The Marcus JCC is quite busy this month making final preparations for the upcoming JCC Maccabi Games, Atlanta’s first time hosting the games since 2001. There’s no better way to kick off historic games than with a unique and meaningful opening ceremony.
It is “really the beginning of the whole games,” said Libby Hertz, co-chair of the 2019 JCC Maccabi Games. “It’s the big kickoff event. It’s amazing because the whole community is invited to it.”
Hertz noted that most of the other events and competitions are only for participants. The opening ceremonies are “where we light the torch. The athletes and spectators will take an oath to participate in good sportsmanship; it’s a very special event.”
With acts like Atlanta singer Angelica Hale and Olympic skater Adam Rippon performing, the ceremony is sure to entertain some 2,000 Jewish athletes and many members of the metro Atlanta Jewish community.
“Angelica Hale was a good choice because she’s from Atlanta, and she’s well known by a lot of the kids who watch ‘America’s Got Talent,’ and I think that she’s got an incredible voice and an incredible story, so I’m excited about her,” said Stacie Francombe, the 2019 JCC Maccabi Games director.
For those not familiar with her story, 11-year-old Hale competed on ‘America’s Got Talent’ and is known for overcoming multiple organ failures and septic shock as a result of bacterial pneumonia at a very young age. She found hope despite her health challenges.
Of the other guests, Francombe added, “Adam Rippon recently spoke at a BBYO convention in Denver and his message just kind of resonated with the kids, and the message of inclusion and bringing everybody communitywide together.”
Spectators will also be able to watch an Olympic-style parade of athletes, with each delegation marching behind a banner that shows its community. Besides entertaining the athletes and spectators, the opening ceremonies serve a greater purpose of showcasing the importance of Jewish communities.
“I think that it’s a mixture of things,” Francombe said. “It’s a welcome to Atlanta and after 18 years we’re finally welcoming everybody back to our city. It’s embracing the city of Atlanta, but also Jewish Atlanta, and I think it’s a combination of a moment where every athlete looks around and says, ‘Oh my gosh, look at all these Jewish kids that are all here to play sports.’ I think that there’s Jewish pride in that, and also [it] just embodies all of the values that Maccabi brings to the athletes, coaches and delegation heads.”
The opening ceremony also includes a tribute to the Munich 11, honoring the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches that were massacred during the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich, Germany.
This tribute happens at every opening ceremony, but the Atlanta Games hope to stand out with a touching tribute using sand artist and Atlanta native Joe Castillo to tell the story of the 11 athletes.
Hertz explained that the tribute is important because it shows the young athletes how much the Jewish community has overcome over the years, and how amazing it is for them to be playing sports with all these other Jewish athletes.
“We’re really excited about what he’s bringing to the program,” Francombe said. “Munich 11 is obviously a sad memorial time, and we want these kids to learn from Munich 11, and to take away a message of remembering what had happened and that it might be a really long time ago, and the footage might be in black and white, but it still is relevant to these athletes because it’s about Israelis and people who were Jewish and they were targeted because of their religion, so we want people to remember that that happened.”
The opening ceremonies will also include prize giveaways, a performance from the Atlanta Drum Academy, and lots of community involvement. They will take place at 7 p.m. Sunday, July 28, at Ameris Bank Amphitheatre and are free and open to the public, although tickets must be reserved online at www.atlmaccabi2019.org/opening-ceremonies.