Seniors Griffin Epstein and Evan Kamikow credit the multitude of opportunities they have sought out at Indiana University Bloomington for preparing them for their latest adventure: They journeyed to Israel in July to broadcast the 21st Maccabiah, the world’s third largest sporting event, where they grew as storytellers and connected with their Jewish heritage.
The Maccabiah is an international Jewish and Israeli sports competition open to Jewish athletes from across the globe every four years. Israelis are welcome to compete regardless of their ethnicity or religion.
The United States delegation, Maccabi USA, created its first media program at this year’s games. Fourteen American sports broadcasting students were selected to travel to Israel with the athletes, including Epstein and Kamikow.
The 2022 games opened with a Parade of Nations, with more than 10,000 athletes marching through Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium during the opening ceremonies. United States President Joe Biden, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Israeli President Isaac Herzog were among the spectators that evening.
Epstein and Kamikow, who are both studying sports media in The Media School at IU Bloomington, said they felt prepared for the extensive coverage of the Maccabiah.
“It’s the opportunities that you have at IU that really prepare you, and if you take full ownership of those opportunities you can be very successful,” Kamikow said.
Epstein traveled far from his home in the San Francisco Bay area to attend IU, and he said it was worth it. By the time he graduates in 2023, he will have an extensive resume of broadcast experience, including serving as sports director of WIUX, IU’s student radio station, and calling play-by-play and color analysis for Big Ten Plus through IU’s Big Ten Network Student U Program.
He also does radio play-by-play of Indiana baseball on the Indiana Hoosiers Sports Network, and he is a multimedia journalist with The Hoosier Network. Epstein nailed down a summer job in 2021 as the TV broadcaster for the Wisconsin Rapid Rafters, part of the Northwoods League Baseball Network.
Kamikow, a New Jersey native, also conducts broadcasts for Big Ten games. In addition, he serves as co-director of the IU Student Television sports department. He is host and producer of the IUSTV sports show “The Toss Up,” a topical show with a rotating set of student panelists who discuss IU and pro league sports weekly.
“The second you walk into The Media School, you’re able to gain experience from the jump,” Kamikow said. “From day one you can start learning how to be a reporter. I think having the ability to do that at such a quick pace, versus a school like Syracuse or Northwestern where it might take you a couple of years to get that experience, is really beneficial.”
Kamikow and Epstein share a passion for sports and travel. Traveling to Israel was a first for both of them, and they had the opportunity to connect with their Jewish heritage within a community of fellow sports enthusiasts and athletes.
“I think sports have the ability to connect people and make the world a better place,” Epstein said. “It’s exciting to be among people that share a similar heritage and culture and religion.”
Rabbi Sue Laikin Silberberg, executive director of IU Hillel, said that visiting Israel can be the one time in many Jewish students’ lives where they don’t feel like they are in the minority.
“Israel is very diverse and has Jews and non-Jews as well, but the majority of Israel is Jewish,” Silberberg said. “In many Jews’ lives to feel as though they’re not a minority is really powerful.”
IU Hillel is monikered “the Jewish home away from home” and serves approximately 4,000 Jewish students at IU Bloomington. The IU Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs partnered with IU Hillel in 2022 to open a Jewish Cultural Center.
“We’re here for all students on campus who want to learn what Judaism is, and for Jewish students we want to provide a place where they can come socialize,” Silberberg said.
Each Sunday at IU Hillel, students can attend “Sports Grill” to watch televised sporting events and enjoy a meal together. A wall inside the center is dedicated to Jewish athletes who are IU alumni, including swimmer Mark Spitz, who won nine Olympic gold medals after training with legendary swim coach Doc Councilman at IU. Spitz’s first international competition was at the 1965 Maccabiah, where he won four gold medals and was named most outstanding athlete.
Kamikow said it was a great experience to be part of a cultural event in Israel where he could meet Jews from around the world.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” he said. “I’d never been to Israel before, so to be able to see all the sights and then cover an Olympics-level event was truly cool. My favorite moments were doing play-by-play for the men’s hockey gold medal game and then being on sideline for the men’s basketball gold medal game. The U.S. won gold in both of those events.”
Epstein and Kamikow often worked 12- to 14-hour days while in Israel covering the games.
“We were working with people from different countries, so there was a language barrier,” Epstein said. “We were researching and figuring out their culture and customs. It was definitely complex and at times very challenging and difficult, but I think rewarding.”
Epstein and Kamikow said the experience they gained at the Maccabiah will stay with them for years to come as they embark on their chosen endeavors in the classroom and beyond.
“There were many moments I’ll remember, and it all helped me improve and grow as a storyteller,” Kamikow said.