Leanne Hope and Camryn Lessing, 2017 graduates of Great Neck North High School and Temple Beth-El members, decided to compete in one of the world’s largest sporting events, the 20th Maccabiah Games, on a whim.
“We’ve been playing together for so long,” Hope said.
The two volleyball teammates drove to Philadelphia for a chance of a lifetime. They initially went for indoor volleyball, but soon discovered there was no tryout for the beach volleyball team. They were then accepted.
“I was freaking out, I was so happy,” Hope recalled.
The Maccabiah Games, which began on July 4 in Israel, are the third largest international sporting event in the world. They are surpassed only by the Olympics and FIFA World Cup in terms of athletes gathered. The games, colloquially known as “the Jewish Olympics,” are open to Jewish athletes globally and Israeli athletes, regardless of religion.
Around 10,000 athletes are competing from 80 countries in the games across 45 sports and four divisions: open, juniors, masters and disabled. The United States sent over 1,100 athletes to compete in 43 sports.
Hope and Lessing, who are representing the United States in beach volleyball at the junior level, said that as of Wednesday they played against the Israeli and American teams but haven’t secured a victory.
But this wasn’t surprising, they said.
“Most people come here for athletics first. They come here to win, I’ve noticed,” Hope said.
They pair said they didn’t necessarily go to the games to win. They said that what is amazing about the experience is that while many other competitors speak different languages, they are bonded by similar heritage and an athletic drive.
The two fondly recalled spending time at “the hub,” essentially the equivalent of the Olympic Village. There one could find music, food, and athletes from all over the world.
“We share something in common,” Lessing said.
Hope, whose cousins and grandfather played in the games, said that competing there was always in the back of her mind.
“It was even more than I hoped for,” Hope said. “I had no idea there was going to be a place for all of us to just come and meet each other … I had no idea how big of a deal this was.”
The two also went on excursions throughout their trip, such as to the underground city of Akko and through various sea caves. They are also going to Tel Aviv on Friday, before heading home this weekend.
Throughout their experience, Hope said, the athletes were showered in kindness. This came in the form of staff providing lots of water, handing chocolate to them even after defeats and just the overall “warm and friendly” attitude of the Israeli people.
“I definitely want to come back in the future,” Hope said.