JCC Maccabi Games Invest in Jewish Engagement
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OpinionFrom Where I Sit

JCC Maccabi Games Invest in Jewish Engagement

The heat in Houston during the JCC Maccabi Games in August 2007 was oppressive. Dave Schechter checked weather records to confirm that memory.

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

The heat in Houston during the JCC Maccabi Games in August 2007 was oppressive. I checked weather records to confirm that memory. Indeed, high temperatures that week were in the mid to high 90s.

For the teens playing soccer, the blazing sun was as much a challenge as the opposing team. At least, the teams could retreat to a tent during breaks in play.

For parents, especially one who brought an 8-year-old younger brother to watch his 16-year-old sister and 14-year-old brother play for Team Atlanta, there was little respite.

We made frequent trips inside the Emery/Weiner School, where basketball was being played in air-conditioned comfort. And the kid raided coolers stocked with sports drinks on the sidelines of his siblings’ games.

That was the beginning of our family’s JCC Maccabi Games experience.

The older brother next competed in the 2008 JCC Maccabi Games in San Diego. It was through the JCC games that we learned about Maccabi USA, a separate organization, which led to his playing for U.S. junior teams at the quadrennial Maccabiah Games in Israel and at Pan American Maccabi Games in Argentina and Brazil.

When the younger brother became age-eligible (12- to 16-years-old) for the JCC Maccabi Games, he traveled to Memphis in 2012; Austin in 2013 (a hip injury suffered before the games kept him on the sidelines, despite pleas to his coach); Boca Raton in 2014 (missing a week of school so that his grandparents could see him play); and Dallas in 2015. On the occasions when Atlanta did not field a soccer team, he was attached to squads from other cities.

In each of these cities, our children stayed in the homes of families who opened their doors to JCC Maccabi Games competitors. We met the families in Houston, Memphis, and Boca Raton, and phoned and emailed with the others. All were effusive about the opportunity to be part of the Games. It’s always nice to hear that your child has been a well-behaved house guest.

The JCC Maccabi Games opening ceremony is Olympic-style, with delegations entering behind signs identifying their home city. There is entertainment and there are speeches and dignitaries. In Houston, the surprise introduction of Mark Spitz, winner of seven Olympic gold medals in swimming at the 1972 Olympics in Munich – and the father of a JCC Games participant – brought a standing ovation. In Memphis, then-University of Memphis men’s basketball coach Josh Pastner – now at Georgia Tech – asked if there was anyone 6-foot-9 or taller in the room.

Now it’s Atlanta’s turn, from July 28-Aug. 2, to open its doors to some 1,100 out-of-town house guests – many staying in the homes of the 590 members of Team Atlanta.

In the past year, I’ve written several stories about planning for the JCC Maccabi Games, including one in this week’s issue. Each has repeated basic information: the number of participants; the 13 sports and related activities; the need for volunteers and host families; the planning for traffic, weather, injuries, and security.

These are the first JCC Maccabi Games since Pittsburgh and Poway. Security is why the games’ organizers asked that venues other than the Marcus JCC and the Marist School not be named. Given events in the past year, the abundant security I observed in Houston, Memphis and Boca Raton will be no less in Atlanta, and likely greater. For those who attend the games, there will be security you see and security measures that you don’t.

Stacie Francombe, executive director of the Atlanta games, exudes confidence that Atlanta will put on a JCC Maccabi Games like none before, raising the bar for the cities that follow. (A second, more arts-focused JCC Maccabi Games, is scheduled for Detroit a week later.)

After our youngest returned from the 102-degree heat in Dallas, I wrote about our children’s JCC Maccabi Games experience. We sent them, I said, because in their daily lives they are part of a minority religion and culture. We sent them because we felt that a week spent with other Jewish teens was worth the financial cost.

The Jewish community divides itself into numerous constituencies. For the next week, this year in Atlanta, some 1,700 Jewish youth will come together for competition and camaraderie. That alone makes the JCC Maccabi Games a worthy investment. ■

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