Local wrestler, Eden Bernstein goes for the gold in 18th Maccabiah
By Deb Silverthorn
When 18-year-old Eden Bernstein sits down to write his “what did I do this summer” journal, the dates July 13–23 will be written in blue ink, in bold. The Allen teen will have to reflect on his participation — the only high school student to do so — in the wrestling competition of the 18th World Maccabiah Games. The 2009 Games will host over 7,000 Jewish athletes from more than 50 countries, competing in 28 sports.
A member of the Allen High School Eagles 2009 Texas UIL Dual-State Championship team, Eden came in second in the state in his 152-lb. weight class. In the fall, he will join the Bronchos and wrestle at the University of Central Oklahoma while pursuing a biology and pre-medicine major.
Eden started wrestling at the age of 10 with dad Evan as his first coach. For the last seven years, Jerry Best, the coach at both Allen High School and Best Trained Wrestling, has worked with Eden and calls his success “no surprise.” “Eden’s been an amazing athlete with an outstanding work ethic and incredible dedication,” Best said. “Not many kids get this kind of opportunity and his chances are great. You couldn’t ask for a harder worker.” That hard work — Eden trains three to four hours every day during the season with shorter sessions around the year — is paying off. Eden is Best’s first athlete to compete internationally.
A family affair, wrestling is in its second generation for the Bernsteins. Their father, who graduated from Richardson High School in 1978, himself competed in the 1981 Maccabiah Games (for the United States) and in the 1985 Maccabiah Games as well as the 1985 and 1986 World Championships and the 1988 Olympics, representing Israel. After moving to Israel in 1984, Evan served in the Israeli army, later meeting Ora. The couple, and their children, moved to the United States in 1999.
Eden’s home cheering team includes his parents Ora and Evan, brother Ophir and sister Hadar. The family, members at Chabad of Plano/Collin County, have roots deep in Israel. Ora is a sabra, and their hearts — and mom — will be there to spur Eden on.
“My first trip to Israel was to compete in the Maccabiah Games. It definitely laid the groundwork for my ultimately moving there, having the connection, and [for] the rest of my life,” Evan said. “Although Eden’s been to Israel numerous times to see family, this will be a first as a student, as a tourist and athlete. It will be very different and I expect it will have an incredible impact on his life.”
“Eden’s making this team, one of just two high-school students to do so, is a high accomplishment and he did exceptionally well at the trials in Cleveland,” said Head Maccabiah Wrestling Coach Glenn Goodman, who is based in Florida. By coincidence, Goodman was a Maccabiah teammate of Evan’s in 1981. He also competed for the United States in 1985 and 1993. “It’s a great thing for me to work with the son of a former teammate, and for me to coach this team is quite an honor. With seven weight classes represented, and 10 athletes, this is going to be a very special trip.”
Eden is setting the stride and it’s likely his younger brother may follow in his international competition footsteps. Ophir, who is 16 years old and was recently named a USA Wrestling All American, placing fifth in the USA Wrestling Folkstyle Nationals and second at the Texas State UIL Championships, shows no sign of retirement.
“Through wrestling, I’ve lucked into a very special relationship with my boys,” Evan said. “It’s rare and it’s definitely the very best part of this whole experience.”
“I’m so excited to participate in Israel, in the sport I love, surrounded by Jews from around the world,” Eden said. “The connection to this huge Jewish community is something I can’t wait to be a part of.”
The trip to Maccabiah 2009, one that is only partially subsidized, costs approximately $6,500. Anyone interested in supporting Eden in the competition of a lifetime, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
JLTV will be airing a piece on Bernstein during the Maccabiah Games, repeatedly between July 12 and 23, on DirecTV Channel 366. The program will also be available on the www.jltv.com Web site during those dates.
Pearl makes it from Knoxville to Ramat Gan
By Marc Brodsky
NEW YORK (JTA) — Bruce Pearl’s coaching credentials finally caught up with his desire to lead the U.S. men’s open basketball team at the Maccabiah Games.
Four years guiding the University of Tennessee, along with hugely successful tenures at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the Division II University of Southern Indiana, put him over the top for a spot he says he’s wanted for 20 years.
“Other more accomplished coaches coached our team,” said Pearl, 49, who earned National Coach of the Year honors in 2008. “[Maccabi USA] has known for years this is something I wanted to do.”
Pearl will be part of a 900-member contingent that will represent the United States at the 18th Games July 12–23 in Israel. The Americans will be among some 8,000 Jewish athletes from more than 60 countries participating in the so-called Jewish Olympics, which are held every four years. Participants as young as 16 will compete.
Opening ceremonies will be held July 13 at Ramat Gan Stadium. Twenty-eight sports will be contested in the open competitions, with 17 for Juniors, four for Youth and 13 for Masters.
The host nation easily outdistanced the field in medals five years ago, bringing home 594 to 227 for the runner-up Americans. The Israelis won 228 golds to 73 for the second-place United States.
Pearl says he hopes to improve on the bronze medal for men’s open basketball that the United States earned in ‘05, but it will be challenging for his young squad to reach the gold-medal game. Dan Grunfeld, a former
Stanford University standout now playing overseas, is expected to power the team.
Grunfeld’s father, Ernie, a standout at the University of Tennessee and a solid NBA performer, averaged 20 points as a high school player for the U.S. team that earned a silver in the 1973 Games.
For Pearl, his first trip to Israel will be a family affair: Son Steven is playing for the U.S. squad, daughter Jacqui is the team manager, and parents Bernie and Barbara from Boynton Beach, Fla., are coming along. His fiancée will be joining him, too.
Pearl expects it to be a life-altering experience for himself and his players.
“It’s coaching the U.S. team, representing the United States of America in an international competition and coaching the game of basketball, the game I love, and doing it in my Jewish homeland,” he said. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”
While Pearl may be a Maccabiah novice, women’s field hockey coach Mim Chappell-Eber will be making her fifth appearance, her third as a coach. She recalls the bridge collapse in the ‘97 Games that killed four Australians and carrying the banner for the U.S. team in the 2001 Games.
“Being there representing the United States as an American Jew, and going to Yad Vashem and religious places, the Wailing Wall, you just become more immersed in the religious culture,” says Chappell-Eber, whose daughter, Ariel Eber, is the team’s goalie for the second straight Maccabiah.
Pearl says he wants to visit the religious sites and “see where it all began.”
“I’m looking forward to getting off the plane and kissing the ground, thanking the people there for all that they do for us,” he said.
Among the activities for some Maccabiah participants will be a bar mitzvah ceremony. The U.S. team will work with Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of CLAL–The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, who was appointed team rabbi.
“The Maccabiah is one of the most exciting and integrated Jewish experiences I have ever been involved in,” Kula said in a news release from Maccabi USA. “It is an expression of a global Jewish community in which [there are] passion for Israel, a developing Jewish identity, and an affirmation of Jewish unity.
“Just imagining a bar mitzvah overlooking Jerusalem for some 200 athletes who never celebrated their bar mitzvah says it all.”
Kula will lead services at such sacred sites as Yad Vashem and Masada.
Maccabiah Games xviii
Local wrestler, Eden Bernstein goes for the gold in 18th Maccabiah