For as long as he could remember, Justyn Levin had been a tennis player—and a good one, too. He had been competing internationally since he was a teenager, even winning a bronze medal for Australia at the 2013 Maccabiah Games. In 2015, at the age of 18, he signed a four-year contract with the University of Minnesota.
While he was thrilled to be playing tennis for one of the NCAA’s Division I member teams, once enrolled, what Justyn really wanted was to attend the university’s prestigious Carlson School of Management. He had planned to study business, marketing, and sports management, but the application deadline had already passed.
Justyn shrugged off the disappointment. He had a successful season as a freshman, even reaching the finals in one competition. Then he applied to Carlson again, but this time his grades were taken into account. Carlson was highly selective, and Justyn didn’t make the cut. Sophomore year would be his last chance to apply.
“Don’t get your hopes up,” his father cautioned. “You’re good, but they only accept 19 percent of all applicants.”
Justyn labored over his application, trying to produce a personal statement that would convey his goals and dreams. As a competitive athlete, he’d had plenty of unique experiences—but an entirely different one had put his life in perspective.
He had been a lighthearted 15-year-old kid when he was invited to compete at the International Tennis Federation tournament in Riga, Latvia. His father’s family was originally from Latvia; his mother had lived in a small village called Subata. Luckily, she and her parents had left Latvia a few years before World War II broke out. In 1941, the Jews of Subata had been rounded up and massacred, buried in a mass grave just outside the town limits. Among the murdered were Justyn’s great-great-grandparents and their children, along with other relatives he would never know.
Now he would be visiting Latvia. He was too young, too flippant, to appreciate what that meant, but his father insisted that he visit the place where his ancestors had lived. He called Justyn’s coach and asked him to take his son to Subata, four hours from Riga.