Seventy years after the Holocaust, one local Jewish person is headed to Europe for battle. Guy Waks Beresteanu, a Community Day School graduate, is traveling to Berlin to represent the U.S. Juniors Male Fencing team at the 2015 European Maccabi Games.
For Beresteanu, this will be his first competition in the European games.
Beresteanu, 14, began fencing at the age of 6. He was introduced to the sport at an after-school program while attending Durham Academy in North Carolina.
When the Beresteanu family moved to Pittsburgh five years ago, locating a suitable fencing club was critical explained his mother, Galit Beresteanu.
“We went to see the fencing club many times and then spoke to the owner before we decided to move.”
Brad Cellier, founding member and part-owner of Three Rivers Fencing Club, has known the Beresteanu family since they relocated and praised Guy’s work ethic. “Guy is an avid student and a voracious trainer,” he said. “He comes to the club every day that it is open.”
“I’m at the club five days a week,” added Beresteanu.
In addition to his time there, Beresteanu explained that on Fridays and Sundays he strength trains at the JCC. Collectively, he spends between 15 to 20 hours per week on fencing-related exercises.
This preparation should help Beresteanu in the coming weeks. Between July 27 and Aug. 5, he and nearly 2,000 other Jewish athletes will converge on Berlin for what many call the Jewish Olympics. Among those athletes are local talents Etai Groff and Dylan Groff (basketball players and Community Day alumni) and Colin Crowley, also a fencer.
With its collection of athletes, coaches and supporters, the European Maccabi Games will feature the largest gathering of Jews in Berlin since WWII.
Beresteanu is well aware of the historical significance. As a student at CDS, he was introduced to Holocaust studies.
“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.
Although Beresteanu will visit attractions, museums and memorials, the one place he won’t see is the site of his origins, Bergen-Belsen.
It is too far from Berlin, said Adam Waks, Beresteanu’s grandfather and best friend.
Waks, 67, was born in the German deportation camp after the war. His mother, Irena Waks, a swimmer, taught gymnastics, skiing and swimming at Bergen-Belsen.
“Sport was important in her family,” said Waks. “Her father was an engineer. He studied in Prague and brought back a love of sport.”
Like his mother the swimmer and grandson the fencer, Waks is an avid sportsman. A passionate sailor, Waks recently took Beresteanu on a weeklong trip to Greece.
Following Beresteanu’s bar mitzvah, Waks and his grandson flew to Athens, chartered a boat and sailed among the Greek islands. Time together enabled grandfather and grandson to further a family bond.
“My grandfather the engineer, we were best friends,” said Waks. “He died when I was 8 years old, but I remember every Saturday we used to go to the river next to Tel Aviv and look at the power station. He used to tell me how they were doing the electricity, how the electricity runs in the cables and wires, how it works and how it’s going everywhere.”
Much like the relationship he shared with his grandfather, Waks and his grandson are close. Nonetheless, certain things are left unsaid, particularly, the significance of Beresteanu’s trip to Germany.
“You know I try to forget, not to forgive, but forget,” said Waks. “I believe that much of the Germans has been changed. The older guys are dying, and I believe that now is the time to open a page and not live in the past. This is my philosophy, not to retaliate, to remember of course, but not to mention every time, ‘You Germans killed …’ They know, they are aware, and they help Israel. They are not so bad. OK, we can start to loosen the leash, not harm the Germans.
“[But] I wouldn’t say this to Guy. He is only 14 years old; let him grow.”
Galit Beresteanu, Waks’ daughter and Beresteanu’s mother, said competing in Germany as an athlete is a “big deal” for the “proud Jew” she’s raised.
“I think it’s very moving, and I think it’s an exciting closure,” she said.
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.