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The Bigger Picture

Posted by Brooks Weaver on December 18, 2017

During the Chanukah season, we are reminded of the importance of light. “Light” is often used in the Torah to mean knowledge and wisdom. Embracing our role in lighting the world can be extremely powerful, both individually and collectively, and there is no better way to do that than “taking the show on the road” – to the JCC Maccabi Games®.

Each year, the JCC of Greater Pittsburgh forms a delegation of teen athletes and artists who travel to destinations across the United States to participate in the JCC Maccabi Games®, an Olympic-style sporting competition held each summer. These Games are the second largest organized sports program for Jewish teenagers in the world and provide athletic, cultural and social opportunities for local Jewish teens to meet and compete against Jews from across the country and world.

The first North American JCC Maccabi Games® were held in 1982 with a total of 300 athletes. Since their inception, the Games have grown from a small pilot project in one host community to an Olympic-style sporting competition held each summer in multiple sites throughout North America. Today, over 3,000 teens, ranging from 13 to 16 years of age, participate in the JCC Maccabi Games® each summer.

Needless to say, however, the Games are about more than just competition. In this event, rachmanus (spirit) supersedes athletic prowess. Rachmanus is one of the guiding principles of the JCC Maccabi Games® and can best be described as sportsmanship, community and compassion all rolled into one. During the Games and ArtsFest, athletes, artists, coaches, artists in residence, delegation heads, chaperones and spectators are all bound by the “Rachmanus Rule” of fair play. Participants are expected to support teens of all backgrounds and levels of experience. JCC Maccabi athletes and artists are expected to engage, interact with and support teens that are not from their delegation or in their sport or specialty.

The atmosphere of the JCC Maccabi Games® and ArtsFest®and its significance as a truly Jewish event is only enhanced when both participants and spectators have an understanding of and a commitment to this principle:

Handshake Lines. Helping a fallen opponent. Jews from all over the world mingling and forming relationships. These are the images that are ever-present at the JCC Maccabi Games®.

In addition to the emphasis on rachmanus, there are plenty of other examples of traditional Jewish values at play throughout the Games. It is commonplace that all athletes and artists stay with host families for the week of the Games, not in hotels or dorm rooms. These families and their selfless actions epitomize chesed, or kindness, as they open their doors to complete strangers and provide them food, lodging and guidance as they maneuver around an unfamiliar city with unfamiliar people. While it is the athletic competitions that originally draw the teens in to the Maccabi Games, it is often the social aspect of the Games that keeps them coming back year after year. Every evening features a social event that all athletes and artists attend, which allows them to form meaningful and lasting relationships with other Jewish teens. There are also “Hang Time” areas at all of the venues throughout the Games, where teens can kick back, relax and chill with athletes and artists from delegations across the country. It is these types of social settings that truly create the community, or kehillah, feel that separates the JCC Maccabi Games® from other athletic competitions.

As if the teens were not busy enough with the athletic competitions, ArtsFest activities and all of the evening social events, the JCC Maccabi Games® also has a service project component to it called JCC Cares. The basic American concept of community service is closely tied to the basic Jewish value of tikkun olam, or repairing the world, which urges the teens to make a difference in the lives of others who may be less fortunate than them. Examples of past service projects include: Packing school supply kits for Family Centers and Israeli children, visiting sick kids and teens at local hospitals, spending time with older adults in nursing homes, improving neighborhoods or local facilities (i.e. Habitat for Humanity) or making Surgi-Dolls for pediatric patients at medical centers and hospitals.

Needless to say, this unique event is not only about being a part of the Jewish people; it comes with a mission – to make the world a better place and to make our young adults better people.

If you are interested in lighting the world and joining Team Pittsburgh or would like to learn more about the 2018 JCC Maccabi Games® that take place in Orange County, CA from August 5-10, 2018, please contact Brooks Weaver at 412-697-3559 or submit the form below. Learn more: JCC Maccabi Games®

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