Friday, September 19, 2014 Elul 24, 5774

Let the Games Begin!

August 10, 2011
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They say it takes a village and, in the case of the JCC Maccabi Games set to launch here on Sunday, we can see that, at the very least, it takes a generous -- and organized -- community.

As detailed in this week's cover story, the logistics required to put these games together are mind-boggling. Kudos go to Beth Segal, director of the games, and the Kaiserman JCC staff and lay leaders who have worked tirelessly to make the dream of bringing the games back to Philadelphia a reality.

Hearty kudos also to the close to 400 families who have opened their homes so the visiting athletes can have a comfortable bed, some home-cooked meals and fellow teens to relate to.

For the kids, of course, a big part of the experience is the thrill of competing. What kid doesn't want to win?

But clearly more than the medals matter.

As the Maccabi mission statement puts it, one goal is "to cultivate a deeper understanding and instill an appreciation of Jewish values within Jewish youth, enrich their Jewish identity in an informal setting and encourage their identification with the State of Israel."

There aren't too many sports competitions that also include a day of community service, which provides yet another opportunity for the youth to connect -- with each other and the world around them.

For many of these teens, the Maccabi experience serves as a primary -- and sometimes their only -- connector to Jewish life. For some, it's the first time that they can look around a basketball court or a soccer field and feel a rush of pride in their Jewish heritage.

The fact that some teens come back time after time until they are no longer eligible -- and then sometimes return as coaches, just to stay connected -- is testament to the powerful experience that this Olympics-like program can have.

In this age of hyperconnectivity, the friendships that are forged on the field can become an instant part of a teen's inner circle of Facebook friends and AIM buddies.

The worldwide Maccabi apparatus should take advantage of the various social media that keep this new generation of Maccabi athletes connected in order to create follow-up opportunities for Jewish engagement.

For now, however, it's all about the games.

With 1,500 athletes and coaches set to descend on the city from around the country and around the world, we wish the athletes, their families and the organizers a rewarding -- and safe -- experience.

As if Phillies fever weren't enough for the sports enthusiasts in our midst, for the next week, at least, there's another game in town.

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