How the Maccabiah helped a Jewish family in tragedy

JTA — On the wall of Adam Henry’s childhood bedroom in Fort Myers, Fla., hangs a gold medal from the 2017 Maccabiah Games, an international sports tournament often billed as the Jewish Olympics.

Adam, now 20 and a Division I goaltender at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, has always been a very involved player. Yet he did not take part in the 2017 Maccabiah Games. It is a long and sad story, made up of injuries and the sudden death of Adam’s mother, but which ends in tears of joy.

In the winter of 2017, Adam tests out for the Maccabi USA junior soccer team and is chosen as captain. He then lived two hours from his home, on the east coast of Florida, where he trained at the IMG Academy, both a sports training program and a boarding school which welcomed prestigious students, such as the legend of the tennis Andre Agassi or baseball star Gary Sheffield. Adam alternates living alone, times with his mother, Judy, and living with a foster family.

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“I remember I was taking a nap, I had just come back from training and my mother came running over, delighted, to tell me that I was taken into the team. [Maccabi] Adam recalled in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

“It’s probably the most intense moment I’ve ever had with my mother. A mixture of great joy and excitement, of impatience at the idea of ​​representing my country in this competition. »

Raised in an area with a tiny Jewish community — far from Florida’s Jewish epicentres of Boca Raton or Miami — he says competing in the Maccabiah Games was one of his dreams and he looked forward to meeting other Jewish athletes .

“From the moment he was part of this team, it confirmed that he really had something special,” says Kevin, Adam’s father.

It also means a lot to former Division I tennis player Judy Henry, who has many relatives in Israel. Like her son, she loves competition.

“My mom and I, whether it was a board game or a race, we always wanted to win,” Adam said. “And that’s also what brought us together. »

The joy of being selected for the Maccabiah Games is unfortunately short-lived.

Just weeks before heading to Israel with his family, Adam, who has grown 20cm in a year, fractures his left leg during a game. He had to wear a total leg cast for two months, and even today the consequences of the injury are clearly visible: his feet are of very different sizes.

Adam Henry fractured his left leg weeks before the 2017 Maccabiah Games. (Courtesy Jack Wiener/via JTA)

Although he cannot play as expected in the ranks of the Maccabi USA team, Adam and his family decide to go to Israel for the Games, in order to encourage his teammates. The team wins the gold medal as Adam looks on in the stands.

At the end of the tournament, Adam’s father and his sister Rebecca leave, while he and his mother remain in Israel.

Judy had chronic health issues, Kevin says, with psoriatic arthritis and a hair condition that caused her feet to bleed regularly.

Although the bleeding could have been significant at times, the issue was never considered life threatening.

While staying near the Dead Sea, Adam and his mother walk down the beach to a spa. Judy’s bleeding resumes and she decides to return to the hotel. Adam goes to the spa alone.

When Adam returns to their hotel room, his mother is not there. He retraces their steps and finds people massed around the lifeless body of his mother.

Although the official cause of death is unknown, as the family chose not to request an autopsy, Kevin thinks a combination of dehydration, heat and the multiple bleeding episodes Judy had experienced, which could have caused an embolism. She died five years ago this week.

At only 15 years old, Adam finds himself alone in Israel.

The experience has an impact on his sporting life and on his faith. “I questioned God, I guess,” he said. “I was 15 and I had seen my mother dead, bleeding. It really made me think, what God allows this? »

Over time, Adam says, he finds himself thinking that everything happens for a reason. And finally, he approaches Judaism.

“It brought me closer to the Jewish community and to the religion itself,” he explains. “For me, Judaism is a big family. And he gave me people I could count on. »

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Adam Henry has been playing football since he was a child. (Courtesy Jack Wiener/Adam Henry/via JTA)

Adam continued to play football, but there too he faced difficulties in the following years. In September 2019, Adam tore his anterior cruciate ligament, then once healed, his meniscus – all on the leg that was broken years earlier.

To get out of it, he thinks of the little 8-year-old boy he was and the pleasure felt when entering the goal cage for the first time.

“It had always been my dream to play on the world stage and represent my country, as I would at the Maccabiah Games,” he says. To be a star, a professional sportsman, is something that I have always dreamed of and wanted to achieve. Until they told me no, until I told myself that I had tried everything, I did not want to admit defeat. »

Adam continues to perform, away from home, friends and family, throughout high school.

“It was a sacrifice and I kept asking him ‘Do you really want to continue?’ “says Adam’s father. “And he was like, ‘Absolutely.’ Football was everything to him. »

The family ends up seeing better days.

Jack Wiener, a New York lawyer friend of the family for years, has been in contact with Judy throughout the Maccabiah experience, from Adam’s tryouts to the fatal trip to Israel.

Himself a former fencer, Wiener knows Jeff Bukantz, the president of the Maccabiah Games USA. When Judy dies, he decides to do something for the Henry family: he wants Adam to receive a gold medal from the 2017 Games.

“The Maccabiah is about community – the Jewish community, idealism, loyalty to teammates and brothers,” Wiener explains. Adam and his mother had oh so demonstrated these qualities. I thought it would be a fitting nod to Maccabiah ideals to present this medal to Adam.

For Bukantz, it’s obvious.

“When Jack suggested giving Adam the same gold medal his team won in 2017, I immediately said yes,” he tells JTA from Israel, where this year’s Maccabiah Games are held. unrolled.

“I contacted the Maccabi World Union and was soon in possession of a beautiful, shiny gold medal from the 2017 Maccabiah Games. Jack gave me Adam’s address and so it left in the mail. I know Adam was delighted to receive it, but much less than I was to have sent it. »

Last fall, four years after that missed sporting event in Israel, Adam finally got his medal.

“I cried,” Adam said. “Obviously, it was tears of joy, to think that they had been kind enough to give me this medal. And the memory of the hard efforts to be selected, of the difficulties I went through. It connects me to my Jewish faith, the kindness of everyone, how they treated me like one big family. I will never be able to thank them for all this. »

For Adam’s father, who has since remarried, the medal has another meaning.

“That’s what Judy would have wanted,” Kevin explains.

“His mother wanted this medal, which Adam had worked so hard for. And even if he hadn’t been able to play, she wanted him to be recognized for the efforts he had made so far. It was a way to do it. And so the medal, for me, is the realization of what my [défunte] women. »

He adds: “When I gave him the medal, I think he was torn. He was very grateful. But at the same time, he was telling me, “Dad, I didn’t win it. Then he added: ‘I know mum would have wanted it, it was really important to her.’ »

Adam is preparing for the upcoming football season in Kansas City, and his mother remains a big inspiration.

“Especially in the beginning, I tried to imagine what my mother would have done if she was still here, or what she would have wanted me to do,” he says.

“It motivated me. It really took me a step further, to achieve my goals and dreams. That’s how she raised me. »

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How the Maccabiah helped a Jewish family in tragedy

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