Tag Archives: Maccabiah Games

Jews of the Week: Amy Alcott and Laetitia Beck

Two Great Women in Golf

Amy Alcott (Credit: World Golf Hall of Fame)

Amy Alcott (b. 1956) was born in Kansas City, Missouri. She played golf for the first time when she was nine years old, and the golf club was so impressed they give her special access to their facilities. At age 18, Alcott decided to skip college and become a professional golfer. She joined the LPGA and won her first tournament shortly after, as well as the Rookie of the Year award. Alcott went on to win a whopping 29 LPGA tour championships, 5 of them majors. In 1983 she became only the sixth golfer ever to make a million dollars in winnings. Alcott donated much of those earnings, and was awarded the Founders Cup three years later for her philanthropic work. In 1986, she became the third golfer ever to make two million dollars. She was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1999, as well as to the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Since retiring from professional play, Alcott has turned to coaching girls golf, painting, and designing golf courses. Perhaps her most famous work is designing the golf course at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Laetitia Beck

Playing on that course and representing Israel in golf for the first time was Laetitia Beck (b. 1992). Beck was born in Belgium to a religious Jewish family which made aliyah to Israel when she was six years old. The family settled in Caesarea, near Israel’s only full golf course. Like Alcott, Beck first played golf at age 9. At just 12, she was the ladies champion at the Israel Open, and won again the following year. She then moved to the US for better opportunities and tougher competition. At 18, she returned to Israel and enlisted in the IDF. However, after completing all her exams she was given an exemption from service under the category of being a “sports prodigy”. She joined the LPGA Tour and became the first Israeli ever to do so. Beck always sports an Israeli flag somewhere on her uniform, and has said that “My goal is to represent Israel and the Jewish people.” She has done this extremely well, as she always keeps a kosher diet wherever in the world she plays, and never performs on Jewish holidays. When she declined an invitation to a golf tournament in October 2011 because it conflicted with Yom Kippur, she was compared to Sandy Koufax, who famously missed a game of the 1965 World Series for the same reason. Meanwhile, Beck earned an undergraduate degree from Duke University in 2014, where she had played for the school’s golf team, the Blue Devils. So far, Beck has won two golds at the Maccabiah Games, and five Israeli Opens (with the most recent ones played in the men’s division), as well as a Rookie of the Year award, and two appearances on the All-American golf team. She is teeing off tomorrow morning at the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic.

Words of the Week

The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals; and our Holy of Holies is a shrine that neither the Romans nor the Germans were able to burn…
– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Jews of the Week: Alfred Nakache & Ben Helfgott

The Holocaust Survivors Who Became Olympians

Helfgott at the 1966 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia

Ben Helfgott (b. 1929) was born in Poland and was only a child when the Nazis invaded his country. He was sent with his entire family to Buchenwald concentration camp. Everyone perished except for one sister. After the war, Helfgott was among some 750 Jewish kids under 16 taken to England as refugees. Now safe in England, Helfgott started a Jewish youth club and became a big fan of sports. He was soon introduced to weightlifting and wanted to take it up professionally. Being just 5 foot 4 inches tall, and weighing 154 pounds, Helfgott was told to find another sport. He persisted nonetheless, and at age 26, became England’s champion in the 11-stone division. He went on to win four more English and British Commonwealth weightlifting championships, and represented the UK at the 1956 Olympics in Australia. He returned in the 1960 Olympics in Rome as the coach of the UK weightlifting team. He also participated in the Maccabiah Games, earning weightlifting gold three times. After retiring from sport, Helfgott became a successful businessman. He used his wealth to start The ’45 Aid Society, generously supporting struggling Holocaust survivors. Helfgott was recently knighted by Queen Elizabeth. He is one of just two Holocaust survivors to become an Olympian.

Alfred Nakache

The other is Alfred Nakache (1915-1983), born in French Algeria to a traditional Sephardic family of eleven children. As a child, Nakache had a crippling fear of water. He made the decision to overcome his phobia, and soon immersed himself in swimming and water sports. He went on to become a five-time French swimming champion, and set five European and World Records. After a silver medal at the 1935 Maccabiah Games, Nakache made the French Olympic team and competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. When the Nazis invaded France, Nakache escaped to the Free Zone in the south of the country. He wasn’t safe from anti-Semitism, though. Banned from swimming in Toulouse, he moved to Marseilles. Several weeks after setting a new record in the 400 metre butterfly in 1943, he was arrested and deported to Auschwitz. Surviving the camp’s hellish conditions, Nakache returned to swimming, setting a new French record in 1946. He made the French Olympic team again and participated in the 1948 games in London. In 1993, Nakache was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. He was the subject of the 2001 documentary Alfred Nakache, the Swimmer of Auschwitz. Today, many pools across France are named after him.

What’s the Difference Between Ashkenazim and Sephardim?

Words of the Week

According to the pain is the gain.
– Pirkei Avot 5:21

Nakache (far left) with the French relay team at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Helfgott (inset) at a weightlifting competition.