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Maccabiah games

3 generations of Uruguayan athletes suit up for abuelo’s ‘bar mitzvah’ Maccabiah

82-year-old Eugenio Garfinkle takes to the tennis courts in his 13th appearance at the Jewish Olympics, while his son and grandson represent on the football field

From left: Alan, Diego, and Eugenio Garfinkle in an undated family photo in Montevideo, Uruguay. (Courtesy Eugenio Garfinkle)
From left: Alan, Diego, and Eugenio Garfinkle in an undated family photo in Montevideo, Uruguay. (Courtesy Eugenio Garfinkle)

Don’t ask Eugenio Garfinkle, a tennis player from Uruguay now competing in his 13th Maccabiah Games, how old he is. “Anything after 80 is old,” he said. “So I tell people that I’m 70 plus 12.”

Garfinkle, a film distributor from Montevideo, is celebrating his “bar mitzvah Maccabiah,” as part of a three-generation team of Garfinkle athletes.

The 21st Maccabiah Games are being held in Israel from July 12 through July 26. Known as the “Jewish Olympics,” the Games take place every four years. This year, they will feature 10,000 participants from 60 countries in 42 different sports. There are about a dozen athletes over 80 years old.

Garfinkle’s son, Diego Garfinkle, 52, is participating in the Uruguayan masters soccer team, and grandson, Alan Garfinkle, 22, is playing for the Uruguayan men’s open soccer team.

“When the grandfather is a sportsman, the whole family follows suit,” Garfinkle said from Jerusalem, where he was touring with his extended family before the competition. “Now we are three generations of Garfinkles in the same Maccabiah.”

This is Garfinkle’s son’s fourth Maccabiah and his grandson’s second, but it is the first time all three generations are competing together.

Garfinkle stopped competing in tennis at the 14th Maccabiah, in 1993, because his knees couldn’t take the beating on the hard-court surface. But this year, the Maccabiah welcomed a new contingent of seniors playing on a clay court, which is much softer, so he decided to give the competition another try as part of the “Super Extra Grand Master” category for competitors over 80. Swimming also has a category for athletes over 80.

Garfinkle also was set to serve as Uruguay’s flagbearer in the Opening Ceremony on July 14, along with his long-time doubles partner, Leonardo Rozenblum, 81.

“My whole life was sports,” said Garfinkle. “At first I was very into basketball, but then when I got married my wife was upset that I left her alone every night. So I switched to tennis, which was just on the weekends. I’ve played all over the world and across Latin America.”

Eugenio Garfinkle, pictured here in an undated photo in Montevideo, Uruguay, has participated in 13 Maccabiah Games as a tennis player. (Courtesy Eugenio Garfinkle)

“Sports is very important in life because you make really good friends,” he said. “In sports you are loyal to the other people, you don’t care about money or religion or whatever.”

Garfinkle said that beyond competitions, the relationships he built with athletes from around the world are his favorite thing about playing tennis.

Although the family’s simultaneous competitions in different locations across Israel mean they won’t be able to cheer each other on, Garfinkle said he was “enormously proud” to have his family competing alongside him, especially in Israel, which has always felt like home. And he’s excited to pass the torch to the younger generation in the 180-strong Uruguayan contingent.

“We didn’t come for the glory,” said Garfinkle, but for the community that is created around sport, especially among Maccabiah participants. “It fills me with satisfaction that now, at 82 years old, I can come back and set an example.”

And he hopes that his story will inspire other people to get involved in sports, regardless of age.

“I am a ‘young old person,’” he said. “I’m old for my age and young for my way of living.”

Update: The Uruguayan open men’s soccer team defeated Sweden, 3-1, on July 14, and tied the US squad, 1-1, on July 17. Their next game in the group stage is on July 18 at 9 a.m. at the Kraft Family Sports Campus in Jerusalem’s Emek Ha’Arazim. The top two teams in Group A, likely the American and Uruguayan teams, will then compete on July 20 during the quarter-finals at the Kraft complex.

The Uruguayan 45+ masters soccer team defeated the French squad, 2-1, on July 13, and beat the UK team, 2-0, on July 15. Their next game in the group stage is on July 20 against Argentina at Shapira Field in Netanya.

The matches for individuals playing in the masters 65+ tennis tournament are not posted. All the tennis matches are taking place at the Israel Tennis Center in Ramat HaSharon.

Ethan Freedman contributed to this report.

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