A group of 45 young athletes and artists traveled from Pittsburgh to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., recently for the 2015 JCC Maccabi Games and ArtsFest.
Modeled after the Olympics, the Games are a two-week long sporting competition held in North America each summer. With over 6,000 teens, ranging in age from 13 to 16, the Games are the second-largest organized sporting program for Jewish teenagers in the world. Also for Jewish teens ages 13 to 16, ArtsFest is a week-long arts experience for creative Jewish kids. With opening and closing events, workshops, performances, exhibits, community service and social activities, the event strengthens bonds to Jewish heritage, community and Israel.
This summer’s 45-member contingent was Pittsburgh’s largest participating group to date, said Mark Pattis, program coordinator of sports and recreation and the Emma Kaufmann Camp at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.
“Two years ago, we brought one basketball team; last year, we brought three teams,” he said. “It just sort of started to grow.”
Through word of mouth and open meetings, Pattis and Alan Mallinger, Men’s Centerfit Platinum director at the Center, gathered a group of interested teens.
“It offers a great experience,” said Pattis “We have summer camps, but nothing brings kids together like the Maccabi Games.”
Apart from North America, Jewish teens from Australia, Poland, Great Britain and Israel all congregated in Fort Lauderdale for the events. During the day, the teens familiarized themselves with one another through sporting events and community service projects. At night, social gatherings were held for the participants.
“Fort Lauderdale did a really nice job for kids. There was a lot to do,” said Mallinger.
Included among the evening events were trips to Dave & Busters for video games and karaoke, a dance party at Hard Rock Live and fraternizing at the Nova Southeastern University’s Don Taft University Center.
Pattis said that the teens enjoyed all of the activities, but competing in the sporting events was the most fun.
Within their 45-member group, Pittsburgh fielded two basketball teams, one in the 16-and-under division and another in the 14-and-under division.
“Both competed strongly,” said Pattis.
Also representing Pittsburgh was a boys soccer team, which came in fourth in the 16-and-under division.
Although lacking enough players to assemble an entire team, Pittsburgh still sent several teens to compete in team sports. Three baseball players, two lacrosse players and two girls basketball players competed on teams of mixed delegations. On the girls basketball team, Pittsburgh teens played alongside athletes from Hartford, Conn., Stamford, Conn., Springfield, Mass., and the Midwest. For lacrosse, Pittsburgh teens joined players from Detroit, Springfield, Hartford and the Los Angeles Westside JCC.
Among individual athletes, Pittsburgh’s Maddie Dorish dominated the Games. The 13-year-old swimmer won 12 medals — eight individual gold, one relay gold and three relay silver medals.
While Dorish appreciated winning, she also enjoyed participating in a volunteer project. Dorish joined other athletes to package food at a local food bank.
Mallinger said that the project was one of several that the teens participated in through the JCC Cares program. Aimed as an opportunity to enhance the Maccabi Games’ experience, the program urges participants to repair the world and provide for others less fortunate.
Apart from packaging food, other community service projects included visiting boys and girls clubs to work with children in their summer camps, bowling with persons with developmental disabilities and working alongside adult actors with disabilities on a video production of a popular song.
“The kids take time from competing to go to events and give back to the community that sponsored the games,” said Mallinger. “It is a nice experience for them.”
Reflecting upon all the events, Pattis and Mallinger maintained that they were pleased with the entire Maccabi experience.
“The goal is to get as many kids as possible from Pittsburgh involved,” Pattis said.
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.