Austin Teen Connects Love of Soccer and Judaism at Maccabi Games

Austin Teen Connects Love of Soccer and Judaism at Maccabi Games

Helena Lewis looks to make a play for Westlake FC during a match against Liverpool FC in October 2018. Credit: Jay Plotkin

By Tonyia Cone

This July, Austin teen Helena Lewis will head to Mexico City, Mexico, to combine her love of Judaism and soccer at the Pan American Maccabi Games 2019 as part of the Maccabi USA Juniors Girls’ Soccer Team.

The Pan American Maccabi Games are hosted by the Confederacion Latinoamericana Maccabi. They are conducted in cooperation with Maccabi World Union and are held every four years. The Pan American Maccabi Games are a high-level athletic competition for Jewish athletes all over the world aimed at connecting Jews from the diaspora.

Maccabi USA will bring a team of more than 400 athletes who will join the other 2,500 Jewish athletes from 19 countries, participating in 24 different sports.

Lewis, who recently finished tenth grade, began playing soccer with the North Austin Soccer Alliance when she was 6 years old.

“I fell in love with soccer,” she wrote on a fundraising web page for the trip.

Lewis has played club and select soccer since she was 9 years old. She has played on Jewish Community Center Maccabi teams from Austin in Florida and California in 2017 and 2018, experiences that connected her to other Jews from North America and Israel. She currently plays center midfield with FC Westlake and plays on L.C. Anderson High School’s varsity team.

Lewis explained that soccer has taught her time management skills, how to play on a team and how to be a leader, and has helped her get through stressful times.

It is also a very special part of her relationship with her father.

“He was my early team's coach and he continues to help me improve my game. He loves soccer so much and I'm so happy to share this love with my dad,” she wrote on her fundraising page.

Judaism is also a major part of Lewis’ life and identity. A member of BBYO Litzor BBG and Agudas Achim United Synagogue Youth, she still has many memories and friends from her early days at Shalom Austin’s Jewish Community Center Early Childhood Program and JCC Camp Shalom.

When she and her twin brother Joshua were 8 years old, her youngest brother, Benjamin, was diagnosed with cancer.

“Being Jewish and part of the Austin Jewish community and Congregation Agudas Achim really helped us,” she said.

Lewis said she is honored to represent Team USA and Team Austin at the Pan American Games in Mexico City in July. She was selected for the team after an application process that included submitting video footage of herself playing soccer and an essay explaining why she wanted to be on the team.

“To be able to combine two core parts of who I am—being a Jew and an athlete—is remarkable to me,” Lewis said.

The experience of meeting her team in Chicago, Illinois, to practice and bond for a few days and then to go on to Mexico City to play in the Pan American Maccabi Games will enable her to meet more diaspora Jews from North, Central and South America.

Lewis’ previous Maccabi Games experiences have given her the opportunity to see similarities and differences in people from other cultures and to form friendships she expects will last a lifetime.

The Pan American Maccabi Games will also connect her to family. Her mother’s family is from Mexico City, and her great-grandparents were founding members of the Centro Deportivo Israelita, a Jewish community center founded in 1950 in Mexico City that offers athletic, cultural, social, artistic and recreational activities. Lewis looks forward to spending time with them while on the trip.

Lewis hopes to continue participating in Maccabi Games in the future, possibly the Maccabiah Games Israel 2021.

“I think it’s really cool to represent the U.S. Even if it’s not the real Olympic team, it’s specifically for Jewish youth and adults. Judaism is just a really big part of my life. I think it’s really special and a really great opportunity to represent my culture and my beliefs through the sport which I love,” she told The Jewish Outlook. ■

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