Sixty-five teens from the JCC of Greater Baltimore are packing up their lacrosse sticks, volleyballs and hockey skates, sheet music and dancing shoes and heading for the 2018 JCC Maccabi Games and ArtsFest held this year in Irvine and Long Beach, California, Aug. 5 to 10.
The Baltimore delegation, made up of kids between the ages 13 and 16, will be participating in artistic activities including culinary arts, musical theater and dance and sports such as basketball, volleyball, baseball, lacrosse and ice hockey. This is the Maccabi Games’ 36th year. Conceived to engage teens in sports and their many benefits, the games also engage them more deeply with their Judaism and the Jewish community. The Maccabi ArtsFest was added in 2006, when it was held in Baltimore.
The games will be held at the Merage JCC in Irvine and the ArtsFest at the Alpert JCC in Long Beach. The two five-day events are expected to draw more than 2,300 teens, 1,500 volunteers and 15,000 spectators from the U.S. and abroad, requiring 800 host families.
Olivia La Fiandra is getting ready for her second Maccabi ArtsFest. The 14-year-old rising sophomore at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School will be participating in musical theater. Weekly voice lessons, arts performances and classes have prepared her for festival week and the final showcase.
Putting together a show in such a short period of time is a real challenge, but she enjoys “connecting with teenagers from all around the world who share the same interests.”
Rebecca Chinsky, 31, senior director of recreation and JCC Maccabi experience, “grew up loving sports” and has been involved with Maccabi since she was 13.
“We really emphasize this idea that as Jewish people we should be giving back to our communities and taking care of others and doing community service in whatever form it might be.” — Rebecca Chinsky
“The four years that I played Maccabi soccer helped form who I am today, helped me recognize the different levels of observance that people have for Judaism and the different values that are part of Judaism,” she said.
The JCC Maccabi Midot emphasizes tikkun olam (repairing the world), kavod (respect), rina (joy), ga’ava (pride), lev tov (big-heartedness) and amiut Yehudit (Jewish peoplehood).
“For Team Baltimore we always require our kids to participate in at least two community service projects before they travel to the games,” Chinsky said, adding that during the games youths take part in the Day of Caring and Sharing.
“We really emphasize this idea that as Jewish people we should be giving back to our communities and taking care of others and doing community service in whatever form it might be,” she said. “The other big part in Maccabi is amiut Yehudit, or Jewish peoplehood. Anybody who’s participating is only there because in some way or another they identify as Jewish and are proud to be Jewish.”
An incoming 10th-grader at Beth Tfiloh, Alana Gordon played volleyball at last year’s Miami games and is playing volleyball this year in Irvine. Her JCC team has been training since April.
“The most challenging part about Maccabi is definitely the competition itself,” she said. “It is, however, really fun, because I get to make so many friends and I have also been able to improve in volleyball as well as bond with my team.”
She is especially looking forward to the games’ opening ceremonies, where she feels a real connection.
“It is so amazing to watch all of the teams come in, and it really hits you that you are there, in that moment, surrounded by so many other teams with a passion as strong as yours,” she said.
Sam Braman is practicing every day with the 15/16 baseball team until the group heads to California August 5.
The 16-year-old said the games offer high-level competition, “but when you do win, the victory is more satisfying,” he said.
He looks forward to the opening ceremony and its inspiring speakers and entertainers.
“Maccabi is always fun because you are competing in a sport you enjoy with some of your best friends,” he said.
Evan Flaks, a 15-year-old rising 10th-grader at Pikesville High, was at the International Maccabi Youth Games In Israel through July with the U.S. team. He is also heading to California.
“The best part is meeting new friends from all over the country. My U.S.A. team has kids from California, New York, Florida, etc.,” he said. “I am looking forward to just meeting new kids both at the international and JCC Maccabi Games to make new friends from all over the world.”
Chinsky said for Maccabi athletes and artists, “it’s not about who’s getting the gold and the silver and the bronze, who’s the star of the ArtsFest showcase, who has the best drawings, or who cooks the best. It’s about coming together and uniting as one cohesive community and being proud that they’re Jewish and embracing the joy that Maccabi brings everyone. You form lasting friendships, whether it’s with your teammates from Baltimore or teammates from other cities.
“It’s about the joy and the Jewish peoplehood and what is bringing the community together and uniting them as one.”