By: Zakkai Notkin  | 

Meet the YU Student Who Won Three Medals at the 2022 Maccabiah Games

I first became acquainted with Jacobo Vahnish (SSSB ‘24) when we were in a finance course together, and was unaware of his table tennis stardom. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw him in Israel over the summer, and asked him the purpose of his visit. In his usual easygoing fashion, he told me he had just finished competing in the Maccabiah Games. After a brief conversation, I inquired as to his results in the tournament, and only then did he inform me that he had won three medals, adding modestly that the competition was very tough.

Jacobo won the bronze medals in the Teams, Men's Doubles, and Mixed Doubles table tennis tournament at the 21st Maccabiah Games held over the summer. This follows his already impressive string of victories, including four Latin American and five Central American championship victories in various youth divisions, and most recently the New York State Championship. As a proudly Modern Orthodox Panamanian Israeli, he has been the subject of international headlines. 

While I am unfamiliar with the world of table tennis, I was able to watch a video of him playing, and was struck by the incredible intensity and ferocity of his game, making shots that mere mortals like myself who play on basement tables can barely dream of.

Later, Jacobo agreed to speak with me so I could learn more about him and his success in table tennis. He explained to me that his mother introduced him to the sport by buying him a table, and after taking some classes, he began to succeed playing competitively. Eventually, he decided that in order to take his game to the next level, he would have to go to China, the table tennis center of the world, to train. After many weeks, he returned to a string of championship victories in the under 11, under 13, under 15, under 17 and under 19 Central American and Latin American tournaments. He credits much of his success to his mother, who, in addition to introducing him to the sport, has traveled with him every step of the way, maintaining their Orthodox lifestyle in every conceivable environment, including mainland China, which is no easy feat. 

Continuing on a religious vein, Jacobo persistently thanked G-d throughout our conversation for the many blessings and achievements He has granted him. It was a desire to live in a Jewish environment that drew him to Yeshiva University, which he called "the best decision I ever made." This emphasis on Jewish solidarity also applied to the Maccabiah Games, where, despite the intense completion, "at the end of the day, it feels like we are all really on the same team." 

Looking to the future, Jacobo wants to maintain his current level, despite practicing less due to schoolwork. He still managed to take home gold at the New York State open Tournament this past spring, and is open to starting a table tennis team at the school, but Sabbath observance makes most tournaments difficult. He is also hoping that his high intensity table tennis will translate somewhat to the high intensity world of finance.

Asking him if he had advice for any young stars out there, he replied, "Take all the opportunities that Hashem gives you, in sports and in other things, but remember to focus on the important things, like family… Then Hashem will help you succeed."

Overall, Jacobo can serve as inspiration to all of us who value our religious lifestyle while maintaining high aspirations in every endeavor we find ourselves in. I wish him only success going forward.

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Photo Caption: Jacobo Vahnish (SSSB ‘24) competing in a table tennis tournament 

Photo Credit: Jacobo Vahnish