Delegations from three area JCCs — Bender JCC of Greater Washington, JCC of Greater Baltimore, and JCC of Northern Virginia — totaling 180 athletes and artists participated in this year’s JCC Maccabi Games and ArtsFest, which took place Aug. 5-10 in Orange County, California.
Under the Maccabi Games banner, teens ages 13-16 took part in various sports competitions, community service efforts, and had a chance to connect with other Jewish teens Hosted this year by Merage JCC of Orange County, the event drew more than 3,000 Jewish teens from across the globe.
The three Greater Washington and Baltimore-area delegations won several medals in dance, basketball, and tennis — but many say that the Maccabi Games are about more than just winning.
“You see the values that are taught through not just the sport but through meeting other teens from all over the world,” said Jordyn Barry, director of Jewish innovation and teen engagement at the JCC of Northern Virginia, “It’s truly life changing, and I’m already hearing from kids and their parents asking about next year.”
The spiritual and social aspects of the experience, the three area delegations made time to compete — and win — in many sporting events.
Danny Hoffman, coach for the JCC of Greater Baltimore 16U basketball team that won the gold medal for the tournament’s middle bracket, said that he could see the impact this tournament had on the teens.
“The tough start was a bit of a downer, since we felt that we were a good team,” he explained. “All the kids felt like we could have done more, and they showed up hungry to play on the third day.”
After finishing the initial four games with a 1-3 record, Hoffman’s team rallied and won all four games in the knockout stage — all the way to the gold medal. Evan Flaks, a 15-year-old point guard from Pikesville High School, scored 47 points as the JCC of Greater Baltimore won the quarterfinal game against the team from the Cleveland JCC. The team marched on to beat the Philadelphia and Denver JCC teams on its way to the top of the podium.
Hoffman said that the teens learned a lot through playing in the games — both on and off the court.
“They tasted some hardship but were able to rise above it,” said Hoffman. “But the point of Maccabi is that you go to create a connection with other kids from your age group, and our kids left with friends for life.”
The delegation from the JCC of Greater Baltimore participated in almost every sport at the games, bringing back medals in basketball, baseball, and lacrosse. The delegation from the Bender JCC of Greater Washington won medals in a myriad of sports, including soccer, tennis, volleyball, and track and field. The Greater Washington dance team came home with four gold medals, and the swim team won 16 overall medals, with Patrick Connelly, a 16-year-old rising junior at Walter Johnson High School, racking up seven gold medals.
In addition to their athletic achievements, all of the delegations participated in tikkun olam (repairing the world) activities — community service projects organized as part of the Maccabi Games. Several teens also won Midot medals, which reward those who exemplify the spirit of the six Maccabi midot (values): tikkun olam, respect, joy, pride, big heart, and Jewish peoplehood.
“It really helps teens develop a sense of Jewish pride,” said Rebecca Chinsky, senior director of recreation and the JCC Maccabi experience at the JCC of Greater Baltimore. The focus on tikkun olam and community service is a crucial part of that spirit, she added.
“I had a lot of fun, it was great how we were all one Jewish community,” said Katie Morgan, a member of the U14 girls soccer team. “I made a lot of friends there, and I will definitely go back next year.”
By Anis Modi
Anis Modi is a staff reporter at Kol HaBirah. Born and raised in Israel, he currently writes for several DC-based publications while pursuing his master’s degree at American University.