Notable Alumni

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Notable Alumni

Lenny Krayzelburg

Three time” Olympic Gold medal backstroker, Lenny Krayzelburg moved with his parents to Los Angeles from the Ukraine in 1989 when he was just 13 years old. Trying to adapt to a new culture, learn a new language, and continue his athletic training was very difficult, but Lenny did his best.

In California he worked as a lifeguard at the JCC of Greater Los Angeles, and continued his training. In 1990, Lenny swam for team LA at the JCC Maccabi Games in Detroit. Again in 1992 Lenny won Gold at the Games in Baltimore.

At Santa Monica College, he won the state junior college title after only one season, and captured the attention of influential coaches. Lenny transferred to USC, entered the school’s swim program and began accumulating championships: the national title in 1997, the world title in 1998, world records in 1999, and then, in 2000, three Olympic gold medals!

In July 2001, Lenny chose to compete in the Maccabiah Games in Israel where he won the 100-meter backstroke. Many consider Lenny Krayzelburg the finest backstroke swimmer in the world.

Ethan Zohn

Ethan Zohn captured America’s hearts when he became the third one million dollar winner of “Survivor Africa” last fall, but his talents and dedication off the screen and actually on the field will make him a national favorite long after the “Survivor” fever ends. Ethan played soccer for the Boston JCC in the 1990 JCC Maccabi Games in Detroit. He then went on to represent the United States and compete in the 16th Maccabiah Games in Israel in 2001. You may remember seeing Ethan wearing his USA Sports for Israel T-shirt while he was on Survivor. Ethan also appeared on the all-star edition of Survivor.

Ethan attended Vassar College in New York where he graduated with a B.A. degree in Biology. Following graduation he pursued his passion for soccer and played pro ball as a goalkeeper for the Highlanders Football Club (Zimbabwe), Cape Cod Crusaders (Cape Cod, Massachusetts) and the Hawaii Tsunami (Oahu, Hawaii). Determined to stay in excellent shape between seasons, Ethan began coaching for the Fairleigh Dickinson University Men’s and Women’s Soccer Team in New Jersey.

He continues to pursue his passion for soccer but now in a more philanthropic way, thanks to his recently increased profile. Ethan is looking to be an ambassador of sorts to the sport, as he is involved in organizations that help inner city kids participate in educational soccer programs such as America Scores. He is also actively involved in Grassrootsoccer.org, which is a non-profit organization that trains well-known professional soccer players to educate the youth in Southern Africa about HIV/AIDS prevention.

Sari Raber

Sari Raber, of Richmond (Greater Vancouver), British Columbia, Canada is a Jewish soccer player who participated in three JCC Youth Maccabi Games. Sari attended the games in Staten Island (2000), Philadelphia (2001) and Montreal (2002) where she played soccer for the Vancouver Team. Her highlight was scoring 3 goals in the second half of the medal game to lead Vancouver to the Bronze Medal in Staten Island.

“I was so fortunate to be able to participate in three JCC Maccabi Games. Sometimes we came home with a medal and other times we were the team that the opposition practiced the “Rachmanus” rule for. But each Games was a unique experience were I was able to meet Jewish people from all around the world. I loved staying with different host families. It was wonderful to see how Jewish people come in all different shapes, sizes and nationalities. Some of my host families had pools, kids, PhDs, dogs or separate dishwashers for milk and meat but all had warm welcoming hearts. One lady I stayed with was even the singer of the National anthem at the opening ceremonies. I met, played against, traded gear and became friends with Jews from all across Canada, USA, Mexico, Venezuela, Israel, Australia and even Poland. There were so many amazing activities to get everyone involved and spending time together. My favorite was seeing the Lion King Broadway show and the Sharing and Caring days.”

