Traded jerseys with Israeli player | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Traded jerseys with Israeli player 

For Ryan Kelly, 18, trading sports jerseys with an Israeli player whose kibbutz was attacked on Oct. 7 will be a moment he never forgets. The exchange of jerseys was a moment in Ryan’s recent participation in international Jewish games overseas. 

The Franklin native said that meeting other athletes helped him “understand what some of them went through to just be at the games.” 

Ryan and his mother, Debbie Minsky-Kelly, participated in the 15th Pan American Maccabi Games, held in Buenos Aires, Argentina from Dec. 26, 2023 through Jan. 4, 2024. 

Both are at Carthage College in Kenosha: Ryan is a volleyball player and part of the class of 2027, and Debbie is field director and clinical assistant professor in the School of Social Work.  

Ryan participated in a U.S. boys’ volleyball team, among approximately 12 other boys from across the country. Many players joined from California, Florida or Illinois. Ryan was the only player on the team from Wisconsin.  

Ryan played as the setter when his team won the bronze medal in a match against the Israeli team. “The more we practiced and played together, the more our connection grew. All the hitters learned the sets better. That really helps a volleyball team because you get to know each other’s habits, what people were going to do when,” Ryan said. 

Debbie participated in the games as the sole mental health professional for the approximately 700 people from the USA delegation. She acted as a resource for athletes who needed support: whether for interpersonal conflicts, processing grief, or facing the consequences an injury could have on the remainder of their season.  

Debbie said she felt grateful she could be there to support her son in person and  the broader group. A highlight was hearing the then-newly elected president of Argentina Javier Milei speak at the opening ceremony. “It was really cool to see what a big deal it was for Argentina to host this event, and see how welcomed we were by the highest levels of their government,” she said. 

The Maccabi games had a different tone this year, with the recent events in Israel contributing to a constant background reminder of vulnerability. “The organizers of the games were very transparent about needing conversations following Oct. 7 and security,” Debbie said. “They decided to go on with the games as an important statement of solidarity, and not giving in to our fear and still wanting to gather as Jewish people in spite of world events.”  

After winning the bronze medal match, Ryan exchanged jerseys with Topaz Kemeny, a player on the Israeli volleyball team, as a symbolic representation of understanding the trauma and challenges the Israeli team faced this year. On Oct. 7, Hamas destroyed Kemeny’s kibbutz, and his girlfriend was killed. Ryan said that trading their jerseys will be “something I’m going to remember for the rest of my life…reminding myself to be grateful for what I have and to understand that everyone’s different.” 

Ryan Kelly and his mother, Debbie Minsky-Kelly, went to the 15th Pan American Maccabi Games, held in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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Maccabi USA, the organization behind the games in Argentina, seeks to build Jewish pride through sports and promotes support for Israel, Zionism and Jewish continuity through athletic, educational and cultural experiences for participants of all ages.