The 13th Pan American Maccabi Games opened earlier this week in Santiago, Chile, as 4,000 Jewish athletes from 20 countries gathered to compete in the Olympic-style event.
While I'm a sucker for things sporting, even I don't usually pay much attention to this quadrennial celebration of Chosen athletes. But I've got a rooting interest in the 2015 Games.
I've known Jake Kaplan since he was five years old. Until a year ago, his family lived just around the corner from us. They still live in our town. His parents, Erin and Jeff, are among our closest local friends. Jeff used to work for the Philadelphia Eagles, and developed a lasting hatred of the franchise for the way it dealt with many of his closest friends in the organization after Andy Reid took over as head coach. So we bonded over that.
Jake started playing volleyball several years ago, and quickly became more than proficient. His youth club is routinely ranked among the top teams on the East Coast. He's been selected to attend several national team camps at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, training with the best players in the country his age. Now 15, he's one of the best players in our region.
And just this year, he was selected to represent the U.S. at the Maccabi Games, playing for the full Men's National Team. At 15, he's the youngest player on the squad by six years. (I'd go for a Hebrew Hammer joke here, only not many people would get it, and all the players on the squad, with the exception of the liberos, would probably qualify.) As you can imagine, his parents are thrilled, and so are those of us that know the Kaplans.
His Dad admits that Jake's probably pretty close to topping out on height, and 6'0" outside hitters aren't exactly hot commodities in competitive volleyball. But he walked into the stadium in Santiago in full team USA gear at the opening ceremony of the 2015 Pan American Maccabi Games, and there's nobody that can take that away from him.
Mazel Tov, Jaker. We're really proud of you.