On Aug. 10, a twirling spotlight shone on the 85-man JCC Chicago Maccabi team that waved the blue-striped and red-starred Chicago flag above their heads as they marched onto the floors of the opening ceremony in Cherry Hill, N.J. The annual JCC Maccabi Games, inaugurated in 1982, is the largest Jewish teen event in the world.
This year, it brought over 6,000 participants to three different venues-Cherry Hill, Boca Raton, and Detroit-to compete in "Olympic-style" events and, perhaps more importantly, cultivate a deeper understanding of Jewish values of responsibility, teamwork, and tikkun olam.
According to the JCC Maccabi Chicago Facebook page, the competition was used "as a vehicle to instill pride among our athletes in their Jewish identity while reminding them that the Games connect each of them to the world's Jewish community including the State of Israel." And for the participating 13 to 16 year old Chicagoan athletes, Maccabi had much more to offer than merely games of table tennis and volleyball matches.
Over 100 American, Canadian, and Israeli communities were represented during the weeklong competition as members of the JCC Chicago team, among others, thrived in the carefree and democratic atmosphere. "The diversity appeals to teens and gives them the sense that they are part of something larger than themselves," according to JCC Chicago.
The Chicago competitors, for one, brought home a slew of medals. Both the 16 & Under and 14 & Under Boys' Basketball teams grabbed the gold, both squads comfortably outscoring their opposition. The 16 & Under Boys' Soccer and baseball teams stole silver medals as they celebrated in a jumping huddle. And bringing home the bronze was the Boys' Lacrosse team and the 16 & Under Girls' Basketball team. The swimmers, too, collected 35 medals throughout the week.
The JCC Maccabi Chicago Facebook page flooded with congratulations. "We are so proud," a spectator wrote. "Way to go, Girls!"
But the athletes walked away from the closing ceremonies with something more-kavod, rina, ga'ava, lev tov, and amiut yehudit (that is, respect, joy, pride, a big heart, and a feeling of unity with all Jewish communities).
These midot, or core values, were nurtured in part by the hospitality of local Jewish families who hosted every athlete for the week. For security reasons, all athletes stayed with host families-there were over 400 in total!-as opposed to in hotels, allowing them to enjoy a personal relationship with their hosts.
And though Maccabi was the largest gathering of its kind, each athlete was able to discover something about him or herself on a more intimate level-as an individual Jew and as a part of the Jewish people.
The Jewish Community Center of Chicago (JCC) is a partner in serving our community and receives support from the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.