THE JCC MACCABI GAMES and ArtsFest brings thousands of Jewish teenagers together from around the world for an annual celebration of sportsmanship and culture that unites its young participants into a global Jewish community.
This summer, Maccabi is coming “Back to the Beach,” marking the third year that the Merage JCC of Orange County will host the Games, in partnership with the Alpert JCC of Long Beach. The 2018 Maccabi Games and ArtsFest marks an instrumental step in furthering the Merage JCC’s mission of fostering Jewish peoplehood.
Despite the primary goal of the Games—to give Jewish teenagers an occasion to bond through friendly sporting competition and artistic expression—local organizers of the 2018 Maccabi Games said they found the Games to have a greater significance for the worldwide Jewish community.
Merage JCC President and CEO Dan Bernstein described the games as “exponentially more” than an ordinary sporting competition or artistic showcase. He said he views Maccabi as “one of the most effective means to connecting Jewish teens to each other and to the Jewish community.” Bernstein said he is excited to host the Games again in Orange County and hopes it will give local teenagers and their families the opportunity to connect with Jewish community members from other states or countries through their involvement.
“[Maccabi] is the largest international gathering of Jewish teens for one of the most exciting weeks of competition, culture and friendship,” Bernstein said. “It is most special for our teens that Orange County is hosting the Games this year, and we look forward to giving every athlete and artist on Team O.C. the experience of a lifetime.”
Local Jewish families have the opportunity to host out-of-town participants of the Games at their homes, allowing those families to develop more personal connections to a few individuals from another Jewish community.
Samantha Cohen, associate executive director of program services at the Merage JCC, said she thinks Maccabi is a unique program because it fosters togetherness and comradery, despite being framed as a competition.
“There’s really nothing else like it in the Jewish world where Jews come together from all across the Jewish world and Israel, sharing a common theme and a common bond,” Cohen said in an interview. “And really, that’s the meaning of Jewish peoplehood—it’s about being part of a worldwide, Jewish, connected family. And, through Maccabi, we not only understand it, but we experience Jewish peoplehood.”
Cohen said she thinks the Merage JCC is at the forefront of promoting the goal of furthering Jewish peoplehood through its dedication to hosting and participating in the JCC Maccabi Games and other Israel-focused youth programs.
“I think many of our members and community participants come to the JCC not to practice their Judaism through religious practice, but through experiencing a connection to their local Jewish community and the broader Jewish community around the world,” Cohen said. “And our JCC makes a phenomenal effort to incorporate that shared, universal Jewish culture, through connecting our programs to Israel—the center of that Jewish peoplehood that binds us all together.”
As a participant in the Maccabiah Games in Israel, Cohen said she has experienced the joy of uniting with an international community of Jewish athletes because of their connection to Israel. As one of the main coordinators for the 2018 Maccabi Games, Cohen said she hopes to bring the same feeling of belonging that she felt at the Games in Israel to Orange County this summer.
“It is important to know that we’re a part of something bigger—that Judaism is more than just a religion,” Cohen said. “It’s about being connected through more than just religion but as a family, through shared heritage, shared culture and a shared sense of pride.
Get in the Games!
Over 2,500 Jewish teens from 65 delegations including Canada, Great Britain, Israel, Panama and Mexico, will participate in the JCC Maccabi Games here in Orange County this summer.
It is not just teams, JCC Maccabi includes
- 800 host families
- 1,500 volunteers
- 3,000 visitors
- 12,000 spectators
150 teens still need host families… join the fun, get in the games, sign up to host!