Home September 2013 Go For the Gold

Go For the Gold

You may have noticed the unusual abundance of teenagers, crowding the halls of the JCC and your favorite sports venues, between the dates of August 4 and 9. Don’t worry.  This was not just some crazy hallucination; it was the 2013 JCC Maccabi Games and Artsfest!  The most talented Jewish athletes and artists of this generation gathered at our local JCC, from countries such as Great Britain, Israel, Canada, Mexico and the United States, for the ultimate, all-Jewish athletic and arts competition.  This was the second largest JCC Maccabi Games in 31 years with over 2,300 teens, and it will go down in history as the best Maccabi Games and Artsfest ever.  As a member of the Team OC soccer team, and the host delegation, my first Maccabi Games were extra special.
Sam Cohen, Maccabi Games Director, said, “My favorite thing about JCC Maccabi is that it brings together Jews from around the world, from all different backgrounds.  It connects us to our Jewish identity and is a great example of Jewish peoplehood at its strongest.  Being the director of this enormous project has given me a new perspective and a true appreciation for how much work and leadership goes into planning the Maccabi Games.  This was my 20th Maccabi Games and it was special for me to know that I could play a leading role in giving back to the Maccabi movement and enabling teens to enjoy the same positive experience that I was given.”
The week kicked off with the spectacular opening ceremony at Santa Ana Stadium.  The athletes and artists anxiously waited backstage, wearing their fancy team sweat suits, while they met the kids from the visiting delegations for the first time.  We traded pins with the out-of-town delegations with one goal in mind: collect them all.  Pin trading became an important part of my Maccabi experience, and I learned right away that trading is a very serious matter.
The opening ceremony, hosted by Doug Gottlieb of CBS Sports, began with each delegation, marching around the stadium like Olympic athletes, waving their flags as the crowd went wild.  Team OC entered the enthusiastic stadium last, since we were the host delegation.  After many years of waiting, it was finally my turn to walk though that gate and claim my spot as a Team OC Maccabi athlete.  I entered the stadium with my team, chanting our cheer and showing our Orange County pride.  We took our seats in the front, and the excitement began.  Throughout the night, we enjoyed performances from the L.A. Clippers ClipPercussion and Clipper Spirit Dance Team, Six13, Russian Bar Trio, Flippenout and the Kfar Yona Israeli Singing Group.  Then, we took the Rachmanus athlete’s oath and witnessed the torch lighting by the OC Jewish Sports Hall of Famers.  It was certainly a night to remember, and it exceeded all my expectations.
After the ceremony, the host families welcomed the visiting athletes into their homes.  My family hosted two amazing girls from the Toronto soccer team, Robbie Goodman and Carly Levin.  We grew closer throughout the week, and I learned that I have a lot in common with my Jewish friends to the north.
The next morning, all the athletes rolled out of bed, bright and early, for their games.  By the end of the week, I was accustomed to waking up early, because I was so excited to see what each day had to offer.  My team ended up winning three of our games, then losing in the Bronze Medal Round.  I have to admit that I was bummed, at first, to come home empty handed, but I soon realized that it was never about the scores and rankings.  The Maccabi Games are meant to form lifelong friendships and memories; no other sporting competition compares with it.  I was proud of how my team progressed throughout the competition and greatly improved its skills from beginning to end.  I quickly formed impenetrable bonds with my teammates and coaches, which brought us together both on and off the field.
“The Maccabi Games allow young athletes and artists to develop stronger respect and appreciation for one another.  They learn how to work together as a team and they learn responsibility,” said Daniela Huczneker, Orange County soccer coach.
After I finished playing my games, I always had extra time to cheer on my new friends.  It is an amazing feeling to know that your friends, coaches, teammates and family members are on the sidelines, supporting you every step of the way.
Most days, my team would finish our games early and take a bus back to the JCC.  There was always something exciting going on at the JCC, whether it be a pool party, an intense game of gaga or just some kids trading their uniforms and pins.  Hang Time at the JCC was no snooze fest; there was always something fun to do.
Evening activities were always buzzing with happy kids, cotton candy in hand and friends by their side.  I had a blast at all the evening activities, because they gave me a chance to socialize with other Jewish teens from around the globe.  There was a different party every night at locations such as Newport Dunes, Irvine Lanes, Boomers, and JCC “Maccabi Land.”
On Wednesday, we gave back to the community through the JCC Cares program.  My soccer team helped out with the VIP Soccer program, where we taught disabled kids how to play soccer.  It was a truly heartwarming experience.
That night, the host families picked their kids up early and gave them a night out in the OC.  My family took our Toronto girls out for a picnic on Lookout Point, and then we walked down to the Maccabi Bonfire on the beach at Big Corona.  Hundreds of Maccabi families gathered on the beach for a night of bonfires, s’mores and schmoozing.  We finished off the night with ice cream and Balboa Bars on Balboa Island.  The visiting delegations were amazed by our beautiful beaches and sunsets along with our perfect weather.
At the end of the week, I watched my friends play in their championship matches.  I was also impressed by the beautiful performances and artistic displays of Jewish culture at the Artsfest Showcase.  Afterward, the uniform trading began, and the JCC courtyard turned into a giant swap meet.  Everyone went crazy, trying to get their hands on all the best gear and tchotchkes, including the coveted Great Britain jacket and the adorable Springfield “Horton Hears a Jew” T-shirt.  Once we were all satisfied with our trades and decked-out in our cool new gear, everyone headed down to “Maccabi Land” for the party/closing ceremony.  After the kosher BBQ feast and night of dancing, we watched as the torch was passed to Detroit, Boca Raton and Cherry Hill, for the 2014 Maccabi Games.  Then, the time had come to say goodbye to the visiting athletes and artists.  Lots of tears were shed and hugs were given.  It was difficult for me to say goodbye to the Toronto girls, because we had bonded over the past week.  We promised to keep in touch, and I can’t wait to see them next year at the Detroit Maccabi Games.
The Maccabi Games have been one of the most memorable experiences of my life, and I am already counting down the days until next year’s games.  They have given me the chance to become part of the Maccabi Family and create everlasting friendships.  Maccabi 2014, here I come!

Previous articleLight out of Darkness
Next articleEtched in Memory


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Something New

Digging In

Yom Kippur

Rosh Hashanah Basics

Hope for Our Future