He’s an 80-year-old shoe designer, philanthropist – and competitive table tennis player – The Forward

RAANANA, ISRAEL — At a high school gymnasium here, an American wearing a coronavirus mask carried a plastic bag containing his wallet, cellphone and ping pong paddle while mingling with other players at the Maccabiah Games , the largest Jewish sporting event in the world .

His black sneakers were Skechers, not Stuart Weitzmans. The man, however, was Stuart Weitzman, the legendary women’s shoe designer who won fame and fortune with his designs and celebrity outfits for red carpet events.

Dressed in a black T-shirt and black shorts, he didn’t scream fashionista. He was just Stuart, the table tennis player, a brilliant man of nearly 81 years who was competing in his fourth consecutive Maccabiah in the over-60 category.

Two afternoons last week, a reporter observed Weitzman constantly on the move, very comfortable, reveling in those present. He trained with everyone available, played his matches, cheered on his teammates and met some familiar faces. He chatted with teenage players, a Mexican rabbi who had defeated him hours earlier, and a high school friend visiting Israel to watch his daughter play competitive tennis.

Stuart Weitzman at the 2022 Maccabiah Games in Israel.
Stuart Weitzman at the 2022 Maccabiah Games in Israel. Photo by Hillel Kuttler

Samuel Parasol, an Australian table tennis competitor has also retired from a career in women’s fashion, once mentioned to Weitzman about his son’s upcoming nuptials.

“Stuart said the bride can go to one of the [his] shops in Melbourne and choose what she would like” for the wedding, Parasol said. “It shows what a genuine, decent and caring guy he is.”

Players from Uruguay, Argentina, Mexico and Cuba appeared here to give Weitzman his greatest joy. He stopped them to converse in Spanish, a fluency acquired after spending so much time in Spain in his shoe factory – he set up ping-pong tables there for the workers – of his eponymous company. Spain is also home to two of Weitzman’s philanthropic projects: the preservation of the La Garma cave, an archaeological site dating back to the Paleolithic age, as well as helping to build a Spanish Jewish museum in Madrid.

Weitzman was impressed with the diversity of Jewish athletes at the Maccabiah Games. “Most can’t speak the same language – but they love each other,” Weitzman said from second-floor seats, surveying players of multiple nationalities practicing below. He held up a red T-shirt that a Cuban player had just traded to him.

“I saw a kid from Panama wearing tzitzis – fringe. I saw three girls from Argentina watching these three boys, basketball players. They were guys. They went out for a drink together. They all had about 18. It was so sweet, so wholesome to see.

A $5 million donation

Weitzman intends to bring young American athletes to the Maccabiah Games who otherwise could not afford the $8,000 entry fee.

He established a challenge-based grant last year: he will contribute $5 million to Maccabi USA, the American branch of the sports movement, if other donors contribute $3 million. About a third of the $8 million has been raised so far.

“I cashed that $2 million check in January. It was fun to do,” said Joel Roodyn, Maccabi USA’s endowment treasurer and Weitzman’s table tennis teammate, of the donation. Stage 1. Both Roodyn and Weitzman won bronze medals in the team competition here.

Roodyn said the initiative is “a game-changer for us” by allowing up to 300 Americans to compete at each Maccabiah based on need alone. Under the terms of the giveaway, up to 10% can be spent bringing non-US athletes to each Maccabiah, he added.

The donation grew out of “my love for” the event, Weitzman explained, tracing his sports fandom back to his childhood in the Kew Gardens neighborhood of Queens, NY, where he excelled at tennis and table tennis. (Weitzman still has the ball from the home run he caught on Bedford Avenue outside Ebbets Field, off Brooklyn Dodgers slugger Duke Snider.)

“I see what it does for kids around the world,” Weitzman said of the Maccabiah. “The challenge was just another way to get other people involved.”

Weitzman’s philanthropy includes rescuing the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia when banks were about to seize it, and endowing the school of design at the neighboring University of Pennsylvania, his alma mater. Both buildings now bear his name.

While dating Penn, Weitzman sketched women’s shoes for his friend’s father. The design was made, and seeing his creation in the window of the Fifth Avenue man’s store, Weitzman said, “was pretty exciting.”

“He liked it. I never looked back,” he said.

Weitzman took a look back on July 14. He was carrying the American flag, about to lead the 1,300-strong American delegation to Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium for the Maccabiah’s opening ceremony. He turned for one last look before the procession.

Seeing so many Americans behind him “was pretty cool,” he said.

Weitzman could return home before any of them. He said he plans to spend two or three months a year in Israel.

“All the guys go to Florida in the winter. After a while it gets boring,” said Weitzman, who lives with his wife, Jane, in Connecticut and Manhattan. The couple celebrated their 55th anniversary in Israel last week. “Israel beats Palm Beach. You feel at home. Plus, there’s sun, ocean, great restaurants, sports and culture galore. He has got everything. I love it.”

About Shirley Dickson

Check Also

How to style a baseball cap this summer

Baseball caps are iconic outerwear accessories, especially during the spring through fall baseball season. But …