Another exciting professional baseball season has come to an end. The World Series showed us that the champion can come from behind. And the playful nature of the Washington Nationals, particularly watching grown men sing “Baby Shark,” showed us that there is joy to be found in the game itself.
For me, one of the clearest experiences of relationship building through sports is as a three-time participant, multi-year host family, coach, and parent for JCC Maccabi Games. I have seen the myriad of ways that the JCC Maccabi experience promotes Jewish engagement for young people. Using sports competition as its hook for Jewish teens, JCC Association of North America, through JCC Maccabi, offers real relationship building, which was demonstrated to me this year.
This summer, the Metro Detroit Jewish community hosted the JCC Maccabi Games and by all accounts, it was a very successful weeklong event. As coach of Detroit’s 16U baseball team, I can attest to the fact that while neither team boasted winning records, their players left the games with wonderful memories and a life lesson about camaraderie and sportsmanship.
After our team was eliminated from the tournament, I led our boys to the bus back to the Jewish Community Center. As fate would have it, we would be sharing the bus with Boston’s 16U baseball team and the bus hadn’t yet arrived. As we waited in the hot sun, I met the Boston coach, Aidan Arnold. I already knew three of his players since I was hosting them in my home for the week.
After some friendly banter about the longstanding sports rivalries between our two great cities, we decided that we’d play a friendly “consolation” game against each other the following day. I contacted the umpire director for the JCC Maccabi Games, who quickly arranged for an umpire for our game. The two teams played for three hours in what all the players said was the most fun they had all week.
It was a competitive game that both teams took seriously. We coaches became friends and the players interacted with each other very well. I’m sure we will remain friends and we look forward to seeing each other at future JCC Maccabi Games. We’ll always remember how we quickly put together a memorable game for these boys this past summer.
Since my first JCC Maccabi Games experience in my hometown of Metro Detroit in 1990, I have seen how the JCC Maccabi experience goes well beyond the competition. It promotes camaraderie among its participants and the net results are meaningful, lasting, lifelong relationships. In the world of Jewish youth engagement, Jewish summer camp and Jewish youth groups have long been the community’s all-stars. However, if I had to select an unsung hero it would have to be the JCC Maccabi Games.
The JCC Maccabi Games have been planting and then tending trees in the Jewish community for decades. The roots are the actual weeklong events at the end of the summer, but the branches extend out across the generations and across the time zones. They connect Jewish people around the world and remind us that the JCC Maccabi Games are so much more than the competition. Sports tournaments and dance competitions are commonplace for today’s Jewish teens, but the JCC Maccabi Games have created a culture in which the competition brings the teens in, but the result is thousands of Jewish teens who feel more connected and energized; eager to do great things in the Jewish community with the toolkit provided by the JCC Maccabi Games. That one action-packed week generates a lifetime of Jewish engagement.
Our Boston and Detroit baseball players won’t get to watch their hometown heroes play in this year’s postseason, but I’m confident that the memories of that game this past summer during the JCC Maccabi Games will live with them forever.