A bittersweet return: Following in his father's footsteps

Greg Small died in a tragic accident at the 1997 Maccabiah; his son Josh returns this year on Australia's 10-pin bowling team.

josh small 248.88 (photo credit: Henry Benjamin)
josh small 248.88
(photo credit: Henry Benjamin)
They were watching the news on TV when they found out. Seven-year-old Joshua Small and his younger sister Rebecca were staying with an aunt in Queensland, Australia, for a few weeks. Their parents, Greg and Suzanne Small, were in Israel for the Maccabiah Games. Greg was scheduled to play in his very first Maccabiah. He was one of the top players on the Maccabi Team Australia 10-pin bowling team. Suzanne was there as the men's bowling team manager. But before the games, tragedy struck the Australian delegation. As they crossed Tel Aviv's Yarkon River on their way to the Maccabiah's opening ceremony in a stadium in Ramat Gan, the makeshift bridge collapsed. Two people died at the scene. Greg, 37, was one of them. From the hospital, Suzanne, who was injured, called her sister-in-law in Australia. She asked her not to tell the children, but her sister-in-law said they had already seen it on the news. Before he knew it, Small was on a plane from Queensland to his home in Sydney. From there, it was all a blur - his mom in a wheelchair, his house full of family and friends, visiting with the Jewish Burial Society and being told he would need to say Kaddish for his father for a year. On July 14, 1997, young Joshua Small lost his father in the 15th Maccabiah Games. Twelve years later, the 19-year-old is coming to Israel for the 18th Maccabiah. He, like his father, is on Australia's 10-pin bowling team. Small said he sees this chance - his first crack at the Maccabiah - as the unique opportunity to play the game his father never had the chance to play. "This is something - since 1997 - I've always wanted to achieve," Small told The Jerusalem Post last week. It was late last year, when he was told he would participate in the upcoming Maccabiah, that Small learned his dream would become a reality. "I was speechless," said Small. "A thousand emotions at once - joy, happiness, crying as well." Bowling has always been a large part of Small's life. His father used to go to the bowling alley every weekend, and Small tagged along. "I began as a toddler in a pram," Small remembered. The family celebrated Small's fourth birthday at a bowling rink. When Small was about five years old, his mother, Suzanne, started a Tiny Tots youth bowling league in Sydney. Small began to get more serious about bowling when he was 14. His mother arranged a coach for him - the very same man who had coached his father. Over the next few years, Small secured four Maccabi Junior Jewish titles. In mid-2008, he won the Maccabi Australian Jewish Open. That victory, Small said, helped cement his placement in this year's Maccabiah team. Small's mother and sister plan to accompany him to the Maccabiah as spectators. The three of them came to the last Maccabiah Games in 2005 for a memorial service. This time, Small will attend as a first-time competitor. It will also be the first time Small competes in a tournament in his own uniform. Usually, in tribute to his father, he wears Greg's Maccabiah uniform when he bowls in tournaments. "I feel different when I wear it - more of a sense of pride," Small said. Even though bowling was such a big part of their lives, Small remembers his father for other things, as well. Greg used to coach his son's Maccabi soccer team. Small remembered their Friday night family dinners fondly. People always say that Small's hand gestures are the same as his father's. And Small loves how everyone in the community always tells him how well-known and respected his father was. As the Maccabiah approaches, the fact that Small is actually going to play is sinking in. "I'm starting to get a little more excited and a bit teary-eyed," Small said. "I want to finish what my dad started."