Trip of a Lifetime

From July 24 to August 5, Team Orange County attended the first ever JCC Maccabi Games/JCC Maccabi ArtsFest in Israel.  The 10-night/11-day trip combined an exciting tour of Israel together with sports competition and arts workshops in the Galil region.  Additional OC teams attended the JCC Maccabi Games in Springfield, Massachusetts, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, during the month of August.

Each year the Jewish Community Centers Association in North America (JCCA) provides the opportunity to reach teens through participation in the JCC Maccabi Games® and JCC ArtsFest.  The JCC Maccabi Experience® brings together Jewish teens from around the world including athletes from the US, Israel, Poland, Mexico, Great Britain and Canada.  The JCC Maccabi Games and JCC Macabi ArtsFest® are the largest organized sports and arts programs for Jewish teens in the world, providing an amazing opportunity for Jewish teens to form bonds and memories and cultivate Jewish values while enriching their Jewish identity.

What do the teens get out of the experience?  Are they ready to do it again?  Orange County Jewish Life asked some of them who went to Israel to tell us in their own words.

Sixteen-year-old Aaron Ezra, who will begin his senior year at Villa Park High School this month, played basketball for the 17u Orange County boys basketball team in Israel.  According to Ezra, “Without a doubt, the 2011 JCC Maccabi games in Israel was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. The JCC Maccabi games themselves are always fun, but having them in Israel made them that much better.”

He added, “I had never been to Israel before, and as a Jew I felt obligated that I have to visit it at least once in my lifetime.  When I found out that I could not only visit Israel, but also play basketball, a game I really enjoy, it was a no-brainer.  Of course I was going to go.”

Ezra got a lot more out of the trip than he expected.  “I’ll always remember this experience,” he said.  “But the most memorable part of the experience was not winning a silver medal.  It wasn’t walking through the City of David.  It wasn’t recounting our people’s history at Yad Vashem.  It wasn’t even visiting the Western Wall and davening a few prayers.  What I’ll always remember is the way we went to Israel as a team and came back a family.  Going to Israel, the eight guys on our basketball team knew each other pretty well.  We were all good friends.  But as we competed together, sat on countless numbers of bus rides together, and toured Israel together, a special bond was created and we became brothers.  The biggest reason this trip was so awesome, was because I was with seven brothers of mine, who each had each other’s back.  The sense of camaraderie that was felt at all times really helped make this experience one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life.”

Fifteen-year-old Zev Gollis, who is a junior at Tarbut V’Torah High School, played soccer at Maccabi Israel.  He said, “I actually chose playing in Israel over an important college showcase tournament, because I felt playing in Israel was an opportunity I could not miss out on.  I had been to Israel with my cousins and grandparents several years ago, but playing soccer there was a perhaps once in a lifetime experience. It was worth the sacrifice, too.”

Gollis added that he “enjoyed playing soccer against cities from across the country, as well as a couple of international teams.  Some of the guys on the team were friends of mine, but we never play on a team together aside from Maccabi, so it was great to play alongside them.  We had an amazing comeback win against South Africa, too, and I think it really bonded our team.  Touring around the old city was also meaningful because it connected me back to my Jewish roots, and to see architecture from thousands of years ago fascinated me.”

What’s next for Gollis?  “Our team finished fourth out of 16 teams, and I felt like our team represented Orange County well.  I am looking forward to next year to hopefully win a gold medal!” he said.

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