Pittsburgh player going to Israel to represent USA at ‘Jewish Olympics’
Jackson Blaufeld, 16, will have a lot of representing to do when he travels to Israel next summer. Not only is the Pittsburgh Allderdice sophomore the only member of Maccabi USA’s basketball team from Pittsburgh, he is the only one from Pennsylvania.
Last week, Blaufeld became one of 12 players named to the 18-and-under roster of Maccabi USA’s Youth Men’s Basketball Team. Between July 4 and July 18, 2017, Blaufeld and his fellow teammates will compete in the 20th Maccabiah Games, an international Jewish multi-sport event held every four years in Israel that has often been called the “Jewish Olympics.”
“I was really excited,” said Blaufeld of being chosen to represent the United States internationally before adding, “It’s something that I’ve been looking forward to doing for a long time.”
“We are so pumped, we are excited on so many levels,” said Rachel Blaufeld, Jackson’s mother. “I’m thrilled that he is going to Israel for the first time. I’m thrilled that he is representing our country among 70 other countries.”
Making the squad was no small task. According to the Jewish Exponent, 175 players from across the country traveled to Philadelphia several weeks ago to vie for one of 36 spots on Maccabi USA’s three national teams. (Along with the 12 members of its Youth Men’s Basketball Team, Maccabi USA will send a squad of 12 junior boys and 12 junior girls to the Israeli games.)
“The tryout was impressionable because it was amazing to see so many Jewish athletes,” said Jackson’s mother, who explained that throughout the year Jackson travels with AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) to play basketball and is often “the only Jewish kid.”
While Blaufeld is pleased with the selection committee’s decision, there may be some extra pride swelling in his sneakers.
“I missed the cutoff for the younger team by 12 days,” he explained. “There are a lot of seniors on the [18-and-under] team and I am a young sophomore.”
“He deserves it. I haven’t coached him yet because he played on our JV team, [but] from what I have seen and from the times that we have worked together he is a very dedicated hard worker, he’s willing to work,” said Buddy Valinsky, head coach of Allderdice’s varsity basketball team. “He epitomizes the term ‘gym rat’ in a good way.”
Mark Pattis of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh agreed.
“It is great to see Jackson, who grew up in Pittsburgh, playing at our JCC, represent our community and team USA at the Maccabiah Games in Israel,” said Pattis, the JCC’s program coordinator for sports and recreation.
Prior to his selection to Maccabi USA, Blaufeld was a member of Pittsburgh’s Maccabi teams at regional competitions in 2014 and 2015.
“I went to Detroit and Fort Lauderdale and had great experiences there,” said Blaufeld. For those reasons, “I had my eyes on this for a long time.” Going to Israel is “kind of like the top thing.”
“He’s very thrilled to be going and having this opportunity, and we are super proud of him not only for his athletic prowess but wanting to represent American Jews and Pittsburgh,” added his mother.
“I’m proud to be a Jew and to go [to Israel] and represent the United States playing basketball, that’s the ultimate,” said her son. “Obviously, playing basketball is something that I love to do. If I can go to Israel and represent my country playing basketball, there is nothing else I’d rather do.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.