Message from Josh Blank, Youth Men's Soccer
As I sit in my hotel room in Santiago staring at my packed
luggage, I am feeling very bittersweet. Although my team unfortunately did not
medal at the Pan American Maccabi Games, I still feel as though I am leaving a
winner. I’ve met and made friends with kids from all over the country; I am
certain we will stay in touch, whether via social media, texts, or through our
“Maccabi USA Soccer” GroupMe chat, which has been constantly going since our
time began together at our training camp in Miami.
Coming to Chile, I was unsure what to expect. Would my
experience be more focused on being Jewish or on soccer? Obviously, soccer
played a major role in my time here. That being said, I feel more proud to be a
Jew having been at these Games. It’s difficult for me to explain the emotions I
felt walking into the Opening Ceremony. Here I was, surrounded by 400+ Jews
from the United States, marching into a stadium filled with thousands of Jews
from dozens of countries. Not only that, everyone was smiling, trading gear and
generally enjoying one another’s company. It didn’t matter that I spoke barely
any Spanish; I immediately felt a real connection with my South American
counterparts, and that is based on our shared Jewish faith.
At my team’s final dinner together, our coaches asked us to
go around the table and share our favorite memories. My favorite memory was of
the first goal my team scored in the tournament, against Israel. Your team
scoring a goal is always fun, but I will never forget running to that corner
flag, and mobbing and hugging my teammates. We scored for the United States of
America… How cool is that? To my surprise, only a few of them mentioned
something soccer related as their favorite memory. Rather, many spoke of the
community service we did in one of the poorest neighborhoods I’ve ever seen in
my life. Others spoke of the immense laughter we shared throughout the trip.
Seriously, I don’t think I have ever laughed so much in my entire life.
I knew the true meaning of this trip yesterday, when our
team was together at the biggest mall in South America, the Costanera. We had
just lost two hours before in heartbreaking fashion, eliminating our chances of
medaling. The locker room was somber; many tears were shed. But here we were,
smiling and laughing and generally loving each other. It didn’t really matter
that we had just lost; these kids will be my brothers for life.
A sincere thank you to all my teammates for making this trip
so amazing for me, and to my coaches as well. I will never forget the times we
shared together, and I’m hopeful to see everyone again in Israel in 2017!
All the best,
Youth Men's Soccer