This year, as the JCC Maccabi Games celebrate their 30th anniversary, Team Orange County will be represented by 112 Jewish teens and coaches, making it one of the largest delegations in attendance. In Houston, August 3 to 10, Team OC will compete and collaborate with more than 1,500 Jewish teens from more than 50 communities across the USA, Canada, South America, Israel and Europe.
Since the first Maccabi Games in the United States were held in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1982, the program has reached more than 100,000 Jewish teens and hundreds of thousands more adult families, volunteers and spectators in 53 host communities across North America. Today it is the largest Jewish youth event in the world.
But the world of Maccabi is so much more than even this massive event held each year in North America. Teen participants, hosts, volunteers and spectators become part of a much larger worldwide Maccabi family with a rich history interwoven with the history of the Jewish people over the last 120 years. Today Maccabi World Union is represented in 64 countries with more than 400 clubs/JCCs involving 400,000 participants each year. Sixty percent are under the age of 30.
When arguably the greatest threat to the Jewish people today is assimilation and our greatest challenge is how to ignite a spark connecting our youth to their Jewish identity, this is an exciting statistic. Since the creation of the first Maccabi sport club in Turkey in 1896, the fusion of sport and Jewish life has become an essential ingredient to Jewish continuity and community identity.
Samantha (“Sam”) Cohen, the Merage JCC’s Maccabi director, is passionate about spreading the word about Maccabi. She explained, “As a young Jewish adult who has had the honor of participating in 17 Maccabi Games as an athlete, coach, delegation head and now organizer on five continents, I am proud to be part of something with such a humbling yet incredible history.”
Cohen added, “In 2001, at the height of the Intifada, I stood in Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem next to a Jewish cricket player from India and sang the Hatikvah amongst 30,000 Jews from around the world. It was nothing short of magical. In 2007, I stood with 12,000 members of the Orange County Jewish community and our Maccabi visitors and sang the Hatikvah at the largest gathering in the history of Jewish Orange County. And on July 6, 2011, I had the privilege of standing in City Hall Square in Central Vienna, Austria, amongst 6,000 Jews from across the world and sang the Hatikvah, to a backdrop of Israeli flags hanging from the very same building from which Hitler promised to exterminate us. In terms of meaningful Jewish experiences, it doesn’t get much better than that.”
Bringing the Torch Back
to Orange County
On August 4, 2013, the Maccabi flame will come back to Orange County. The importance of this is best stated by Cohen: “For me the torch symbolizes the past, present and future of our people. When we accept it here in our community we can remember we are part of something so much bigger. We are connected to a network of people, stories and experiences that span generations.”
In 2007 Orange County community was honored to host the JCC Maccabi Games. It was a tremendous success and true example of community collaboration. JCC Maccabi has the potential to reach and benefit all corners of the Jewish community. From young to old, secular to Orthodox, North to South County and everything in between, there is something for everyone.
Orange County is hosting the JCC Maccabi Games and ArtsFest once more from August 4 to 9, 2013, and everyone can be involved – as a host family, volunteer, teen athlete, artist or sponsor. As Cohen said, “Don’t miss out on this opportunity to be involved and to invest in your children, your community and our future.”
Some Maccabi History
The first Maccabi clubs were created in response to anti-Semitism and exclusion from public life in Europe in the early 1900s. Multiple clubs were created, and this soon spread to the creation of sport clubs in Palestine. Alongside this, from the earliest beginnings of the World Zionist Movement, the ideals and values of Maccabi were central in the thinking and ideology of Jewish leaders. It was at the 12th Zionist Congress in 1921 that “World Maccabi Federation” was created, and by 1929 there were 22 regions and more than 100,000 members. Zionist leaders recognized the importance of the Maccabi mission.
Theodor Herzl said, “Train not your spirit alone, but your muscles as well.” David Ben-Gurion, later stated that, “Maccabi is, no doubt, a most important branch of the Zionist movement. Its importance is in infusing life into the physical stature of the Jewish people, weakened over the many years of exile.”
The First World Maccabi Games were held in Palestine in 1932 and, traveling mostly by boat, almost 400 Jewish athletes came from across the globe to the Holy Land to compete. It was a great triumph for Zionism and the Jewish people.
The horrors of Nazi rule saw many of the original Maccabi clubs of Europe destroyed or lost. However, during the Shoah, Maccabi athletes were among the many heroes of the resistance. Judith Deutsch Haspel of Vienna turned down her place in the 1936 Olympics in protest. When the 2nd Maccabiah Games took place in Palestine in 1935, 300 athletes from Germany and Bulgaria took the opportunity to make Aliyah. The German athletes had disobeyed a Nazi decree banning them from participating. Instead, they got on boats, came to Palestine and competed against 1,350 other Jewish athletes from 28 nations. They remained in the country, thus avoiding the horrors of what was soon to follow in Europe.
Today some of the children and grandchildren of these survivors continue to be involved in the Maccabi World Movement including the current chairman, Yair Hamburger, whose parents were Maccabi German survivors. This global movement continues to grow. The 18th Maccabiah Games of 2009 with over 7,000 participants became the third largest sporting event in the World – only behind the Olympics and Commonwealth Games.
Cohen invites everyone to attend the Official JCC Maccabi Kick Off event on Sunday, October 14, 2012, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Merage JCC on the Samueli Jewish Campus in Irvine. For more information, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.ocmaccabi.com.