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Fencer Represents U.S. in Jewish Olympics

Lesley Stevenson | Monday, September 2, 2013

For junior Madison Zeiss, this summer revolved around only one event: the Maccabiah, an international competition for Jewish athletes around the world. Zeiss, a first-team All-American fencer, collected a gold medal in both the individual and team foil events in the open division for athletes of all ages.

Despite her successful individual performance, Zeiss said she felt prouder to represent the United States in the Maccabiah, which is frequently hailed the “Jewish Olympics,” according to the games’ website.

“I definitely felt like I was competing for the US; all of us [on the US team] did,” she said. “That’s what we were there for and it wasn’t about the individual medal. That was awesome but it was about the team.”

Although the Maccabiah is a competition, Zeiss said learning more about Israel and Israeli culture filled much of her time abroad.

“It was more about bringing awareness to Israel and showing us exactly what the country has to offer. … The times that we weren’t competing we were always just constantly touring and sightseeing around the country and meeting people.”

Zeiss described a trip to an Israeli Defense Force base where she met adults her age completing their compulsory two- or three-year military service requirements.

“It was so eye-opening to see that because it’s normal for us to go to college; this is just normal for them.”

She also noted that despite the political turmoil in Israel, Palestine and neighboring Syria, she never believed she was in danger.

“There wasn’t even one point that I felt uncomfortable,” Zeiss said. “To me the people were amazing.”

Zeiss said her primary focus for the summer was preparing for the Maccabiah. For that reason, she stayed in South Bend for the summer to continue training with Notre Dame fencing associate head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia.

“I was here this summer, so I trained a lot really closely with my coach,” Zeiss said. “Probably every other day we’d go to the gym and train. So that definitely helped a lot. It was mainly just being here and being able to focus on getting ready.”

Collegiate fencers tend to meet each other through competition, Zeiss said, so she knew many of her US teammates before competing with them at the Maccabiah.

“We all know each other, but we obviously weren’t as close as we were when we left,” she said. “We immediately meshed as a team. … There was no conflict or anything.”

According to the Maccabiah website, about 10,000 Jewish athletes come to Israel from across the globe to compete in the games, which are “the world’s largest Jewish athletic competition.”

The Maccabiah offers competitions in Olympic sports like basketball, volleyball, soccer and cycling as well as other events such as bridge, chess, karate and bowling.

The U.S. ranked second in the overall medal count for the open division. With 170 medals total, American athletes earned 56 gold, 53 silver and 61 bronze, far behind the 498 total medals won by Israeli athletes. Russia finished third in that division with 38 medals.