From her Maccabi days Sari has become an International soccer star for the Canadian Women’s Under 19 team. Sari has appeared in 11 International matches for Canada against teams like Germany, Italy, Trinidad and Tobago, Mexico, Panama, Jamaica, Costa Rica, and the United States. She played every minute in all 5 games for Canada in June of 2004 including a 2-1 win over the USA as Canada won the CONCACAF Championship and a spot in the Under 19 World Cup to be played in Thailand in November 2004. Sari is a freshman at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, where she will be playing soccer for the Cornhuskers and looks forward to taking part in the UNL Hillel program. Soccer Buzz Magazine recently ranked Sari as one of the top 20 International Recruits who will be making their NCAA soccer debut this fall, and Soccer America magazine ranked her #18 in their list of Top 25 College Women’s Recruits (American and International) for 2004.

Sari made her debut with the Canadian Women’s National Team in a two game series in Tokyo, Japan July 30th and August 2nd.

Karen Gordon

In 1986, my first year as a coach, the Venezuelan delegation came to Detroit prior to traveling to Toronto. Not only was it great to meet people from Venezuela, but they were all Jewish!! For many, there was a big language barrier. But there was also a very common Jewish thread. This was my first experience with Maccabi and meeting so many other Jewish teens from outside the USA.

In 1998 the Games were in Detroit. At the time I was married only 4 months. My husband and I hosted 2 boys from outside Philadelphia. That year, the Games were over Shabbat. Although we regularly do Shabbat dinners, they are at my mom’s. That week because of the Maccabi Games, it was at my house. I was so proud to host that Shabbat dinner in my home. I wish the Games included, again, the Shabbat experience.

At the 2002 Games in Baltimore the Day of Caring and Sharing included a tour of the Holocaust Center in Washington DC. It was a very moving day. Most memorable was a display of villages that were wiped out during the war. Each village was etched in glass. My father-in-law was a partisan during the war in what was White Russia. I was able to find his village in the display. I took a picture and sent it to him. He was very moved that his tiny village was remembered.

My most memorable experiences at Maccabi have been just because I am around so many other Jewish teens and adults. Not due to any specific event, but just socializing, competing and spending the week with them….knowing that there are so many Jewish people from all over with a common interest.

Karen is a delegation head for the Detroit delegation. This is Karen’s nineteenth year involved in the JCC Maccabi Games and her seventh summer as a delegation head.

Steve Bunin

Steve Bunin grew up in Seattle, WA, with a passion for sports. He spent a good portion of time at the Stroum JCC of Greater Seattle (Mercer Island, WA) as a kid, participating in both sports and religious youth activities.In 1988, Steve had his first JCC Maccabi Games® experience, as he watched his younger brother compete as a wrestler in Chicago. Steve eventually followed suit, joining him on Seattle’s basketball team at 16 years old. “We competed in Detroit, and though our team didn’t win a game, I had a great time”, Steve said as he reflected back on his career as an athlete.

From that moment on, his dedication to the JCC Maccabi Games grew stronger. When the games were held in Seattle (1997), he helped as a volunteer doing anything and everything he can to ensure the Games success. In 2001, while living in the Bay Area, Steve was an assistant coach on the San Francisco 16-and-under Bronze Medal-winning boys basketball team, which competed in Atlanta. “That experience cemented my belief that being a JCC Maccabi Games coach would be in my future”, Steve said.

As soon as Steve moved to the Hartford area for a tremendous job opportunity at ESPN in July of 2003, he went to the JCC and asked about their team. As it turns out, they needed a new coach. It was a perfect fit. “I’ve always loved working with kids, having done so as a Jewish camp counselor (at Camp Ramah in Ojai, CA), and in numerous mentor programs, such as the Big Brother program, and as a youth basketball coach for kids age 9-to-18”.

Steve currently works at ESPN as a sports anchor. Sports casting can be quite an up-and-down career, and he has been hired and fired plenty of times since finishing college eight years ago. Between gigs in broadcasting, he has worked in various jobs, from landscaping, serving lattes, and scrubbing floors – to teaching and coaching basketball at Northwest Yeshiva High School in Seattle.

Landing this job at ESPN (he usually anchors on ESPNews) was a dream come true for Steve Bunin. It was a long road to get here, filled with extremely high highs (covering the Final Four with Michigan State’s NCAA-Championship-winning men’s basketball team in 2000 is my biggest highlight so far) and some pretty low lows (getting laid off from jobs twice, and moving ten times in eight years). But he is thrilled to be living out my dream, and can’t think of a luckier human being on the planet.

