Who the Folk?! Gary Notkin

Gary Notkin is one of ten tennis players in the U.S. selected to compete in the Maccabi Games, the “Jewish Olympics” being held this year in Chile.

Are your originally from the Twin Cities?

Yes, my family lived in St. Louis Park before eventually moving to Plymouth, MN.

You’re studying at South Dakota State University now. What’s your major?

I’m studying athletic training to be a physician’s assistant. I’m hoping to work with a sports medicine doctor, like an orthopedist.

You got picked to be one of only ten Americans to play tennis as part of the Maccabbi Games in Chile this year. That’s basically the “Jewish Olympics”?

The Maccabi Games are a worldwide athletic competition for Jewish people that encourages and fosters a sense of belonging to the Jewish people. It brings the best Jewish athletes from around the world to  compete and meet.

How did you find out about the games?

There was a guy I competed with at another university. I found out he was Jewish and we became friends. He got selected for the Maccabi games two years ago and I was like, “Oh cool, I’d like to do something like that too.” So I submitted all my rankings and tournament results and got in! Now, I just need to raise the money to go. I’m about 25 percent there. Donations welcome!

How did you get into tennis?

My mom took me to my first tennis lesson at five with a family friend and I’ve been playing ever since.

What do you hope to accomplish by participating?

I want to play my best tennis I’ve played since it’s the biggest competition I’ve ever played in. I want to represent my heritage and the Minnesota Jewish community. There’s not many Jewish tennis players in Minnesota, maybe one or two that play Division One (college level), besides me, from Minnesota in the last five years or so. It would also be really nice to meet new Jewish people that I can be friends with for the rest of my life. It will be something new to be surrounded by Jewish athletes.

Is it important for you to express your Jewish identity through sports?

I go to a university where there are not a lot of Jewish people and almost no Jewish athletes. But considering the fact that my grandfather was a holocaust survivor, and my grandma and parents are Russian immigrants, my Jewish identity and their Jewish history is really important to me. I’m proud to represent their story, too. When I am playing at the games, I’ll have them on my mind because I wouldn’t be who I am and where I am today without them.

What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?

Passover, just because we get together as a family. There’s a lot of good food, too.

What’s your favorite Jewish food?

Matzo ball soup! The way my mom and aunt make it is the best.

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