“Jews have to stand up for each other,” said Shana Segal, who along with Rafi Stein and Laura Udkoff, is chairing the housing aspect of the 2013 JCC Maccabi Games hosted by the Merage JCC. “People who are about community will step up for the community, and we do see the best of people.”
With 2,500 teens from other places expected at the games, Segal and her cohorts have the task of finding 900 host homes in the Orange County Jewish community. She is confident that they will.
While much of the teens’ time is occupied by the Maccabi events, the host families need to provide housing for two teen athletes/artists from August 4 to 9, breakfast daily and two dinners during the week, transportation Monday through Thursday at 7 to 8 a.m. and pick up at 9 p.m. and a fun evening on Host Family Night. The JCC provides air mattresses if necessary, feeds and transports the teens throughout the day and does not require that host families have kids at home to participate in the program.
By the time most families have hosted the teen athletes for four or five nights, they are sold on the program and want to do it again. “The idea of welcoming two teenage boys from England for ten days into my already full house, crowded with four children ages nine down to one, was overwhelming at first, I’ll admit,” said Cindy Muchnick of her experience hosting teens for the Maccabi Games in 2007. “But from the moment we met Marcus Starr and Russell Goldstein at the Orange County JCC, I felt my heart grow larger.”
Muchnick’s husband had coached athletes for many years, the children were involved in the JCC and, most importantly, “we were huge believers that the more connected kids can feel to another family, the more they feel bonded to Judaism and the Maccabi experience.” Bonding is what the three families did and still do. The Muchnick kids loved the two boys with heavy British accents. They celebrated Shabbat together and went to Legoland.
“I corresponded daily with Russell and Marcus’s parents in England, assuring them their boys were eating, sleeping, having fun and wearing lots of sunblock,” Muchnick said. “By week’s end, their parents, too, were becoming part of our extended family.”
Now the Muchnicks have a lifelong connection with the two boys and their families. They had “family” to visit in England when they took a soccer team there and a sense that the experience was life changing. Not surprisingly, the Muchnicks have requested to host British teens again.
“The JCC Maccabi Games experience certainly made all the kids feel that it is cool to be Jewish, and this will impact their lives and their Jewish identities for years to come,” Muchnick said. “Each and every moment we spent with Russell and Marcus enriched our lives, deepened the bonds and culminated in one of the hardest goodbyes I have ever had to say.”
Beth Krom, Irvine City Councilmember, said, “When Shana called to ask if we would house athletes for Maccabi, my first inclination was to decline. Life can get pretty busy, I remember thinking, and with our own kids grown and out of the house, I wasn’t sure we would be able to offer the visiting athletes a fun experience. At the same time I was remembering the home hospitality I enjoyed as a BBYO member growing up, which was always memorable.”
She “asked a few questions, answered a few for Shana and decided this was something we could do and should do to help support the Maccabi games.” Krom added, “Shana assured us they would support us in any way necessary, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized this was a small but important way to give back to our community.”
Melissa Carr Kreitenberg, regional director of the Orange County-Long Beach office of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), explained that she and her husband, Archie Kreitenberg, were a host family in the summer of 2007 and “had a ball.” Their own children were participants at the time, so they thought it was “important for the kids to meet each other and create memories that will last a long time.”
The Kreitenbergs are housing eight Maccabi athletes and renting a van to do it. Friends in the neighborhood have also volunteered to be host families, so they can share the experience. “It’s fun to be part of such a big community event,” Carr said.
Orange County Jewish Life columnist Barbara Boarnet and her husband, Marlon, were a host family in 2007, because they “wanted to be part of the community spirit and wanted the kids to see it.” Their three children have been Maccabi athletes, and “it’s a good experience for the kids, but we’ll keep doing it even when our kids are in college,” Boarnet said.
She added, “This is a good way to give back to the community and do our part. We’ll take up to six teens, because that’s how many fit in our van.”
According to Sandra Pospisil, who has volunteered to house 15 kids, “Having three girls from the art program was wonderful. I have three sons, so girls were a refreshing experience. I initially volunteered for the need. But it ended up being fun and rewarding for me. Knowing them and their response to the program was fun — listening to them talk about their lives as their life experiences were very different from our family. Watching how the program affected them was interesting. It was a revitalizing experience, and we look forward to doing it again.”
To sign up or for more information on housing Maccabi athletes, contact:
Sam Cohen, Director
of JCC Maccabi
(949) 435-3400, ext. 313