Jewish Teens Get a Taste of the Olympic Spirit

The Peninsula-Palo Alto Maccabi Games 2016 Delegation
The Peninsula-Palo Alto Maccabi Games 2016 Delegation

Thank you for making my first Maccabi Games such a blast! It was the most fun I’d had in a while… I really appreciate all the work you guys put into making the games function as well as they did. I’ll be back next year to help our team take the gold!

–Jordan, age 14 basketball player

This year’s OFJCC participation in the JCC Maccabi Games® began with a collaborative twist. Partnering with the PJCC in Foster City, “Team Peninsula/Palo Alto” was  led by five adult representatives and brought 21 proud athletes to Columbus, Ohio to compete, socialize, perform community service and socialize some more. The idea of blending two JCCs together to provide a greater community feel was appropriate, considering the importance of community in making “the Games” a successful and awe-inspiring event.

Although the Columbus Games were smaller in scale than the other two Maccabi events being held across the country, the more than 500 Jewish teen athletes participating in Olympic-style sporting events experienced no shortage of big moments. Everything about the Games, in fact, had a feeling of something that is bigger than everyone.

From the moment the plane touched down Sunday morning in Columbus, after a long night of travel, our delegation began a week-long journey that featured the types of thrills that are resonating through Rio this summer. After taking some delegation photos, the athletes were introduced to their host families, the generous volunteers who give up space in their homes and provide transportation to and from the Games each day. For Opening Ceremonies, Team Peninsula/Palo Alto marched in proudly waving their banner and California flags. There was a candle lighting ceremony honoring the Munich 11, the Israeli Olympians that lost their lives in the 1972 Olympic Games. Lastly, the event finished off with a performance from Cirque Dreams which included balancing acts and impressive acrobatic feats.

The days to come were a whirlwind of athletic competition—our sports were basketball, soccer, tennis, volleyball and swimming. Not only did our athletes play their hearts out, but they spent almost as much energy cheering on their fellow delegates when they had a chance to watch other games. From a competitive standpoint, our teams took home medal after medal, leaving a big Peninsula/Palo Alto footprint on the fields, courts and swimming pools.

Jordan (in white jersey) during a game

Jordan (in white jersey) during a game

On the social front, each night featured a highlight event. One night, for example, was Extreme Night @ the J. The athletes enjoyed a kosher BBQ dinner and were able to participate in a variety of Wipeout-type challenges, human hamster balls and a water park area. The athletes also had a night dedicated to spending time with their host families. Some of the activities that the families provided included: pool parties, bowling and visits to the famous ice cream shop (Graeter’s) in town. The final night in Columbus closed out the Games with a spectacular fireworks show. Gear trading, in which athletes trade their own delegation items for gear that they like from other athletes, goes to a whole other level on the last night.

In the end, our athletes had an experience that will never be duplicated. They walk away with memories of tough overtime losses after hard fought games and stunning victories against teams they thought had “more talent.” They got to stay with super cool families and score pins from other delegations. The JCC Maccabi Games have been going on in North America for over thirty years now (in several cities each year) and each one takes on a life of its own. And that’s what’s great about them.

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Dave Rosenfeld

Written by Dave Rosenfeld

Dave Rosenfeld has been the Youth and Teen Program Director at the OFJCC since 2010. He has over 20 years of experience working with children and has more than eighteen years’ experience running programs for children 0-12 years of age. Dave lives in Campbell with his wife and two teenage sons and has a daughter that lives in Southern California. Dave loves to be active and then, after being active, really loves being inactive.

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