Team Austin Shines at the 2023 JCC Maccabi Games and Access in Fort Lauderdale and Israel
Flag Football team after winning the Gold Medal. Credit: Aron Waisman
By Brooks Weaver
As sports writer Grantland Rice once said, “For when the great scorer comes to write against your name, he marks not that you won or lost but how you played the game”. That’s the true spirit of the JCC Maccabi Games and Access, and a message echoed throughout the week by Team Austin’s coaches. The JCC Maccabi Games are an Olympic-style sporting event for Jewish teens ages 12-16 years old, and they’re about much more than that. The sports serve as a spark to ignite Jewish pride and identity amongst the athletes and provide an opportunity for them to develop lifelong friendships with Jewish peers from around the world. That’s exactly what happened in Fort Lauderdale and Israel for the 38 kids representing the greater Austin community.
This year there were two sets of games – Israel, July 5-25 and Fort Lauderdale, August 6-11. The games in Fort Lauderdale were the traditional set of games where all athletes stayed with families in the host community and the Israel games consisted of a three-week immersive experience that allowed the teens to experience Israel through the lens of sport. Team Austin had 34 athletes in Fort Lauderdale and four in Israel.
Stella Scheindlin said about the Israel games, “I loved traveling to Israel. I made so many friends from all over and never realized how much I would love playing sports with all Jews. The games were so fun and rewarding.”
Amongst those at the Fort Lauderdale games were 21 athletes participating in second year of JCC Maccabi Access, a JCC Maccabi Games experience for Jewish athletes with intellectual and developmental disabilities. While the Austin delegation did not participate in the Access program this year, they are hopeful to bring this experience to the community in 2024.
Team Austin was just one of 64 delegations in Fort Lauderdale, including delegations from Canada, Great Britain, Argentina, South Africa, Ukraine and Israel, altogether comprising of nearly 2,000 athletes. Team Austin competed in basketball, flag football, tennis, swimming,
soccer and had a Star Reporter. The Star Reporter program provides coverage of many of the events at the games and gives participants an opportunity to learn first-hand from those in the media industry. The flag football and boys’ basketball team were “full” teams, consisting of athletes all from Austin. The girls’ basketball team, boys’ soccer team, and boys’ 3 vs. 3 basketball team were “mixed” teams which combine athletes from delegations to form teams to compete.
The mixed teams combined with teens from California, Canada, Carolina, Miami, and Pittsburgh. Mixed teams are an exciting part of the games that not only allow the athletes to compete against Jewish teens from all over the world, but to compete together alongside them on the same team.
Austin coaches say they are proud of the way the athletes represented the Austin community. They even brought home a few medals including gold in flag football, bronze in tennis (Mia Vaisman and Ava Miller) and silver in swimming (Ben Britva). More importantly, the athletes brought home friendships, memories and a deeper connection to Judaism that they’ll cherish forever.
Mia Vaisman, tennis player, said, “The games are special because you feel an instant connection with the people around you, because you’re all Jewish, and that’s something you don’t get at other sporting events.”
Gold, silver, and bronze are not the only medals awarded at JCC Maccabi. Austin delegation 14U soccer player, Ben Lown was awarded the prestigious “Midot Medal” for representing the six values of JCC Maccabi: tikkun olam (repairing the world), kavod (respect), rina (joy), ga’ava (pride), lev tov (big hearted), and amiut yehudit (Jewish peoplehood).
This medal isn’t won on the field but is earned by the way an athlete approaches the game and represents themselves outside of the sport at the JCC Maccabi Games.
Ben said about winning the Midot Medal, “It meant a lot to me because even though we didn’t experience much success as a team, I didn’t let that affect my attitude and always tried to play hard and give 100 percent. It felt good to be recognized for that.”
Returning home was bittersweet for the athletes. While they were exhausted from the week of competition and happy to reconnect with their families, they understood it was an end to a very special week. Amelie Kentor, tennis player, said, “The Maccabi Games are special because you get the privilege of meeting other Jewish teens from all around the world that you would not get to otherwise. I’m going to miss seeing the other tennis players, my host family and fellow Austin athletes every day. I can’t wait for the games next year.”
This year marked the 10-year anniversary since the JCC Maccabi Games were hosted in Austin. Next year, the games will be hosted in Houston and Detroit. The JCC Maccabi Games are only part of Maccabi movement. Yaniv Dajman will be representing Austin and playing soccer in 2023 MaccabiUSA Pan American Games in Argentina this December. He said he looks forward to playing and competing against other countries, and hopefully returning with a gold medal. He is also looking forward to meeting athletes, and sharing experiences with people from places across the continent in a Jewish atmosphere.
To learn more about the 2024 games, contact Brooks Weaver at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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