When she first entered college, Shira Rosenblum had no intention of taking up archery. Instead, she tried out for Brandeis’s a cappella groups. She didn’t get in. Next, she applied to be a Resident Advisor. She was rejected. The following year, she heard that the campus archery club was meeting in her building. Having dabbled in the sport as a kid, she decided to drop by. The coach told her that there were no tryouts and anyone could just walk on to the team. This proved appealing. “I thought: great, no tryouts, they can’t tell me I can’t come, and I just started going,” Rosenblum recalled. She convinced the team to ensure that she never had to shoot on Shabbat for practices or tournaments, put in 12 hours a week, and began competing.
Fast-forward to 2017 and Rosenblum, now an ordained Conservative rabbi, is serving as the entire U.S. archery team in Israel’s Maccabiah, the quadrennial Jewish Olympics which began on July 6.
This year’s American delegation to the Maccabiah is its largest ever, with over 1,100 participants, second only to the Israelis. But the team has only one archer. Rosenblum—who has taught archery at Camp Ramah in the Rockies, was previously the #2 ranked archer in Massachusetts, and this year came in 4th in the New York State championship—is representing America alone. (Those teams with only one member for a given sport compete in all the individual events, while skipping the team ones.)
This is only the second year that the Maccabiah has included archery, but it is not the first time Rosenblum has honed her skills in the Holy Land. During her year in Israel while in rabbinical school, she happened upon the Jerusalem archery club, which graciously permitted her to use their facilities and equipment. At the time, the U.S. wasn’t fielding an archery team in the Maccabiah, but that would soon change.
Rosenblum has dealt with some unexpected adversity at this year’s competition, but it hasn’t come from her opponents. When she arrived, she discovered that her arrows were melting—specifically, the rear ends. Though largely comprised of carbon, outdoor arrows use rubber vanes on the back (instead of feathers) to help them fly. Thanks to the searing temperature, however, “mine got warped,” she said. Fortunately, her Israeli counterparts stepped in to help. “One of the Israeli men said, ‘we can fix this for you,'” Rosenblum recounted. “He took them to his home … and put new vanes on made of a different material.” He didn’t charge her for the labor, just the new materials. It’s of a piece with the camaraderie that pervades the competition. “Everybody helps each other out,” she said. Rosenblum even met another archer studying to be a rabbi, one of her female Argentinian competitors.
The Maccabiah has thrown a few other curveballs as well. For one, Israel uses a target shaped more like a traffic light than a traditional bulls-eye for short distance contests. (Competitors are tasked with getting one arrow into each light, rather than aiming solely for the center.) For another, the competition takes place entirely outdoors, while Rosenblum has always competed indoors, due to the outdoor tournaments falling out on Shabbat. “The wind is a factor, the heat is definitely a factor,” she explained in detailing the differences.
Upon her return, Rosenblum will be taking up a rabbinic posting in Jacksonville, Florida. But for now, she’s just enjoying the Maccabiah experience. “There’s no one type of Jew who comes to the Maccabiah,” she said. “It’s nice that I can be who I am.”