Our two sons Billy and Zach loved playing all sports. So it was a no-brainer when my husband, Andy, who was on the board of the JCC, and I decided to have them try out and participate in the JCC Maccabi Games throughout their teenage years.
Our boys are grown now. Zach, 25, a graduate of the University of Michigan who works as a strategic analyst in Manhattan, played on the Maccabi basketball team for three years in Montreal, Tucson and Philadelphia. Billy, 22, who just graduated from Lehigh University where he played baseball, was on the 14 to 16-year-old baseball team that participated in the Maccabi Games in North Jersey in 2002.
Both my kids played on very successful teams that won medals. It gave them a lot of confidence and self-esteem. Traveling to another city and staying with strangers taught them how to adjust to new situations. Just being on a team offers life lessons that come in handy every day — how to win, how to lose, sportsmanship, teamwork, being a leader, and cheering on others, just to name a few.
But of all their years of involvement in the games, nothing had such a lasting impact as our decision to be a host family back in 2001, the last time Philadelphia hosted the Maccabi Games.
Zach made the basketball team that year and we thought it would be fun to invite into our home some other basketball players from other communities. We were assigned four boys representing the Samuel Field Y from Little Neck, N.Y.
They were all great kids, but one of them stood out. Josh Kent was quieter and smaller than the others. The kids all thought he looked like a former NBA player, Wally Szerbiak, so his nickname became "Wally." Zach and the boys we hosted kept in touch for about a year.
Then in September 2004, when Zach arrived as a freshman at the University of Michigan, he went to a gym on the second or third day of school to play some basketball and who was there but Wally (Josh)? They instantly reconnected, soon became roommates and have been close friends ever since. Today, they both work in Manhattan and see each other often. They even attend Jewish events together in the city — young leadership events, networking events and a few fundraising events.
Hosting was a tremendous experience for our whole family and, even though our boys are no longer around, we are doing it again this year. We look forward to meeting new kids and to discovering new connections.
It will be nice to have a noisy house again and to attend more games. It will be fun to watch the kids compete, and this time it will be stress-free since our own kids are not in the games.
Maccabi is a wonderful experience for kids. Being able to meet and compete against Jewish kids from all over the country, visiting a community that you have never been to before all make this experience worthwhile. I think kids realize how powerful the Jewish connection is when they stay with a host family who are complete strangers at first, but after a few days, become like your second family.
But it's also a wonderful experience for the host families. In 2001, we took the kids we hosted out to dinner every night to sample local foods, which the boys loved. It was fun to see our kids interact with kids from other communities and see how much they really did have in common. It's a great experience and a great way to "give back" as opposed to just writing a check. It's not that much work and you would be surprised how attached you get to these kids. In addition, it's fun to root them on in their respective sports.
It's been 10 years since Philly hosted the games. I, for one, am looking forward to getting in on the action once again.
Marji Goldman is a resident of Penn Valley. For information about becoming a host family for the upcoming JCC Maccabi Games, Aug.14-19, go to: www.phillymaccabi.com.