The 19th Maccabiah: A manager’s reflection
I’ve always wanted to write a three part series so now I will embark on such an endeavor, although I’ll be publishing it all at once. In this three part series I will explore the best of, and in one entry worst of, the Maccabiah. Let me start of by saying I am doubtful there is any experience quite like the Maccabiah and I am privileged to have been included in the 19th incarnation of it. To say it is life changing may be a bit on the dramatic side but there is no doubt that it created a deep and profound impact.
Here are my reflections from the viewpoint of an accommodations manager. What does an accommodations manager do? After three weeks of doing it, that is still a good question but mostly a little bit of this and that.
***Stay tuned for the next three part, but really one part, series detailing the three different weeks of the Maccabiah looking at the Israel Connect program, Competition week, and what we will tentatively call cultural immersion week.***
Part 1: The Low-lights
These games were not without their issues and it would be remiss not to share those as they certainly added to the experience. Thankfully in all cases we can laugh about them now but in the moment they were more than a little stressful.
- The Opening ceremonies were a wonderful and magical experience. Leaving the opening ceremonies can only be described as hell-ish. Detached from our group and unaware where our busses were several of us searched fruitlessly. After finally meeting up with a good chunk of our group there was only room on the bus for the individuals that were already present. As there were still several missing we instead chose to send that group on their way and continuing searching. Somehow we got separated and on two different buses. Mind you this all occurred over the course of well over an hour. Somehow, with the help of the almighty we were all on buses and accounted for. However our bus would not leave as somehow a group from another location ended up on our shuttle with us and were missing people. Finally an additionally 30 minutes later we headed out. I credit cell phones entirely for our survival of this evening.
- Buses in general were disastrous. No team I worked with did not have at least one major (an hour plus) delay and in one case we had to shell out for taxis to avoid potential de-hydration from sitting and waiting in the sun.
- I had the pleasure of getting very intimate with a hospital bench. After the Half Marathon two of our Master’s runners needed to be treated for de-hydration and heat exhaustion and were shuttled to the hospital. Thankfully the hotel had wi-fi and some padded benches. We were finally discharged at sunrise and sent on our way home. We were dropped off at the runners hotels about a mile away from mine. Now cash-less it was a lovely walk home after nearly 24 hours of having been awake.
- The Half Marathon appears again on our low-lights list this time for two reasons. For starters they began taking the course down too soon. We had two older athletes, 70+ year old brothers, who had yet to complete the course and with the signs and barriers being removed got lost. Thankfully they were resourceful and found their way back. Additionally at this event several of our runners qualified for medals be it in the team event or in individual categories. They did not receive any. It took nearly a week and a half of haggling to get the medals into the proper hands.
- Lack of information was definitely a low light. Rarely did you get an answer for something until the last minute. This might be expected with an event so big but it lent itself to having a feeling of chaos a large amount of the time.
Part 2: The greatest moments
I had the great honor to be part of, or more accurately observe, some very special moments. Here are probably just a few:
- Running onto the field for opening ceremonies was tremendous. Most teams walked or marched onto the field. Not us. Somehow we got well behind the group before us in the staging area and with the need to catch up sprinted through the tunnel and onto the field and for about 50 or 60 meters until we were caught up. 30,000 people have a way of getting you jacked up. It was a very special experience followed by some beautiful performances and powerful speeches but none of them could touch sprinting on the field.
- The first medal I saw won was at Table Tennis in the Men’s open team competition. The US, after a heartbreaking loss in the semis to Russia was playing a young but talented British team in a best of 5 match. After getting down 2-1 in the series the US won game 4 and an intense game 5 ensued. Both teams cheered everyone point and from behind in the 5th set the US player won the match setting off a frenzied celebration. Coupled with a bronze for the junior boys team, it was a very happy day for the US table tennis team.
- One of the more touching moments came courtesy of French table tennis player Olivier and an IDF base. Olivier is a legend, a former top player from France, and still one of the most revered and respected players in the Maccabiah. He is an icon. Our group went to the Nahal unit’s base in Arad to tour and meet some soldiers. Here a teary eyed Olivier spoke passionately to me about his desire to do more for Israel and to make aliyah to the country. A truly touching moment for me to have shared with him.
- This moment was followed by our group getting to play on a simulator with M-16s. It was life size Call of Duty. My roommate for the past two weeks, a world class acupuncturist and former US Army Ranger, just got wrapped up and lit up like the sun. It was a pleasure to see him make this connection with the young IDF soldiers.
