Alumna Profile Josie Berman, Heilicher (‘12): Maccabiah Athlete

As a young person swimming with the Rays Swim Team at the Sabes Jewish Community Center, Josie Berman never imagined having the opportunity to represent her country in an international athletic competition. This past summer, however, Josie had the opportunity to do just that, competing as a member of the USA Water Polo Team at the 2017 Maccabiah Games in Israel (often referred to as the “Jewish Olympics”). 

For Josie, swimming was a passion that began at a young age. “I started swimming competitively when I was at HMJDS because a bunch of my friends were on the Sabes JCC swim team,” she says. “I absolutely fell in love with it.” 

In middle school, Josie transferred to the Phoenix Swim Club, where she swam throughout high school. Now, Josie is a sophomore at Ithaca College in upstate New York, where she competes on the varsity swim team.

During her freshman year at Ithaca, Josie was thrilled to be approached to be part of the USA Water Polo Team at the 2017 Maccabiah Games. She first trained with the water polo team at nearby Cornell University and flew to Israel in the summer of 2017 to meet and train with American Jewish athletes from throughout the country. 

“It was so intense,” recalls Josie. “We were in Israel training for two weeks. During the second week, we participated in the Israel Connect program, where we would tour Israel throughout the day between rigorous morning and evening training sessions.” 

And the hard work paid off. The USA team beat Hungary’s team to win a Silver Medal - a victory in which Josie takes great pride.

In addition to swimming and water polo, Josie is involved in many different Jewish activities at Ithaca College. She is the Communications Director for Hillel and the President of J Street U. She attends Shabbat dinner every Friday at Chabad and is involved with the “Challah for Hunger” program through which students make challot to sell and donate the funds to food shelters. 

Josie graduated from Heilicher in 2012 and cites her experiences at the school as key in shaping her Jewish identity. “I don't think I'd be this involved with Jewish activities if I hadn't grown up going to Jewish day school,” says Josie. “My closest friends are Jewish. I even wanted to stay at HMJDS past eighth grade; I remember telling Ms. Becker that I wanted her to teach me in high school!” 

Josie’s advice for young Jewish athletes? “I recommend everyone participate in the JCC Maccabi Games [a North American Olympic-style sporting event for Jewish teens from around the world]. I swam at the Maccabi Games in Detroit in 2014, and at the European Maccabi Games in Berlin in 2015. It's a great way to get involved.”

With a major in integrated marketing and communications,  Josie’s dream is to work for Disney in the future. Given her perseverance both in and out of the pool, she is sure to achieve her goals.

Heilicher Alumna Josie Berman (third from right) tasting silver with her 2017 USA Water Polo Team at the Maccabiah Games

Heilicher Alumna Josie Berman (third from right) tasting silver with her 2017 USA Water Polo Team at the Maccabiah Games

  • Alumni

More Posts

Teacher Reflections on Racial Justice Work at Heilicher

“You are not obligated to complete the task, but neither are you free to withdraw from it.”

This is one of our school’s core values, and for me, it describes the challenge of teaching our students to be thoughtful, ethical citizens who take action for social justice. Not long after George Floyd was killed in May 2020, two Heilicher fourth graders spoke at the school’s annual meeting. They challenged our school to take a more active role in combating racism and working for justice. This was a powerful and inspiring call to action.


Chanukah is here!  The great miracle of the oil! The crushing victory of the Maccabees! The reality of the original Chanukah story played out much like the lead-up to our recent election, only then it was a fight for the soul of Judaism, or at least it felt that way. Some Jews living under Greek rule (165 BCE) loved the Greek traditions and wanted to embrace them. Some felt that if Jews embraced any of them, it would lead to the end of Judaism.The stakes felt that high, and eventually it was the Jews who engaged in their own civil war over the future of Judaism;  Did Jews have to refrain from all Greek customs?