Jane Katz

Jane Katz came home from Israel this year lugging unusual souvenirs: 13 medals from the 19th Maccabiah Games, including 11 for each of the Masters swimming events she entered, one silver for the medley relay she participated in as part of the U.S. team, and one gold for the women’s freestyle relay.

These souvenirs are not so unusual for Katz, however: The 70-year-old has swum in every Maccabiah Games since 1957, for a total of 14. This year was her most successful yet.

Born and raised on the Lower East Side, Katz learned to swim from her father, who gave lessons to local children. She was only 14 when she competed in her first Maccabiah Games, 56 years ago.

But Katz’s sportsmanship goes beyond the games held every four years. She has been teaching water fitness at the City University of New York since 1964 and is a professor at John Jay College in the department of physical education and athletics. In 2011, she was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Quietly and out of the spotlight, she has served as an ambassador for the Jewish people for more than half a century.

“As a person, I am proud to be of the Jewish faith. I am proud of my heritage,” she told the Forward in July. “I’m always talking about it, and I’m always talking about the Maccabiah Games… Hopefully it will create a more peaceful world. Sports are the common denominator. That’s what these games help to do.”

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