Mystery Maccabi- Kiddush Hashem on Chilean Court


Gavriela Colton, (MMY 5774)
(Teaneck, New Jersey, Maccabi USA Volleyball Team)


I've lived in Teaneck, New Jersey for most of my life, with my parents and four siblings- two brothers and two sisters- and I am very much a family person. I attended Ma'ayanot high school in Teaneck and then went to MMY for my seminary year. I am currently studying in Stern college, and majoring in psychology, with the hopes of going into informal education and working for the Jewish community in some capacity. I’m on the basketball and volleyball teams at Stern as well, which takes up a lot of time but is also really fun and rewarding. Additionally, I’m involved with NCSY, which I really enjoy being a part of, and I've done a few Torah Tours with YU (YU sends students to communities who could benefit from the influence of religious young adults over the holidays).


One of the most special and unique attributes of MMY is, no doubt, how MMY presents to its students a variety of completely different ideas and with guidance, empowers the students to decipher and pick apart the issues with confidence and independence. While in MMY, I was challenged to grapple with the idea of complexities and how to resolve them. Many different subjects were raised and one of them in particular stands out in my mind. We discussed the idea of how one can fulfill multiple roles at a time: for instance, a daughter who has obligations to her family, while also being a young adult who yearns to be in Eretz Yisrael with all of Am Yisrael. We also took a look at another angle of the same topic, when the struggle arises from a person having one role that drives her to straddle the line of two opposing traits.


This past summer, after an entire year out of MMY, I spent a month as an advisor on an NCSY GIVE WEST trip. Traveling the west coast, inspiring Jewish teens, doing chesed and making a Kiddush Hashem everywhere we went, was a complete dream for me. Then, for a few days at the end of the summer, I went to a preseason training camp with Yeshiva University where we played volleyball all day to prepare for our upcoming season.


On the second day there, I looked up towards Hashem during Tefilat Maariv and asked Him what I was doing there. Was there some kind of bigger purpose? The start of my summer was so meaningful, whereas this was fun and valuable for the stress relieving downtime, but I couldn’t help wondering if that was all it was worth. The very next day, my coach approached me and told me that, as a coach for the USA Maccabi women’s volleyball team, he’d like to invite me to play on the team. The Maccabi games are an all-Jewish Olympics, including teams of Jews from all over the globe, and are actually the third-biggest world games.


Why would I go to these games? Well, I love playing sports, and I have a tremendous amount of Jewish pride. Put the two together and you get the Maccabi games. This was something I was interested in being a part of because I have a desire to show Jews all over the world that one can be a fully committed and observant Jew without compromising on doing what one loves; that one does not have to give up everything in order to live a halachik, G-d centered life.


I feel fortunate that I was offered an opportunity to go to Chile in December for the competition. Considering that I had to get special permission to wear a skirt in the games, I will probably be one of the only women wearing a skirt, and that gives me the ability to make a Kiddush Hashem. This time, the Kiddush Hashem is not for the non-Jews, but rather it is for the other Jews that will be watching from all over the world. This is my chance to represent American Jewry and make myself, my family, my school, and my community proud.


This proposal was huge, and after I accepted it and completed the applications and various other technical pieces, I left to visit Israel for the Chagim. I went back to gain some clarity on everything going on in my life, and also to refuel before going on my journey. When coming to MMY for a visit, of course I approached my teachers to get some chizuk, new perspective, and a bit of advice. And they did not disappoint.


Rabbi Katz, in particular, was able to help me understand something about myself that I never was able to fully process before. While I like to act really fun, crazy and outgoing, I am also, by nature, a true introvert. I don't like to be the center of attention and can't stand being in the spotlight. I'm generally uncomfortable when the situation I am in shines the focus on me. I highly value my inner Midah of Tzniut, and it is at my core. But I realized that if I wanted people to be inspired by what I was doing, I would have to be in a more public light and I would have to go against my nature in order to allow this Kiddush Hashem to be on a grander scale. As time went on I was becoming more and more anxious as I knew I had to make a decision one way or the other. I strongly value the inner Tzniut, but I was also on a mission to inspire; how would I honor both, when they felt so opposite…?, and yet I could not imagine compromising on either.


After talking it out with him I was able to realize that although I was being pulled in two directions and was feeling that I was living a contradiction, really I was living a dialectic. I had a worthy goal to accomplish and that did not mean I needed to desert my values. I understood that with my value of Tzniut still at the center, I could appear publicly and make the Kiddush Hashem that I wanted to make. Would it be uncomfortable or hard sometimes? Yes, yes it probably will be. But at some point I decided that living with complexity is something that I want to embrace. Living in America, in the modern world, and valuing halacha over all else, there is so much that ends up appearing contradictory. So I guess more than anything else, what I’m learning from this Maccabi experience is the same lesson that MMY prepared me for so well: living with complexity, or rather living up to it.