What’s The Hype With Maccabia This Summer?

Sports! Art! Drama! Travel! Culture! Perhaps because it’s in Israel this year or perhaps because it combines both the games and art competitions, but all people can talk about is going to celebrate Maccabia in Israel this summer. You may have even noticed that the Maccabi ArtsFest was featured in a Super Bowl ad earlier this year!

For the first time, the JCC Association (Jewish Community Centers of North America) is hosting a triple-threat event in Israel: the JCC Maccabi Games, JCC Maccabi ArtsFest, and JCC Maccabi Israel travel. Geared toward Jewish youth between the ages of 14 and 17 and their families, JCC also welcomes other interested spectators as well. (I certainly plan to have a front-row seat.)

In case you somehow missed the buzz or are just not that familiar with the Maccabia phenomenon, let’s start at the beginning.

The Roots of Maccabia

Maccabia, Maccabiah, Maccabi – these terms are all variation on a theme of sportsmanship in Jewish youth—a theme whose roots run deep. The concept of an international Jewish sports challenge grew from the traditions of Eastern European sports clubs during the late 19th century, as young Jews wanted to stress the importance of physical strength and unity. These efforts eventually led to the first Maccabia, held in Palestine in 1932. Athletes from 14 different countries participated in the competition. Because of its location, the Maccabia became not only a sports promotion tool, but one that promoted Jewish immigration. Most of the 1700 athletes in the 1935 Tel Aviv Maccabia remained in Palestine after the games, due to rising European anti-Semitism.

These early competitions evolved into the World Maccabiah Games, now held in Israel every four years and coordinated by the Maccabi World Union. The two-week international competition draws elite athletes from around the world, including such luminaries as Mark Spitz and Mitch Gaylord. Today the Games comprise the third largest international sporting competition in the world, drawing 7,500 participants from 51 countries at the 2009 event.

In addition to the international Maccabiah, Israel hosts a smaller Maccabia event each year at the Sea of Galilee, on the Tzemach beach. Young Judea and Federation of Zionist Youth groups meet for everything from talent shows to parades, fireworks, and most importantly, sports competitions. And that’s where JCC Maccabi comes in.

The JCC Maccabi Experience

Since 1982, the JCC Association has held its own Olympic-style sporting competitions for Jewish youth in North America. Each summer, around 5000 teens participate in the JCC Maccabi Games in several host communities. JCC Maccabi also holds a weeklong arts experience for 8-12th grade Jewish youth, and has done so since 2006.

This summer, Israeli Maccabia and JCC Maccabi activities merge for the first time, as one of the host communities for the combined sports and arts events will be in Israel. The overall event will be hosted by the Maccabi World Union, with the JCC Association serving as managing partner. This combined experience will include workshops, performances, social activities, and exhibits, as well as competitive events. A Day of Caring and Sharing project will be featured, as well as a weekend home hospitality experience, with participants sharing Shabbat in Israeli host homes.   The experience will culminate with five days of travel throughout Israel.

Today’s Maccabi events are still designed to honor Jewish values, including:

  • Tikkun Olam – repairing the world
  • Tzedakah – social justice
  • Rachmanus – compassion and empathy
  • Hachnasat Orchim – welcoming of guests
  • Klal Yisrael – Jewish peoplehood
  • Shalom – peace
  • Yizkor – remembrance
  • Tziyonut — Zionism

JCC Maccabi Games

Sporting events this year at the game competition include:

  • Boys and Girls Basketball
  • Boys and Girls Soccer
  • Bowling
  • Table Tennis
  • Tennis
  • Girls Volleyball
  • Swimming

To be eligible to participate, a Jewish teen must be 14-17 years old by July 31, 2011.

JCC Maccabi ArtsFest

Art specialties being offered at this year’s event include:

  • Culinary Arts
  • Dance
  • Rock Music
  • Photography
  • Broadcast Journalism
  • Acting/Improv
  • Visual Arts
  • Vocal Music

The same eligibility requirements are in place for ArtsFest as for the Games.

JCC Maccabi Israel Travel

After the last sporting event and master class, delegations of participants, families, and supports will begin the last leg of the Maccabi journey, by participating in a tour of selected spots throughout Israel. Primary tour sites will be in the Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Negev desert areas, and will include the following activities:

  • A tour of Tel Aviv
  • A climb up the Masada
  • A visit to Jerusalem holy sites
  • A swim – or float – in the Dead Sea
  • A view of the Galil countryside
  • A visit to Mount Herzl, with its national cemetery
  • A tour of Yad Vashem, which commemorates the Holocaust

Event Schedule

If your interest is piqued, here’s the basic schedule for the event:

Dates: July 24-August 5, 2011

July 24 –               Arrive

July 25 –               Welcome

July 26-28 –         Sports and arts in the Galil

July 29-30 –         Shabbat in host homes

July 31 –               Final competition and exhibits

Aug. 1 –                 Touring in Tel Aviv area

Aug. 2 –                Touring in Jerusalem area

Aug. 3 –                Touring in Negev

Aug. 4 –                Closing party at K’far Maccabiah Hotel

Aug. 5 —               Departure

Event venues will include areas in the Galil and Wingate Institute near Netanya, and the K’far Maccabiah Hotel in Ramat Gan, located in the Tel Aviv district.

I hope to see many of you in Israel this summer at this once-in-a-lifetime celebration.

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