The Katz JCC will host this year's Olympic-style games for athletes ages 13 to 16, in sports ranging from table tennis to lacrosse.
Stephanie Dworkin was a successful swimmer over three JCC Maccabi Games starting almost 15 years ago, and she still has the medals in her desk at the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill, N.J., to prove it.
She also had a plastic mezuzah that she made during one of the games attached to the door of her childhoom room for more than a decade.
Now an assistant marketing director at the Katz JCC, which is hosting the games from Aug. 10 to 15, she has the opportunity to help create memories — and keepsakes — for the next crop of young Jewish athletes.
“It’s a big point of pride for us” to be able “to say we really came together as a team and really put on a great week for the kids,” said Dworkin, who started competing in 2000, narrowly missing the last games hosted by Cherry Hill in 1999.
The Olympic-style games, which were first held in 1982, feature athletes ages 13 to 16, the large majority of them from the United States — but also some from Europe, Mexico and Israel — in sports ranging from table tennis to lacrosse.
Organizers of the Cherry Hill games expect more than 1,000 athletes from 29 delegations to compete along with 200 athletes from Southern New Jersey. More than 6,000 people are expected to attend the opening ceremonies at the Sun National Bank Center in Trenton. There will be 36 athletes from the Philadelphia area competing in tennis, track and field, 16-and-under boys soccer and 16-and-under girls basketball.
The larger contingent of Philadelphia athletes is heading to Detroit which, along with Boca Raton, Fla., is also hosting games this summer, according to Marti Berk, membership and marketing director for the Kaiserman JCC who also serves as head of the Maccabi delegation.
There will be 84 Philadelphia region participants —80 athletes and four artists — in the Motor City from Aug. 17 to 22 competing in swimming, girls softball, dance, 14-and-under boys soccer, 16-and-under girls soccer, 14-and-under and 16-and-under boys basketball, 16-and-under in-line hockey, and 14-and-under and 16-and-under boys baseball. For the JCC Maccabi Arts Fest, there will be two musicians participating in the rock band programming, one in visual arts and one in culinary arts.
Aside from the games themselves, Dworkin said, some of the more memorable moments happen off the field when the players meet athletes from other parts of the world. The JCC is organizing special programs where Americans will interact with Israeli delegates.
“It’s meant to be relaxed; it’s not forced or rigid,” she said.
For the Israeli visitors, the games could serve as a welcome respite from the war in Gaza.
“For some of them, it may be difficult,” Dworkin said. “It might be a little bittersweet for others, but it’s a nice way to come together and celebrate that we are a Jewish people.”