There’s more to the JCC Maccabi Games than mere athletic competition.
“It’s not just about the sports,” organizer Marti Berk said. “It’s giving kids a Jewish experience with sports as a hook.”
Berk has been involved with the games for 17 years and recounted numerous times when unaffiliated Jewish kids made friends and wound up with greater ties to Jewish culture and the community.
“The connections the athletes make often become lifelong friendships,” Berk said. “It builds and strengthens the Jewish community.”
Before Maccabi, those experiences often weren’t available, but things are different now thanks to the JCC Maccabi Games and JCC Junior Maccabi — separate entities from the global Maccabiah Games in Israel that occur every four years.
“Big Maccabi,” as Berk calls it, enables Jewish boys and girls, ages 13 to 16 from throughout the U.S., as well as such countries as Mexico, Australia, Great Britain, Canada, Israel and possibly others, to compete annually in a series of events.
This year’s sites are Birmingham, Ala., from July 30 to Aug. 4, followed by Miami and Albany, N.Y., from Aug. 6 to 11.
Then there’s the Mid-Atlantic Junior Games, a one-day extravaganza for boys and girls ages 10 to 12, which will take place May 7 at the Siegel JCC in Wilmington, Del.
Some 700 to 800 athletes are expected to compete in those games with three local contingents: Team Kaiserman, comprised of the Main Line and western suburbs; Team Center City; and Team Montco. They’ll compete against teams from New York, North Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and possibly the Northern Virginia/Washington, D.C., area.
Team Bucks County is managed separately by Jeff Fuchs.
Local tryouts for the Mid-Atlantic Junior Games are happening throughout the area, with the Kaiserman JCC serving as headquarters for Junior Maccabi.
Tryouts for Big Maccabi, with the focus on boys’ and girls’ basketball, baseball, ice hockey, track and field, dance, boys’ lacrosse, tennis, boys’ and girls’ soccer, table tennis and golf, are now taking place.
To find out when and where the tryouts are, check the website at phillyjcc.com/maccabi.
Meantime, the coaches, most of whom are volunteers, double as chaperones and coaches during the week. It’s a labor of love for many of them.
“Maccabi is my passion,” said Berk, who is the director of community engagement and marketing at Kaiserman. “I adore it.”
As delegation head, she’s responsible for coordinating all of Team Philadelphia, which will sent 95 representatives to Miami (basketball and baseball leading the way), 45 to Albany (hockey and golf) and a half-dozen or so in track and field to Birmingham.
In addition, she manages the Team Kaiserman Center City and Montgomery County for Junior Maccabi, which will be holding open tryouts in the coming weeks.
Berk noted that fair play is important, as exemplified by the Rachmanus Rule.
“Rachmanus basically means being a mensch,” she said. “It’s good sportsmanship. In our world, that means you don’t yell at referees or run the score up on an opponent.
“These are volunteer coaches, student athletes, referees — people giving their time for all of us to have this experience. I’ve had to give parents time-outs if they don’t listen.”
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