Danielle Schwartz Auerbach, a 39-year-old mother of three who grew up in Livingston, won two gold medals — in masters singles and mixed doubles tennis – at the 21st Maccabiah in Israel, which ran from July 12 to July 26.
Often referred to as the Jewish Olympics because it is open to Jewish athletes from around the world, as well as to Israeli athletes of any faith, the Maccabiah World Games is held in Israel every four years.
The Maccabiah hosted 10,000 athletes ranging in age from 12 to 90. They came from 65 countries and competed in 3,000 events across 42 sports..
Ms. Auerbach was one of approximately 1,300 athletes on Team USA.
“Tennis was my whole life,” Ms. Auerbach said. “I started playing in tournaments at age nine.”
The daughter of Howard and Betty Pantirer Schwartz, who still live in Livingston, Ms. Auerbach attended Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union — now called the Golda Och Academy – and Newark Academy High School, which recently inducted her into its Hall of Fame.
Her national and international tournaments included the Junior U.S. Open. She gained a top 10 national ranking in singles, and a #1 national ranking in doubles.
Ms. Auerbach attended Wake Forest University on a full tennis scholarship. In her senior year, she was Wake Forest’s 2005 winner of the Atlantic Coast Conference Futures Program, which awarded her a job with Fox Sports in Orlando, Florida. Next, she worked as an associate director at ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut, and then earned a master’s in sports business at NYU.
After that, she switched gears and worked in the New York office of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, of which her grandfather and parents were founders. She married attorney Jon Auerbach and settled in Manhattan.
“Then I had my twins,” Ms. Auerbach said, referring to her now 9-year-old son and daughter. She also has a 5-year-old daughter and is a stay-at-home mom.
“The first few years after the children were born, I kept in shape and played tennis about once a week,” she said. “Then in January 2020 I started playing and training for the Maccabi Games.”
The JCC Maccabi Games is the annual national sporting event under the umbrella of international Jewish sports organization Maccabi World Union, which also organizes the Maccabiah.
“I had played Junior Maccabi at 16, and I won in both singles and doubles,” she said.
She had planned to attend the Maccabiah the summer she was 18, but elbow surgery ended that plan.
“So this was 21 years in the making,” she said of her participation in the 21st Maccabiah. “It was my goal and I made it happen. It was the first time I’ve played in an official competition since college.”
The preparation proved difficult during the pandemic; in fact, the games were supposed to have taken place last summer and got postponed. “It was hard,” Ms. Auerbach said. “I went through covid with my kids, but when they were in school, I got my tennis and my workouts in.”
Her determination to reach the Maccabiah was rooted in her feeling that “it is the real deal, an international meeting of the best Jewish players in the world, and I thought it would be an amazing experience.”
Her maternal grandparents, Lucy Pantirer of Livingston and the late Murray Pantirer, survived the Holocaust. Mr. Pantirer, who once presided over the UJA Federation of Union County, was among the approximately t 1,200 Jews saved by German industrialist Oskar Schindler.
“Israel was so important to my parents and grandparents,” Ms. Auerbach said. “I got bat mitzvahed in Israel, and so did my sister. It was an emotional and rewarding experience to represent my country in Israel at the Maccabiah.”
Her parents, who’d always traveled with her to tennis tourneys while she was growing up, came to Israel to watch their daughter best competitors from Switzerland, Chile, Israel, Argentina, and Brazil in singles and mixed doubles.
“As my husband, Howard, and I watched our daughter compete for team USA in the Jewish homeland, our hearts overflowed with unbelievable happiness and great nachas,” Betty Schwartz said.
“Cheering on Danielle as she played high-level tennis with a fierce determination to win gold, all I could think of is how excited my beloved dad would have been to be there. When twice it was announced, ‘The gold medal winner for the United States of America, Danielle Auerbach,’ it brought me to tears of indescribable joy.”
“This was a dream come true and we all got a little emotional at the awards ceremony,” Ms. Auerbach added.
“My mom’s parents went through the worst of humanity and survived and built a family here,” she continued. “My grandfather felt the USA was the greatest country, where you could work and be successful and choose to practice your religion freely … and at the same time he loved, loved, loved Israel. So this was an experience of a lifetime for me. It was an amazing, exhausting and special two weeks.”
Her husband flew to Israel to watch her first match and to attend the opening ceremony in Jerusalem before having to return for visiting day at their twins’ sleepaway camp.
Ms. Auerbach recalls the scene of 10,000 athletes walking into a stadium filled with 20,000 fans for the opening ceremony as “incredible and very moving.”
President Biden was there with Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Yair Lapid. “President Herzog went to Ramaz, which is the school where my kids go, so that was a pretty big deal for me,” Ms. Auerbach said.
Competition aside, the master’s and grand master’s tennis players in attendance bonded on and off the court and cheered each other on.
“A big bonding experience were the two Shabbat dinners we had together,” Ms. Auerbach said. “The Argentinians did kiddush and hamotzi, then took out guitars and sang Hebrew and Jewish songs. That was spectacular. We were a roomful of Jews who were also athletes, but the competition was set aside for a day, and everyone was just observing Shabbat together.”
At the award ceremony, she recalls, “everyone was hugging, and it turned into a big dance party.
“The competing was done.”