Let The Games Return: JCC Maccabi Games Return and More Than 1600 Jewish Teens | Shalom Austin

Let The Games Return: JCC Maccabi Games Return and More Than 1600 Jewish Teens

The Jewish Outlook

Sep 2, 2022

Shalom Austin JCC 14U basketball team at the 2022 Maccabi Games in San Diego, California. Courtesy: Mark Pattis

By: Mark Pattis, Shalom Austin JCC Senior Health and Wellness Director 

In 2019, after an incredible week of JCC Maccabi Games held in Detroit, Michigan, the fireworks from closing ceremonies stopped and sights were set on the 2020 host community, San Diego, California! Things didn’t go as planned in the year 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and towards the end of March 2020, the unimaginable decision to cancel the games was the only option. Fast-forward to 2022, after a two-summer hiatus, the JCC Maccabi Games returned, in a big way, to San Diego, California to celebrate its 40-year anniversary. 

The week-long event that has positively impacted Jewish teens dating back to 1982, picked up right where it left off, full of spirited competition, Jewish connection, and rachmanus (compassion). 

Each year, teens ages 13-16 participate in what can be described as the Jewish youth Olympics. Throughout the week, teens compete in a variety of sports, attend evening activities, meet Jewish teens from across the globe, and become immersed in the host community. It is a “Jewish people-hood” event with sports as the convener. 

This summer, Team Austin was one of 57 delegations throughout North America to attend. The Austin Jewish community was represented by 26 athletes and six coaches/ chaperones from the Shalom Austin J. Of the 26 athletes, all but one participated for the first time this summer in San Diego, California. Team Austin competed in 14U boys basketball, flag football, soccer, and tennis. The flag football and soccer players joined mixed teams and had the unique opportunity of competing with teens from many different cities to make up a full team. 

Ben Waisman, flag football athlete said, “Maccabi was an amazing experience. From opening ceremonies to when we got on the plane to leave San Diego, there was always something to do and places to go, even when we fell short in the tournament. I made some great friends from other cities and even other countries through my mixed team and participating in other Maccabi activities.” 

The tennis players were led by their coach and Shalom Austin J Director of Tennis James Russell. This was Russell’s first time attending JCC Maccabi. When asked about his experience, Russell said, “It was an amazing experience. I was blown away by the level of sportsmanship, competition, and the evolution of lifelong connections. It is an incredible opportunity that I never knew existed and I can’t wait to go again.” 

Among the many accomplishments, 14U Girls Tennis player Mia Vaisman took home the bronze medal in the competitive division after beating a strong participant from LA Westside 2 sets to 0. “I had the most amazing time at the Maccabi Games,” said Vaisman. “It was so much fun to connect and compete with other Jewish athletes and seeing the community come together for such a big event!” 

The 14U Boys Basketball team, led by coach Wayne Pappert, included athletes Ben Burris, Levi Cukierman, Zev Gisser, Etai Klein, Jack Levy, Roman Lubetzky, Griffin Nebrat, Avi Rappaport, Shia Stickler and Dov Stickler. The team clawed their way to a bronze medal in a 39-37 win over Cleveland. 

“It was really exciting to win the bronze, especially in such a close game. Having the game come down to the final play just made it feel better to win it,” said Cukierman. The basketball team faced some stiff competition in their regular season games including Atlanta, LA Westside, Baltimore and Greater Washington. 

A medal that arguably exceeds any medal at JCC Maccabi is the coveted “Midot Medal” which is given to an athlete or team that represents the six values of JCC Maccabi which are, Tikkun Olam (repairing the world), Kavod (respect), Rina (joy), Ga’ava (pride), Lev Tov (big-hearted) and Amiut Yehudit (Jewish peoplehood). This year, Amelie Kentor, a 16U girls tennis player, received a Midot Medal. After competing at a high level and falling just short multiple times, Kentor showed up to each match, activity, and to her host family with enthusiasm, a positive attitude and a sense of gratitude. While winning was important to her, being a competitor, teammate, friend and ambassador to the delegation far exceeded winning. “I came to Maccabi not to win, but rather to improve in a sport that I love and to make friends. Whether that was with my opponents on the court or at the nightly activities, I’m happy to say I accomplished this and had a blast,” said Kentor. “Amelie represented everything that made JCC Maccabi special, and we are lucky to have her as part of our delegation,” said Russell. 

It was a special return to JCC Maccabi for the 26 Austin athletes. They played hard on the field and leaned into all the intangibles that make the week so special. 

This summer was the first summer of a three-year pilot, where JCC Maccabi Access, a JCC Maccabi Games experience for athletes with intellectual and developmental disabilities, was introduced as part of the games. Austin’s flag football team was led by Coach/Assistant Delegation Head Aron Waisman who organized an opportunity for the Austin team to cheer on the Access athletes and interact with them in between games. This demonstrates how the JCC Maccabi experience is far greater than the on-field competition. It is an opportunity for teens in the Jewish community to grow as athletes, as people and to represent the Jewish community to the rest of the world. 

Next year, JCC Maccabi will be held in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida from August 6-11, 2023 and in Israel from July 5-25, 2023. To learn more contact Brooks Weaver at brooks. weaver@shalomaustin.org. 

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