3 Takeaways From Maccabi Games

By Stephanie Davis Smith, June 23, 2016

Jordan Zarin can count actor Jason Segel and “Survivor: Africa” champ Ethan Zohn as fellow alumni. In their teen years, each competed in the Maccabi Games, a weeklong Jewish teen engagement program with emphasis on athletics and arts workshops. The experience prompted Zarin to join JCC Maccabi full time seven years ago, and she is now the host community liaison helping plan three annual summer events for 3,500 Jewish youth (ages 13 to 16) taking place in three different host cities. She shares what religious planners can learn from the Games.

1. Be resourceful when it comes to security and safety.

“Especially at a Jewish community center, security is important. We work with host centers to connect with different law enforcement agencies. There are usually around 1,000 volunteers and 5,000 spectators in each city, so there’s a crisis management plan in place. Locally, JCCs build partnerships with hospitals. Obviously, with an athletic competition there are a lot of injuries. We have concussion wavers, etc., but hydration is extremely important with teenagers. Our continental sponsor is Coca-Cola and they provide free water, Gatorade and more.”

2. Promote sportsmanship alongside competition.

“The Rachmanus Rule has been around since 1982—that’s a Yiddish word for compassion.” (The Rule is a collection of guidelines: Good sportsmanship shall be displayed by athletes, coaches and spectators at all times; treat others as you would like to be treated; lead by example, etc.) “We talk about bullying, LGBTQ participants and special needs issues. We share the rules with the delegation heads, and the parents, athletes and artists sign a confirmation they’ve read them. The youth then see arts and athletics through the lens of Jewish values.”

3. Don’t assume participants know everything about their faith.

“For 60 percent of the kids who attend, this is their first experience with Judaism. That was kind of surprising to us. The kids identify as Jewish, but some don’t celebrate that Judaism. We introduce them to international Jewish youth, and they meet our shlichim, which are Israeli emissaries we fly in who discuss anti-Semitism or what a teen in Israel goes through joining the army at age 18.”

Photo credit: Victoria Zegler

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