Though the Steel City sent only two representatives to the Maccabiah Games in Israel, they returned home last week from the “Jewish Olympics” with the spoils of victory. At the conclusion of both Jackson Blaufeld’s and Nathan Feinstein’s respective competitions, both sported medals signifying their athletic prowess and international dominance among a field of roughly 10,000 Jewish athletes from 80 countries worldwide who went to Israel for the two-week event.
Blaufeld, who won gold as part of Team USA’s youth men’s basketball team, called the experience “unbelievable.”
Feinstein, who won bronze as a member of Team USA’s junior boys’ squash team, agreed: “It was awesome. It was probably the best trip I’ve ever taken.”
For the two Pittsburgh teens, traveling to Israel and experiencing the country among so many like-minded competitors was great.
“Israel was so cool. The kids were so cool; I really enjoyed meeting everyone,” said Feinstein, who spends much of the year training at the Pittsburgh Golf Club.
“Touring with your teammates makes it that much better, so it was the perfect trip for me,” added Blaufeld, a junior at Pittsburgh Allderdice High School.
While the Pittsburgh duo represented but a fraction of the total participating athletes, both Blaufeld and Feinstein were proud to bear their hometown colors.
“That was a big thing, being the only [basketball] player from Pennsylvania or Ohio,” said Blaufeld. “It was great. To have the success that we had as a team and to know that I was representing Allderdice and the community was huge.”
“I knew that I was one of two Pittsburghers playing; I train in Pittsburgh, and all of my friends were really excited for me,” echoed Feinstein.
As it turns out, there is more in common among the two medalists than merely their decorations.
“Nate Feinstein is a longtime family friend,” said Blaufeld. “We actually went out to dinner with my parents one night, which was great. He and my brother are really good friends also.”
“It was so cool to have all of us in Israel for this competition,” said Feinstein. “[Jackson] is a great guy, and I feel like we represented Pittsburgh really well there. He got gold and I got bronze, and we were both really happy about it.”
For the Pittsburgh Colfax student, a particular highlight was one that bore no medals. While competing in the individual squash competition, “I upset the No. 5 seed, who was ranked No. 2 in Scotland,” said Feinstein. “I was the youngest kid in the tournament so I knew it was going to be an uphill battle. I just went out with a good attitude and played the best squash I have ever played, and I won.”
Feinstein, who is ranked No. 26 in the Boys Under 15 Division by ussquash.com, ultimately placed eighth at the games.
Blaufeld, who followed up his time in Israel with an AAU tournament in Las Vegas, would like to return to Israel for the next Maccabiah Games in four years.
“Everyone on the open men’s basketball team, which fields players between the ages of 18 and 35, was a D-1 or pro player,” said Blaufeld. “We scrimmaged them, and they beat us up really badly, but it made us a lot better and got us ready. If I had a chance to be picked for that team, that would be a huge honor.”
“I definitely want to do it again, it was so fun. I loved all the kids. Everyone kind of understood each other, how hard everyone had to work,” said Feinstein.
It is determination and focus that breeds such success, noted Blaufeld.
“I wouldn’t have been able to have the individual achievements or have been prepared as much as I was if not for training with my Allderdice teammates every day and playing for Coach [Buddy] Valinsky,” he said. “He demands a lot, and he makes you a better player.”
Feinstein added, “Everyone in Pittsburgh — all the people I care about who have helped me get to this point — this medal is for them. They each deserve a little piece of it: my parents, my coaches, my friends.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.