Going for Gold

Maccabi Games

In a world where we’re increasingly consumed by smart phones, video games and social media, encouraging our teens to build meaningful relationships is more important than ever.

Since 1982, JCCs across the country have sent teams of teenagers to participate in a week-long sports competition focused on team bonding and good old-fashioned, face-to-face fun. This past summer, Los Altos locals Denise and Mike Pope sent two of their teens to the JCC Maccabi Games®. It was the second time for their family—two years ago when their daughter, Alli, participated in the games, she was one of only a handful of Silicon Valley participants.

This year, under the leadership of our new Teen Program Director Rebecca Katz (known fondly by teens as just “Katz”), the OFJCC is revamping and reinvigorating all teen programming. Katz successfully built and led a Palo Alto Maccabi delegation; eleven teens and two staff traveled together to (really, really hot!) Dallas, Texas for the 2015 JCC Maccabi Games®.

Among them, Seth Pope, age 14, an expert golfer who spends most days after school practicing his swing at the Los Altos Country Club, remembered how much his sister enjoyed her experience two years ago. When Seth learned that golf would be offered, he was excited to join. After his return, Seth expressed how thrilled he was with the experience: “It was really cool to see the different perspectives of Jews from around the world. I met people from Panama, Australia, Israel and Mexico… and everywhere!”

Denise raved about her kids’ participation: “I think it’s great when your kids get away and experience new things without you. I like that there are friendly kids from all over competing, and the leaders do things to help with social interaction and make it fun for the kids. We weren’t expecting it to be worldwide! It was pretty cool.”

Seth made the team (and his parents) proud by bringing home two gold medals for his golf game. But it seems he absorbed more than just the competitive spirit of these games. Each delegation has the opportunity to award two “Midot” medals to members of their delegations that embody the spirit of the Jewish values infused into the games. The six midot (values) that the JCC Maccabi Games® seek to impart are: tikkun olam (repairing the world), kavod (respect), rina (joy); ga’ava (pride), lev tov (open heartedness) and amiut yehudit (Jewish peoplehood). Seth received one of the two Midot medals brought home by the OFJCC delegation.

Seth says he’ll remember this trip forever. He returned with a new perspective and understanding for the diversity and complexity of the Jewish community around the world. And he wants to go back. He’s even aiming to be a U.S. representative at the next Maccabiah Games which will be held in Israel in 2017.

So, just how has this experience changed life for Seth? Well, when asked if he made any lasting friendships through the experience, he responded, “Definitely! I follow some people [I met] on Instagram.”

Young athletes doing their best may be par for the course but grounding them in Jewish values as JCC Maccabi Games® do is clearly a hole in one for our future!

Read more about the 2015 JCC Maccabi Games® here, or click here to find out more about joining the 2016 delegation.

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Melissa Garai

Written by Melissa Garai

Melissa Garai was the former Director of Major Gifts at the OFJCC. When she was not raising money for Development, Melissa could be found hiking the Palo Alto foothills, biking along the Golden Gate Bridge, traveling to exotic (and not-so-exotic) locales with her husband, sneaking extra samples of fruit at local weekend Farmers' Markets or binge-watching her favorite shows on Netflix.

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