Rachel Friedman

I have played basketball with WNBA and NBA superstars. I have traveled throughout the country to play in AAU National Tournaments. I captained the 1998 Empire State gold medal lacrosse team. I have been a high school as well as a Division I college lacrosse All-American. I traveled to Europe to play lacrosse in the Prague Cup. I captained an NCAA final four team. I completed the 2003 New York City Marathon.

All of these athletic endeavors, and yet, not one can be compared to my experience at the 1998 JCC Maccabi Games®. It was there that I realized how important my Jewish identity was and that there were other athletes out there who were Jewish, just like me. I had always played on teams where I was the minority. I would get asked questions, like “What is Rosh Hashanah?” and “Why can’t you eat bread?” The Games also made me realize that there was more to playing sports than just winning. And I just want you all to realize that as well. Take a second and think about what the Games mean to you. The Games offer Jewish youth an opportunity to be together, have fun, foster respect, and enrich Jewish values.

About a year ago, I was asked to write a few paragraphs for a book that is being published about what it means to be an athlete. I’d like to share it with you because the JCC Maccabi Games are about the kids and making this week the best experience of their lives. In the end, they’re not going to remember who won or lost, they’re going to remember whether or not they had fun, who they met, and the memories they’ve made.

I cannot feel a single part of my body for I have been standing outside in negative five-degree weather for the past two hours. I have on thermals, wind pants, under armor, a sweatshirt, a jacket, a pair of gloves and a winter hat. Oh, and lets not forget my kilt and practice jersey. It has been snowing for a while now, but for the past ten minutes it seems as if the snow is coming up from the turf rather than down from the sky, if that is at all conceivably possible. My coach has just blown the whistle and the ball has miraculously fallen into my stick. As I begin to run down the field, I can feel the wind trying to stop me, biting my nose, forcing me to question my trek forward. Faking one way, and then dodging the other I gently place the ball into the top right corner of the net. As the whistle blows to indicate a goal has been scored, I run back to the center of the circle slapping each teammate high-five with smiles all around. And at that moment, as I take a second to look across the field, I remember the reasons why I play.

It’s not about winning or losing, championship trophies, or who’s better than whom. It’s not about receiving a scholarship, earning post-season honors, or making captain. It’s not about the athletic endorsements, the free clothing, or being drafted. It’s about pride, teamwork, passion, and determination. It’s about the blood, the sweat, the tears, and the effort put forth during each game. It’s about that feeling of exhaustion and exhilaration knowing you have just given your all.

I am an athlete because I portray these characteristics both on and off the field. Before I am a woman, a friend, or an employee, I am an athlete and teammate. My life would be completely unfulfilled had I not been involved in athletics. It has motivated me through life for the past 22 years, and my passion for sports has only grown with age. And I know that I will never be a professional athlete who plays during prime time on ESPN, signs Nike contracts, or is featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, but I do know that I will take each and every practice, game, and high five with me throughout the rest of my life, for I have cherished every moment I have stepped out onto that field.

Jason Segel

Jason Segel participated in the JCC Maccabi Games when he was younger and he played on the Los Angeles JCC Maccabi Games Gold Medal 15-16 year old Basketball team in 1996 when MetroWest JCC in West Orange, NJ hosted the Games. born January 18, 1980, Jason is an American television and film actor, screenwriter, and musician. Jason is most well known for his role as Marshall Eriksen on the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother. Jason is also known by his fans for his work in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Knocked Up, I Love You, Man, and Gulliver’s Travels.

Brett Loewenstern

Red-haired Brett Loewenstern charmed the judges at his audition on American Idol in 2011 and blew them away when he began to sing, but his performance was no surprise to anyone who knew him from JCC Maccabi ArtsFest®. The Boca Raton teen participated in several JCC Association teen arts programs beginning in 2007 and showed off his spectacular talent right away.