Wearing number 15, the privilege of competing for the United States at the Maccabiah Games propelled Sydney Bierwirth into a distinguished group of competitors primed to make history. Bringing strong leadership to the roster, simultaneously realizing the dream of gracing the ice in an international event, heritage was also an essential theme.
Among a group of over a dozen athletes from her home state of Michigan competing in the Maccabiah Games, Bierwirth, raised in Walled Lake, once graced the ice for Michigan State University. As a side note, teammate Jodi Berris also grew up in Michigan.
Having also built a brilliant career as an attorney in the state of Colorado, the opportunity to participate in the inaugural women’s ice hockey tournament at the Games encompassed many emotions. Perhaps no moment presented as much emotion as the opportunity to wear the iconic USA jersey for the first time.
“It had always been a dream of mine to wear a USA hockey jersey so I actually got a little emotional putting it on for the first time. I sort of just sat there and soaked in that moment because I not only knew how monumental it was for me on a personal level.
I also knew how monumental it would be for female and Jewish athletes in the future as we got ready to take the ice in the first ever women’s hockey game in the Maccabiah Games. So it was definitely an emotional and surreal moment for sure!”
Reflecting on a poignant moment, the essence of the historic tournament provided tremendous perspective. With a philosophical approach, the magnitude of the Maccabiah Games served as a unique parable of life. Gaining an appreciation for the experience, the opportunity to return to the ice allowed Bierwirth rejuvenation. Absorbing the sights, the magnitude of the overall atmosphere went beyond sport, displaying great wisdom in her reflections. .
“I cannot describe what it meant for me to be able to compete at the Maccabiah Games. When you are younger, everyone always tells you to enjoy every moment you can while you are playing because that time will end at some point.
Yet, you truly cannot understand what that will feel like until after you are done playing competitively. So going into this tournament, I told myself that I was going to just be present, take in and enjoy every single moment, and that I was going to leave everything I possibly could out on the ice.”
Appearing in the gold medal game, the milestone of a podium finish proved to be part of a much bigger story for Bierwirth. In the true spirit of sportsmanship, she found an appreciation in the enthusiasm of the fellow female hockey players representing both, Canada and Israel.
This shared enthusiasm led to an essential theme during Bierwirth’s coveted time is Israel. From the opportunity to introduce the female game to a larger audience in the Holy Land, to the spiritual connection achieved through faith, a sense of gratitude and unity defined her sentiments.
“After this experience, I feel an overwhelming sense of pride in my teammates, the Canadian and Israeli teams, and Israel. The Maccabiah Games are meant to connect Jewish athletes from all over the world through our common culture and love for sports.
There is no better way to embody that spirit than by bringing women’s ice hockey to Israel. What we were a part of this past month was truly ground-breaking for the sport and for the Jewish community, so I cannot express how grateful I am to have been just a small piece of that.”
For all the positive experiences that the Games represented, perhaps none emerged as poignant for an elated Bierwirth as the friends made. With a roster comprised of players from so many different age groups and competitive backgrounds, a quick training camp in Philadelphia resulted in numerous introductions.
The weeks spent in Israel served to strengthen the new friendships. Additionally, the sense of festivity and fellowship which emanated from the Opening Ceremonies proved equally essential, a realization that heritage and fellowship served as the cornerstone of a life defining milestone.
Undeniably, women’s ice hockey tournament was a wellspring of competitive interaction, made stronger by the presence of faith and sportsmanship. Quickly finding a second family, Bierwirth reflects on how rapidly the team bonded, setting an empowering tone.
“I would say the most enjoyable part of the Maccabiah Games was meeting this incredible group of girls we had. Going from total strangers with different backgrounds, viewpoints, and upbringings, to finding commonality stemming from our values and our love for hockey.
There was a moment at the Opening Ceremonies right as we were walking out of the tunnel and onto the stage where it set in for me (even more so after putting on the USA jersey for the first time). That we were a part of something much bigger than ourselves or ice hockey and I think that was the theme that carried on throughout the tournament for me.
Our team went from a group of 21 strangers (and our two coaches) who were all there for our various reasons, to this beautiful family who really just wanted to support each other and win for each other. I cannot tell you how special it feels to know that regardless of where we all end up in our lives, we will always be bonded in this experience together and that I will always have this little family cheering me on.”
Photographs by Senya Alman
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”