- The 10K race was dominated by a male and female American runner. Cameron and Katherine are two of the nicest people I have met and to watch them cross the finish line in their US gear triumphantly was a treat.
- Track and field had to many moments to count. The 100 meter hurdles was dominated by an American who may one day represent Israel on a national level. The Pole Vault saw two women, one American and one Canadian win medals well after their careers have been over but with some intense training leading up to the games their inherent skill and courage won out.
- The 1,500 meters, a race not known for its photo finishes, featured one between a world class Israeli and American runner, both of whom are Olympic hopefuls. Missed in this photo finish was the performance of another American runner just one month removed from Mono who gutted out respectable performances in that race and the 5,000. The grimace and pain on his face was evident but he miraculously finished both, just out of the medals unfortunately. But his performance and his fortitude in such dire conditions to me signal someone special and someone to keep an eye on the coming years likely in sport but if not in life.
- Watching Open Men’s Basketball win the gold with great sportsmanship in Jerusalem of all cities and witnessing it with a lifetime basketball coach from Philly created such great pride in our athletes and MaccabiUSA.
- Swimming in the pool at sunrise…we won’t elaborate on this one.
- 4 am Shwarma, enough said.
- Seeing an American runner passed out and cuddling with a Canadian table tennis player on the back of the bus on the way home from closing ceremonies. A very sweet moment.
- Watching the intense haggling and trading at Closing ceremonies. A currency system of sorts was quickly established determining which countries items were cool and which would require extra persuasion. Everyone was on every team wearing the gear of different nationalities.
- Infected Mushrooms re-mix of “One Day” was very special. Jewish artists covering a jewish artist, and getting the heart rate of close to 15,000 people up to dangerous levels under the cover of just a beautiful and picturesque Jerusalem night.
- Witnessing 10 strikes in a row, under difficult conditions and oily lanes, by one of or American bowlers.
- I rode the bus the first week of the Israel connect program with what can be described as an excitable junior’s hockey team. The one and only place the whole week that stopped them in their tracks was the wailing wall. At this site they were demure, pensive, in awe and it was incredible to witness the power of this location, moment, and experience on them.
- Late night cocktails and talking hockey on the balcony at Kfar Hamaccabiah with the roommate.
- Serving as the receptionist for the acupuncture clinic set up in my room at the Metropolitan hotel regularly packed with track and field athletes.
- The Beach party and Ha’oman parties. Not only were these international affairs but everyone was Jewish. What an amazing experience to share collectively in just gorgeous settings. Americans sharing Vodka with Russians, talking shop with soccer players from Chile, and many more moments within the moment.
- Seeing Dave Blackburn play Para Table Tennis and continue his Maccabiah streak was very powerful. Dave is multiple time Softball player who tragically was in a bad car accident. He lived though and while he cannot play softball anymore as he is in a wheel chair came and competed in Table Tennis. He was inspiration and just a great person throughout the time in Israel.
- The Bnai Mitzvah ceremony resonates with me much more now that it did at the time. Thinking of the fact that Jews come from all walks of lives and experiences is something that become more and more poignant over the course of the games. The Bnai Mitzvah ceremony and its several groups really showcased that. Also, the food and location were incredible.
- Having a beer and discussing religion on the veranda of the Hilton until 3am, followed by Shwarma of course.
Part 3: The best of the experience
This part looks at the experiences that made the Maccabiah special. While moments contributed to these it is more the overall experience and feeling that defines these points.
- Seeing such talented Jewish athletes dedicated to their craft. Training was not optional it was a necessity and nothing would get in the way of it – not the weather, not the bus schedule, not anything. This dedication and commitment is admirable and a joy to witness.
- Getting to be so close to the action, I wish I had an all access badge every day in real life.
- Meeting so many unique people from our Israeli village staff, to athletes from other countries, to our Jewish-American athletes from all places, of all ages, sizes, and experiences. I don’t have any new best friends but I know have friends and strong bonds all over the world like Oren from India, Edwin from France, Len from Australia, and so on.
- Learning from the many talented coaches I came across. As a coach myself picking up on the little tips and the hard work of these coaches will enrich me when I get home.
- The hard work of the volunteers and staff from all of the countries is inspirational. They do it all to give the athletes this opportunity. To have been a small cog in the machine, and to learn about and appreciate the machine is something I will keep with me. It is a very powerful machine producing great athletics and a game changing experience. I will treasure it always.
There you have it, a three part series on the Maccabiah. What have been your experiences with the Maccabiah?