Maccabiah Games as an athlete, and 20 years later as a rabbi

Aug. 14, 2013 @ 11:54 AM

Twenty years ago, before he was a rabbi, Daniel Greyber went to Israel for the first time to compete at the Maccabiah Games. He was captain of the U.S. swim team and medaled at the 1993 Maccabiah Games, an international Jewish sports competition held every four years. The experience changed his life. This summer he went back, in a different role. Greyber served as chaplain for the U.S. delegation of 1,150 athletes, held last month in Israel.
Greyber, who is rabbi of Beth El Synagogue in Durham, described being chaplain as “spectacular, really, really wonderful and special, and an extraordinary experience.” He has many highlights, including a ceremony for about 100 athletes who grew up Jewish but did not have a bar or bat mitzvah.
“It was extremely moving. For me, one of the highlights of my rabbinate, being a rabbi,” said Greyber, describing the scene that included song and the sunset over the mountains of Jerusalem.
The U.S. delegation arrived in Israel a week before the Maccabiah Games started, and they visited places like the Western Wall, a holy place that is the remaining outer wall of the Second Temple from 2,000 years ago.
“It’s a place a lot of kids have seen in pictures,” Greyber said, and were then able to see in person. In 1993, he put on tefillin – boxes containing scrolls, with straps – to pray. In 2013, he saw a group of young men putting on tefillin for the very first time there, too.
“Even though I’ve been to the Western Wall many times over the past 20 years, going back with the Maccabiah team confirmed there’s a whole set of awakenings taking place in a sweet and extraordinary way,” Greyber said.
Another memorable moment was seeing Aly Raisman, the U.S. gymnast who won a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics and dedicated her floor routine to the Munich 11, the Israeli athletes and coaches killed at the 1972 Olympics. Raisman was invited to the Maccabiah Games to light the torch at the opening ceremony.
“It was amazing to see her light the torch, her first time in Israel,” Greyber said. Raisman joined the U.S. team on tours, and he met her at the Dead Sea. “That was a neat thing,” he said.
Greyber also saw swimmer Garrett Weber-Gale, who won two gold medals in the 2008 Bejing Olympics and was selected as flag-bearer for the U.S. at the Maccabiah Games.
At the end of the week U.S. athletes spent touring Israel together, there was a banquet before the teams headed to their hotels. The flag-bearer was announced, and Weber-Gale grabbed the flag and ran around the room with everyone cheering.
Weber-Gale said the past week had been the most meaningful week in his life, Greyber said.
Being U.S. chaplain at the games was very humbling, Greyber said.
“There were certain moments in the trip I felt it was where I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to be doing,” he said. “This was something I was definitely well-suited to do and called to do,” he said.