Athletes from all over the United States joined 35 other countries in Berlin for the European Maccabi Games, including 19 from Pennsylvania. Included among the ranks of Team USA’s Pittsburgh contingent was Guy Beresteanu, a fencer who won bronze medals in both the team foil and junior boys’ foil events.
Although Beresteanu, 14, was “excited and proud” to compete, his favorite part of the games was fencing with Jews from all over the world. For him, the games also had a personal element.
“My four great-grandparents are Holocaust survivors,” he wrote in an email. “My grandfather was born in Bergen Belsen, so this tournament in Germany is very meaningful for me.”
Seeking to explore his connection to the region, Beresteanu, a graduate of Community Day School, maintained that he wanted to spend time studying the Holocaust while in Germany.
“My teacher showed us pictures of Germany and the Holocaust from when she visited Germany, and it would be awesome to see it with my own eyes,” he said prior to the games.
Just like many of the athletes, head coach of the USA juniors swim team Jim Skirboll, an Aspinwall resident, said that traveling to Germany was an emotional experience.
For him, being in Berlin was significant because of its deep historical meaning.
“Nazis tried to eliminate the Jewish people. Yet, here we are playing on the fields the Nazis built,” he said.
“To be around Jews and compete as athletes representing the country, that’s pretty powerful,” Skirboll said.
Along with Beresteanu and Skirboll, brothers Etai and Dylan Groff traveled from Western Pennsylvania to participate in the games.
Etai Groff, 16, played basketball in the youth division and was “thrilled” when he got the news that he made Team USA.
The opportunity to represent the country’s Jewish community was exciting for him, he wrote in an email.
The Shady Side Academy student said that his favorite part of the games was bonding with athletes from all over the world as well as with his own team. He was understandably pumped about his team taking home the gold medal after defeating the Israeli team, 83-62, on Aug. 3.
Understanding the city’s past is a key part of why he believes it was important that these games were being held in Berlin this year, he said.
“I think the fact that Jews were not allowed to participate in the Berlin Olympics and now the largest gathering of Jews in Germany since the Holocaust is taking place to play sports says a lot about how the Jewish community has grown.”
Groff’s older brother Dylan, 18, was one of 12 players representing USA men’s basketball. Despite successive wins against Israel, France, Russia and Germany, the USA men’s basketball team lost the gold medal game to Russia, 98-87, on Aug. 3.
Marissa Stern is a reporter for the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia. Adam Reinherz is a regular contributor to The Chronicle. He can be reached at email@example.com.