Joanna Zeiger Inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and Museum
Jewish Sports Hall of Fame
In 1989, along with my sister, I represented the United States at the Maccabiah Games for swimming. The Maccabiah Games, the third largest world sporting competition, are the Jewish Olympics and are held every four years in Israel. A very international contingent participates, with athletes competing from 50 countries. It was an amazing, life-changing experience.
Prior to the opening ceremonies, US athletes from all of the different sports were brought together for breakout sessions. We were arranged in small groups to discuss all matters of being a Jewish athlete. I was amazed to hear the stories from others that were similar to my own. They too, had experienced disparaging comments and felt the same shame I had at being Jewish.
The most amazing part of the entire trip, though, was walking into the stadium during the opening ceremonies. I was surrounded by thousands of Jews from all over the world. All in this one place to celebrate sports and Judaism. It was a revelation.
And then, they played Hatikvah, the Israeli National Anthem, the words to which I knew well from my years attending a Jewish Day School. I was overwhelmed with pride and decided I would never hide being Jewish again.
As I morphed from a swimmer to a triathlete, I wore my religion proudly and openly. At races, athletes would always come up to me and let it be known that they too were Jewish, a bond that allowed us a certain familiarity even though we were strangers.
My induction into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame means more to me than a celebration of past achievements. I view this honor as a means to helping other fledgling Jewish athletes succeed in an arena where they may not be encouraged or even worse discouraged. Being a “Jewish athlete” should not be a label; we are athletes who are Jewish.
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