ago, Jeffrey Doman was the only Jewish baseball player on his college team who observed the High Holidays. There was no synagogue in Jacksonville, Illinois so the coach drove him to and from Springfield for services.

No need for special accommodation for this summer’s athletic competition. Doman, now 68, embraced his Jewish identity full-on as a player in the masters tennis competition at the 14th Pan-American Maccabi Games.

The continental event is held every four years in a cycle two years apart from the international Maccabi Games held in Israel. The Pan American Maccabi brings athletes, coaches and volunteers from North, Central and South America, along with others from Australia, Israel, Great Britain and China.

All told, representatives of 19 countries competed in 24 sports at the Jewish community sports center of Mexico City, Centro Deportivo Israelita.

Fifteen thousand spectators attended the event in which 3,800 athletes participated. You must be Jewish or Israeli to qualify for the Maccabi Games.

Twenty Illinois residents were part of the USA delegation as players and coaches in juniors, youth, open and masters divisions.

One of the medal winners was Nika Kononov, 15, a junior at Buffalo Grove High School. She won five medals, including a gold in clubs apparatus, and led Team USA in the sport of rhythmic gymnastics. She said she was exhilarated to be able to represent her country in the games.

“I had a wonderful experience and am proud to have brought back medals. I am glad that I got the opportunity to interact and make friends with Jewish athletes from the USA and other participating countries. It was amazing to see so many different people brought together by this event, despite all the ways that we are separated.”

 “The Maccabi Games are a celebration of Jewish unity, culture and heritage through world athletic competition,” said Steve Graber, assistant program director of Maccabi USA, based in Philadelphia.  “We connect athletes, volunteers, and supporters with the global Jewish community. Our athletic, educational, and cultural experiences build Jewish identity, continuity worldwide, and strengthen support for the State of Israel.”

Doman of Evanston took home a bronze medal. He marvels at the athleticism of his fellow Jewish athletes from all over the world. He has traveled to many Maccabi games in his lifetime. “It was very wonderful and inspiring,” said Doman, who was project construction manager of the Hillel at University of Illinois at Chicago.

The Mexico City community provided entertainment and community leaders such as Claudia Sheinbaum, the capital’s first elected Jewish and female mayor, spoke at a ceremony. “Sports should always be a symbol of peace and inclusion,” she said.

Mark Wisnevitz of Arlington Heights, 55, a masters soccer player, appreciated the Friday night services at Monte Sinai Synagogue, one of Mexico City’s oldest Sephardic congregations.

Wisnevitz, a CFO in the hospitality industry, won a bronze medal. “We beat Mexico at home on their home field in front of their crowd. It was a wonderful occasion, a wonderful experience.” The brotherhood he has built since his first games in 2008 motivates him to keep participating. “I meet wonderful new friends who become lifelong friends.”

David Alhadeff, of Buffalo Grove, started as a coach in the JCC Maccabi games 20 years ago. Mexico City was the fifth game for this masters soccer player, who is a 57-year-old management consultant. “It was a tremendous experience of brotherhood and connection to our heritage and sport and Jewish values.”

The other Illinois participants were: Ellie Arbetman of Oak Park,  open volleyball; Aaron Bach of Highland Park, juniors soccer; Brooke Barlow of Metamora, juniors swimming, Jenna Coffman of Chicago, juniors gymnastics; Fred Cohen of Deerfield, masters softball; Grayson Foxof Chicago, juniors gymnastics, Lee Gruenof Chicago, open men’s basketball assistant coach; Eli Gurin of Vernon Hills, open futsal;  Peyton Lienhart of Willowbrook, open swimming; Zachary Ludwig of Wheaton, open men’s soccer assistant coach; David Parks of Winnetka, juniors girls’ soccer head coach; Norah Polonsky of Buffalo Grove, juniors swimming; Russell Rosenberg of Rolling Meadows, masters soccer; Jeffrey Rosenberg of Chicago, open softball; Richard Shapira of Deerfield, open soccer; and Eddie Tepper of Chicago, juniors soccer.

To find out more information about the Maccabi games, visit


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