No hurdle too big for Australia, leading the Maccabiah charge to Israel.
Sam Gamsu and Giselle Berlinski never lost faith that the games would go ahead.
After what will be over 100 weekly operational meetings (some lasting long into the night and even until the early morning), A couple of trips to Israel to plan, they are both proud to lead a 500-plus strong delegation from Australia to the Maccabiah Games in Israel.
“It’s surreal,” Berlinski said as the departure date draws closer with every passing day.
“It felt like we’d never get to this point, each time you get to a point further along than you were the last time it feels more and more surreal, but now we’re starting to feel that it’s happening”
“I think when the team uniforms arrive, something tangible like that and we start distributing those and get the tickets, then it’s really real” Gamsu added.
The COVID-19 pandemic presented so many bumps and challenges including the delaying of the games by a year, multiple lockdowns, border closures, and apprehension from several countries.
However, there was always faith that the games would go ahead. Both Berlinski and Gamsu expressed that there were moments of worry that the 21st edition of the Maccabiah games wouldn’t proceed.
“Maybe I was pretending or fooling myself, but I don’t think I ever doubted that it [the games] would go ahead,” Gamsu said. “Because if you weren’t confident, how could you put the amount of effort and energy and sustain it when you’re not sure that something is going to happen.”
Gamsu has been part of the management team for multiple Maccabiah games, but this time around has stepped into a senior management position along with Berlinski who has also stepped up to lead Australia’s delegation.
“I’ve had different roles in other games, so I wasn’t as involved,” Gamsu said detailing his previous involvements.
“I’ve had amazing support from a lot of amazing people and that’s made it a lot easier” he added when speaking about the step up to leading the delegation and the team.
“It’s not a role that you can just do by yourself. Most of us are volunteering our time so you need support, counsel, and guidance and people who are willing to put in a bit extra than they normally do.
“It’s only been manageable because of all the other people around me. The success of the games isn’t about me, or us, it's about everyone else who has contributed so much and given up so much time”
Berlinski agreed that despite the obvious hurdles, she and Gamsu had to maintain the belief and the enthusiasm that the Games would go ahead.
“If I believed and that became infectious to others because I was putting in so much work, then the belief was there that it was going to happen and people bought into that,” she said.
“Everyone wanted to be a part of it once we had more certainty, the numbers were amazing.
“The day that the nomination link closed, all of us had the most phenomenal night just watching the numbers come in and we were in total disbelief.
“We had over 800 nominations”
When the world emerged from the pandemic and the nominations opened and the momentum grew and concerns and fears were allayed, Team Australia was at the forefront of convincing various other nations that the games would be a success and that all the plans and processes in Israel if something god forbid was to happen, would go off without a hitch.
“Our first trip in January was a reconnaissance trip to see how Israel was managing COVID, how the MWU (Maccabi World Union) was going to manage COVID for our delegation which was at the forefront of everybody’s minds at the time. So much so that Sam and I took our jobs really seriously and we contracted COVID and then firsthand experienced firsthand how Israel and Maccabi World Union were going to deal with it” She explained.
“We were treated like the royalty they took us to their Kfar (Country club) we isolated there, they fed us more than we needed to be fed, looked after us and we were suitably impressed with everything, to the point that we came back and we convinced all the other English speaking countries that we were very comfortable in the way that they were managing it”
“We have been ahead of all the other countries most of the way in everything. We have had international meetings and we have presented some stuff, some other countries hadn’t even started the process and we were quite advanced.” Gamsu added
‘Israel looked to us to show the rest of the world that this is happening’
Excitement is building with preparations almost complete. As the final boxes get checked and uniforms get distributed in the coming weeks, despite there still being a way to go, Berlinski and Gamsu can see the finish line in the distance and see the team march out into Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem and open the games.
“The reality of seeing our delegation in Israel is super exciting,” Berlinski said.
“The opening ceremony is going to be an amazing experience and knowing everyone’s story and seeing them enjoy that moment, will be super special.
“All the managers and coaches who have put in so much work along the way, and holding the faith that they were going to be there. To see them marching will be amazing.
“Then there are those people who this is their 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th Maccabiah games, maybe their last one, is also amazing.
“Looking forward to all of that, and some gold medals”