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Zeiss to compete in ‘Jewish Olympics’

Marisa Iati | Thursday, April 18, 2013

When sophomore fencer Maddie Zeiss participates in the Maccabiah games in Tel Aviv, Israel, in July, she will represent Notre Dame to the Jewish community.
“It’s for all Jewish athletes, and they have over 30 sports, and you’re selected to be on one of the sports teams,” Zeiss said. “And you … spend a week [touring] Israel, … and then the second week is the week of competition.”

The Maccabiah is the world’s largest Jewish athletic competition that emphasizes the centrality of the State of Israel in the life of the Jewish people, according to the Maccabiah website. The games take place every four years and are often called “the Jewish Olympics.”

Zeiss, a foil, said she will participate in the open division, in which athletes of any age may participate. She will compete on a team with two other female Americans: a student at Northwestern University and a high school student from New York.

Zeiss applied for the opportunity to compete and was selected because of her No. 5 ranking on USA Fencing’s senior points list. Zeiss also earned a bronze medal in this year’s NCAA championships and has earned All-American honors for the past two years.

Before the games, Zeiss will continue to train as she does during the school year.

“Usually, over the summer, people take fencing a lot lighter because they’re not in season, but I need to just … keep training,” Zeiss said. “[But] I think [Maccabiah is] more about the cultural experience than the actual training, although both are important.”

Before the competition, the athletes will visit scenic locations and places significant to the Jewish faith, Zeiss said.

“Even though I was raised Jewish, I was never a very religious person,” she said. “So even though I am Jewish, I don’t really know a lot about the religion.”
For this reason, Zeiss said she looks forward to learning more about her religion while in Israel. Although her Jewish faith puts her in a minority category at Notre Dame, Zeiss said she does not feel like Catholicism has been forced upon her here.

“My first time at Notre Dame, I was definitely a little bit hesitant,” she said. “But since I’ve been here, it’s been extremely accepting. I’ve never been pressured into becoming Catholic or learning more about Catholicism. … I think the opportunity to be around the Catholic religion has been amazing, but it also hasn’t been a situation where I’ve been pressured or anything.”

Zeiss said she chose to attend Notre Dame because she liked the fencing program and the University as a whole.  

“The religion aspect never got in the way of my education,” she said. “It was just something that was in the back of my mind. … It isn’t prominent if you don’t want it to be, and I really like that it gives you options.”

Zeiss said she anticipates Maccabiah will be “eye-opening” and make her interested in finding new ways to practice her Jewish faith while at Notre Dame. But she does not know what awaits her halfway around the world.

“I really don’t know what to expect but I’m super curious to find out and I think it should be really awesome,” she said.

Contact Marisa Iati at miati@nd.edu