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Beyond the pitch

Senior Josh Bienenfeld, who has played nearly every position on the field for Duke, took part in the Maccabiah Games this summer.
Senior Josh Bienenfeld, who has played nearly every position on the field for Duke, took part in the Maccabiah Games this summer.

Few people can say that they have represented their country, their heritage and their family on a global scale at any point during their life. But Josh Bienenfeld can claim all three.

This past summer Bienenfeld played for the United States in the 18th Maccabiah Games hosted in Israel. Not only did he develop his skills playing against high-level opponents, but Bienenfeld found a deeper connection with his history and family.

“I guess I didn’t understand the importance of what the Holocaust meant, in terms of the gravity of it, until I was about 14,” Bienenfeld said. “And after taking a class on the Holocaust at Duke, I kept reading and I really started to comprehend the magnitude of it.”

And for the Bienenfeld family, the Holocaust is all the more real. Josh’s paternal grandparents are both Holocaust survivors, and his grandfather spent some of his internment in Auschwitz, the most infamous of all the Nazi concentration camps.

So for Bienenfeld, representing his nation and his family in the Maccabiah Games was an honor and a testament toward his grandfather’s will to survive.

“Going to Israel and actually seeing a Jewish state after what the Jews had been through 70 years ago is just something that you can’t really read about or understand until you’re really there,” Bienenfeld said,

Bienenfeld was able to share the experience with his sister, Tracy, who played Division-I soccer at Pennsylvania and also played for the United States in Israel.

“I don’t get to spend much time with my sister, so being able to watch her play was awesome,” Bienenfeld said. “Getting to hang out with her, touring around Israel, experiencing the same things was amazing. This was the first time I hung out with her in a long time, and probably the last chance we will ever get to hang out for a month together.”

The Maccabiah Games were first held in 1932, but were halted in 1938 when Nazism swept through Europe. It wasn’t until 1957 that the Games were established as a quadrennial event.

Now, the Games are the third-largest sporting event in the world.

In 2009, the best Jewish athletes in the world, representing 50 countries, competed in 29 sports ranging from lawn bowling to taekwondo for 10 days under the sweltering Israeli summer sun.

While experiencing his heritage was paramount for Bienenfeld during his trip, he still had to prepare for the competition. The men’s soccer team trained together for a few weeks before the Games to get back in shape and come together as a team.

“We had two-a-days for the first four days or so, then training once a day until the games started,” Bienenfeld said. “It was a lot of soccer with really skilled coaches and players.”

The men finished in fifth place, despite only suffering one loss to Great Britain. Although the results were disappointing, they did not take away from Bienenfeld’s pride following the Games.

“It was a privilege to wear the United States colors,” Bienenfeld said. “I worked extremely hard and I was proud—anytime you get to wear your country’s crest it’s a huge honor.”

Since returning, Bienenfeld has exhibited a new level of confidence in his play for Duke this season.

Bienenfeld has anchored the outside midfield position this year, stopping opposing counterattacks and supplying scoring opportunities to the likes of Cole Grossman and Ryan Finley. Bienenfeld has tallied one goal and one assist in the Duke’s six games this season.

Regardless of how the Blue Devils’ season concludes, the senior from Huntingdon Valley, Penn. will always remember his monthlong trip to Israel, where he not only discovered a new sense of history, but realized his potential to lead a young Duke team to success.

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