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Connecting and Reconnecting: Facebook and the Maccabiah

E for the gold!
Everyone's a winner: E. gets the gold

The last time I wrote a blog, exactly a year ago, it was about the incredible support my husband and I received on various social media platforms when his special needs brother went missing in Jerusalem for a number of terrifying hours. While he was also AWOL last week for a thankfully much shorter period of time (in which he had simply forgotten his phone in his sheltered apartment and had rightfully just taken the bus back to get it), this story is of quite a different nature. But the message is the same: For all of its pitfalls and dangers, social media can be a wonderful thing.

It all began when my husband’s first cousin C. reached out to him via Facebook, informing him that his daughter, E., had been selected to play in this year’s 21st Maccabiah Games. C. asked my husband if he “knew of any cheap hotels” he could stay in during his upcoming trip to watch E. train and compete. Instinctually, and although they have not been in touch for decades (the last time they saw each other was, ironically, when C. came to compete in the same sporting event 29 years ago. He, like his daughter, is a shot-putter) – my hubby invited C. to come stay at our pretty empty nest in Modiin.

All we knew about C. was that he still lived near his homestead of Minneapolis, Minnesota, that he was a bow-hunter in his spare time, and that he was married with two daughters, living a pretty secular life with no particular connection to his Jewish family or Israel, for that matter. What we didn’t know, and happily found out, was that C. is one of the most happy-go-lucky, pleasant and grateful guests we have ever had the privilege to entertain. From the get-go, the two cousins hit it off, drinking C.’s favorite Israeli beer and eating “garinim” (sunflower seeds, that common Israeli pastime) on our balcony, and talking about family memories and where he and his brothers are today.

We first met E. at an opening event for the 1300 US Maccabiah competitors which was held, coincidentally, in Maccabim, only a few minutes from our home, the evening C. arrived. E. and her teammates had been in Israel for a week by then, touring the beautiful country and soaking in their Jewish roots. E. was sporting a Star of David necklace she had bought “in the shuk,” throwing around some Hebrew words, and, with eyes shining, telling us of the ceremony the organizers had just held for those who “hadn’t been bar or bat mitzvahed yet.”

Last Friday night, E. joined us for a wonderful Shabbat meal, bringing along another fellow sportsman, N., who also has a tenuous connection to his Jewish roots. C., E. and the young hurdle-jumper were blown away by the once-familiar Friday night fare – homemade challah, chicken (matzo ball) soup, roast brisket, potatoes and rice, ratatouille, salads and fruit crumble. After we had sung Grace After Meals (with C. happily joining in some parts), we were told that E. has an incredible singing voice. We urged her to perform, which she did, starting off with some Adele hits and then – incredibly – singing a Fiddler on the Roof medley. She had been “Golda,” she explained, in her local high school production of that quintessential Jewish musical. Not one Jew in their school, and she (and apparently a very tall “Tevye,” as well as other incredible cast members) nailed it.

My younger daughter, D., who is now a parachute instructor in the IDF, is exactly E’s age. D. was in the Maccabiah five years ago as a junior netball player, and the two 20-year-old athletes instantly hit it off. They were both so excited to have discovered cousins in the US/Israel they “had never known existed.”

The following morning, C. insisted on accompanying my husband to synagogue, where he soaked up the atmosphere with a serene smile on his face. (He even happily returned for the afternoon prayer.) In and between, he held our newborn granddaughter, played with her older sister, and chatted to our children. It was a Shabbat, a real day of rest and reconnection, that none of us will forget.

And the best part of the trip? Last night E. won gold (after winning bronze yesterday for discus). We were overcome with pride and joy for her and her father, as well as gratitude for how Facebook and the Maccabiah brought us all together again.

About the Author
Leah is a UK expat living in Israel for 25 years, and trying to find the best in the people she meets.
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