Seth Toporek knew it was time to visit Israel. Both his children, Zoe, 23, and Jack, 20, had been to the Holy Land not once but twice, while his close friend, Robert Alterman, had raved about his experience and another, Brian Seitz, had too.
So, when Toporek, an avid golfer who currently serves as president of Southeastern Mortgage Solutions, Inc., learned that there was an opportunity to compete in this year’s Maccabiah Games for the USA golf team in the “Masters” division (ages 50-65), he jumped at the chance.
More precisely, he flew down to West Palm Beach, Fla., last August to try out for team USA at the PGA National Golf Club, where, after a three-day competition in a soggy, inhospitable PGA course, the Sandy Springs resident cracked the Maccabiah roster, finishing fifth out of a field of 25 golfers.
Eleven months later, he was finally touching down in Israel.
“What an amazing two weeks!” Toporek exclaimed in reflecting upon his recent Maccabiah experience. “I was either playing golf and chilling with my teammates in the house that we rented or I was touring from sunup to sundown.”
Indeed, when Toporek wasn’t helping USA golf edge the Australians for the gold medal in the “Masters” division, he was visiting sites such as Mahane Yehuda Market and Yad Vashem or spending Shabbat at the Western Wall amidst visitors from all walks of life. There were also trips to Masada and the Dead Sea. And, of course, Tel Aviv.
Not to mention a high-level geopolitical discussion with renowned Israeli author Avi Melamed. But perhaps the experience that left him with the most indelible memory was a tour that put him within a tee shot of Syria.
“We had a Jeep tour up in the Golan Heights with an armed military guide who lived on the kibbutz,” Toporek recalls.
“We got to not only see the thriving citrus and other crops that the kibbutz was producing, but we went to the border with Syria. To be that close and to look into Syria, to hear what daily life is like so close to the border, to get a feel for the terrain. In one section, you had gorgeous citrus trees, apples, mangos, avocados, lemons, limes, oranges and peaches, and all kinds of things growing. And through a barbed wire fence on an adjoining piece of property there were landmines everywhere. It wasn’t the most comfortable feeling, but it was a very real experience.”
At times, Toporek says, the experience was more surreal, such as when he was filing into Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium during the opening ceremony in front of hundreds of American athletes and thousands of enthused fans, including his wife, Natalie, and their children. (While President Biden was in attendance, Toporek did not get to hear him speak.)
In one section, you had gorgeous citrus trees, apples, mangos, avocados, lemons, limes, oranges and peaches, and all kinds of things growing. And through a barbed wire fence on an adjoining piece of property there were landmines everywhere. It wasn’t the most comfortable feeling, but it was a very real experience.
As if the event wasn’t already meaningful enough, it wasn’t lost on anyone that it was merely a couple years ago, during the depths of the pandemic, that celebrating amid swarming crowds was simply unfathomable.
As for the golf, which was played under sweltering conditions, Toporek remains content with his personal performance overall — one that left him with a sixth-place finish in his division.
“After the first two days, I was disappointed, but not embarrassed,” says Toporek, who, at 57, believes he is playing some of the best golf of his life. “I would have given myself a C or a C minus. Day Three, I would give myself an A, or even an A+. And Day Four, I would give myself a B. So, I think overall, I would grade my performance B minus.
“I felt like I came through for the team, I came through for me. I think I hit the ball better than I scored every day. I wish my short game would have been a little better and I think I would have ultimately been very satisfied. I was definitely proud of my performance the last two days.”
Now that he is stateside again, Toporek has his sights set on playing in the U.S. Senior Amateur, a United States Golf Association event to be held at the Kittansett Club in Marion, Mass., at the end of August. In order to qualify, he will need to finish with a top-five score at the upcoming tryouts, held at the Druid Hills Country Club, in which over 100 players will be present.
It’s a tall order, for sure, but with his recent string of successes in senior tournaments (in the 2020 Georgia Senior Amateur Championship, he finished tied for 26th before tying for 9th place this past spring in the Georgia Senior Match Play Championship), it’s quite possible that Toporek could represent his home club, The Standard Club, in New England later this summer. (This past June, he won The Standard Club Championship for the first time since 2005.)
For now, he can take pride and having represented Sandy Springs on one of Israel’s most visible stages — even if it meant not getting to do everything that was on his ideal itinerary.
“I would like to go back,” Toporek says. “What I would rather do is maybe have an activity for a couple hours but immerse myself more into the way of life there.”
- Maccabiah Games
- David Ostrowsky
- Seth Toporek
- Holy Land
- Brian Seitz
- Robert Alterman
- Southeastern Mortgage Solutions
- West Palm Beach
- PGA National Golf Club
- Team USA
- Mahane Yehuda Market
- Yad Vashem
- Western Wall
- the Dead Sea.
- Golan Heights
- tel aviv
- Teddy stadium
- United States Golf Association
- Kittansett Club
- Druid Hills Country Club
- Georgia Senior Amateur Championship
- Georgia Senior Match Play Championship
- the Standard Club