The excitement is building. It’s spreading all over the Orange County landscape.
The largest Jewish youth event this summer will take place here in Orange County when more than 2,000 Jewish teens will participate in the JCC Maccabi Games/ArtsFest. From August 4 to 9 Orange County will welcome visiting Jewish teens from across the globe in what will be the second largest event in the history of the games since 1982. The Games also involve thousands of members from our own community including 800 host families, 1,500 volunteers and 350 teen athletes/artists.
The JCC Maccabi Games is an Olympic-style sporting competition held each summer in North America, and is the second largest organized sports program for Jewish teenagers in the world.
As early as the 19th century, Jewish sports clubs were founded in Eastern and Central Europe primarily as a response to anti-Semitism. One of the basic premises behind the founding of these clubs was Jewish nationalism. The Maccabi Movement itself began in 1895 when the first all-Jewish sports club was formed in Constantinople. The first World Maccabiah Games were held in Israel in 1932. Today, this two week competition takes place in Israel every four years and has featured many world-class Jewish athletes including: Mark Spitz (swimming), Mitch Gaylord (gymnastics), Ernie Grunfeld and Danny Schayes (basketball), Brad Gilbert and Dick Savitt (tennis).
In the first North American JCC Maccabi Games in 1982, 300 athletes participated. Due to overwhelming interest, more regional games were added in 1985 to augment the even-year continental games; 1997 marked the first time that the games were held simultaneously in six American cities with 4,400 participating athletes. Since their inception, the games have grown from a small pilot project in one host community to a sporting competition held each summer in multiple sites throughout North America.
The goals of the games are simple: to provide Jewish youth with a supportive environment that fosters mutual respect and sportsmanship, where they can interact in an atmosphere of fun, democracy and peace; to cultivate a deeper understanding and instill an appreciation of Jewish values within Jewish youth, enrich their Jewish identity in an informal setting and encourage their identification with the state of Israel; to promote and encourage the health, physical fitness and well-being of Jewish youth through participation in recreational and athletic activities; and to introduce Jewish youth to the international Maccabi Movement, which presents athletic, cultural and social opportunities with Jews from around the world.
The Games are co-sponsored by the JCC Association of North America, Maccabi World Union, Maccabi Canada and Maccabi USA/Sports for Israel. There are probably about 60 countries that have clubs, which hold regional games – like the JCC Maccabi Games. And every 4 years the Maccabiah Games are held in Israel.
The JCC Association, which serves as the continental organization for the Jewish Community Center Movement, was started in 1854, and includes 350 JCCs, YM-YWHAs and campsites in the United States. Today, more than 6,000 teens, ranging from 13 to 16 years of age, participate in the JCC Maccabi Games each summer.
Samantha Cohen is the JCC Maccabi Games and ArtsFest director for this year’s games and is celebrating her 20th year of involvement. At the age of 14 she participated as a tennis player and since then has been part of multiple regional JCC regional games, three world games in Israel and one Pan-American games in South America.
“The best thing about it,” said Cohen,” is that for me, Maccabi is like a big wide world Jewish family. Through sport and art, I am connected to hundreds of thousands of Jews around the world – from secular to Orthodox Israelis to those in the Diaspora.
Cohen served as assistant director in 2007 when Orange County first hosted the games and is thrilled to return as director this year. In addition to the games, the JCC Maccabi ArtsFest, which debuted in 2006 in Baltimore, Maryland, will be part of this year’s activities.
The ArtsFest is a weeklong arts experience for creative Jewish teens ages 13 to 17, highlighting the history of the games. The exhibition is in 11 parts and includes: Maccabi around the world – its history in maps and timeline; famous alumni; Maccabi and Zionism; Maccabi and the Shoah; and the history of Orange County Maccabi games and ArtsFest. Visitors will be able to learn about the origins of Maccabi and its worldwide reach and explore the direct link between Maccabi and the Zionist Movement in the early years through to the creation of the State of Israel and building of a Jewish nation. They will also discover how the Maccabi movement endured the dark days of Munich 1972 and continued on through the post-cold war glory days to become a worldwide family and a true expression of Jewish peoplehood.
“The community response has been amazing,” said Cohen. “We are working with just about every synagogue and Jewish group in the county – it’s a real cross-community event – there is nothing like this in any community. This is going to be the largest community event in OC, and we welcome anyone who wants to volunteer. There are so many opportunities!”
Cohen encourages everyone in the community to come and experience the passion and commitment by so many young people and to connect with other Jews in our community. “There is something for everybody,” Cohen added.
By welcoming the Maccabi flame to Orange County, our community becomes part of a rich history of the World Maccabi Movement that is intricately interwoven with the history of the Jewish people for the past 120 years.
This year the Merage Jewish Community Center’s Maccabi Team OC will join together with the teens from Kfar Yona, the Merage JCC’s sister Community Center in Israel. To show the bond between the two communities, the teens from both communities will compete as one on Team OC / Kfar Yona in the 2013 JCC Maccabi Games/ArtsFest® in Orange County, California. The JCC Maccabi Games/ArtsFest will be the largest Jewish teen event in the world with over 2500 teens participating.
The largest Jewish youth sports event in the world will be happening in Orange County when the JCC Maccabi Games Opening Ceremonies begin at Santa Ana Stadium on Sunday August 4. Opening Ceremonies will feature a parade of over 2500 Jewish teen athletes representing 63 communities in North America as well as Israel, Great Britain and Mexico. The North America communities represented are from: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Toronto, Vancouver, Virginia, and Washington DC.
Santa Ana Stadium doors open at 5 p.m.; the pre-show begins at 6 pm and the Parade of Athletes will take place at 7 pm. Attendees are encouraged to arrive early because it is open seating. There is no charge to OC residents for this event; however, there is a charge for parking at Santa Ana stadium, 602 N Flower Street, Santa Ana. For admittance, attendees will need an official 2013 Maccabi Games and ArtsFest credential or show their driver’s license. Tickets will be available for pick-up in mid-July at the Merage Jewish Community Center at 1 Federation Way in Irvine. For more information contact the Merage JCC at (949) 435-3400 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.