Cody Blumenthal and Gabe Green were among 2,600 athletes at the largest annual JCC Maccabi Games this summer, representing the Tucson Jewish Community Center. Blumenthal participated in 16 and under basketball while Green vied in 14 and under soccer at the Aug. 5-10 games in Orange County, California. Josh Shenker, the J’s director of child, youth and camping services, accompanied the team, which was among 70 delegations from around the globe.
Blumenthal seeded in the highest competitive basketball bracket, losing in his first round of competition, but placing on the Maccabi USA Team. He was invited to participate in the U.S. Pan Am Maccabi Team in Mexico City in July. Green played in a single soccer bracket, losing in the first round of the single bronze medal competition. “I really liked the competition and being surrounded by a lot of Jews, because you have a connection and you can talk about being Jewish,” said Green.
Both athletes had competed in last year’s games in Birmingham, Alabama, so they found old friends and made new ones this year. “I enjoy meeting people from different places,” says Blumenthal. But, he notes, hitting the court with a whole team of players he’s never met before is a challenge. “We’ve just met them and have no idea about them.” He is more comfortable with his home team at Catalina Foothills High School where he is in the 10th grade.
Green’s team included players from his previous Maccabi experience. He hopes to go again next summer, to Atlanta, Georgia, if he has time. Meanwhile, he will continue honing his skills with the FC Tucson Youth Soccer Club.
More than 800 host families housed the 1,800 visiting Jewish teens during the event. As this was the single national event this year, it was the largest games yet. Because the games fell after school was under way in Tucson, this year’s delegation was small, Shenker says.
The games opened Sunday, Aug. 5 with an Olympic-style presentation of participants circling the field. Tuesday and Wednesday were pool play in which athletes were seeded and ranked in 13 sports. Competition was the final two days with medal opportunities for each sport in each bracket.
The JCC Maccabi Games, the world’s largest Jewish youth event, began in 1982 to provide Jewish youth with a supportive environment fostering mutual respect and sportsmanship, to interact in a fun atmosphere, cultivate a deeper understanding of their Jewish identity, and to instill an appreciation of Jewish values, according to the organization. For the teens, the goals are to compete — sometimes win, sometimes lose — meet new friends, and get to know Jews from around the world.
Each athlete learned about rachmanus (compassion) during the competition, tikkun olam (repair of the world) during the community service projects throughout the week known as “JCC Cares,” and amiut yehudit (Jewish peoplehood) during a variety of experiences that strengthen their connection to each other, their communities, and Israel.
The Tucson JCC receives ongoing financial support from the Paul Ash Youth Maccabi Fund. Through this fund, the J has helped send more than 100 teens to the JCC Maccabi Games® over the past many years, says Todd Rockoff, President and CEO for the Tucson J.