Maccabi Games Conclude in Lower Merion
The 2011 JCC Maccabi games concluded Thursday, August 18, in Philadelphia. The games are designed to provide Jewish athletes the world over the opportunity to share their heritage and customs in a competitive athletic settings.
For the 1200 Jewish teens attending the Maccabi games, the events also served as an opportunity to strengthen their Jewish identity through practical observance.
Beginning Sunday evening, four rabbinical students, part of the Merkos Summer Visitation program and in conjunction with Cteens, the Chabad teen network, manned a booth in the “Hangtime Room” - a space where athletes could rest and recharge between games and schmooze with their fellow attendees. Rabbi Mendy Cohen, of Chabad of the Mainline, oversaw the Chabad booth this year.
He explained, “We have the opportunity to meet hundreds of Jewish teens and share a mitzvah experience with them - many for the first time.” The booth, set up against the backdrop of a giant poster of the Western Wall, soon became a hotspot for athletes as well as their friends and family.
With the help of the rabbinical students, individuals made blessing on kosher refreshments, gave tzedaka, donned tefillin and received Shabbat candle gift packages. In addition, athletes were able to make their own shofars at a special Shofar Factory arranged by Cteens.
"It became symbol of pride among the athletes - the sheer volume of kids that have been touched, it boggles the mind,” said Yossi Katzman, a rabbinical student. Some came to the booth in search of a spiritual boost to their game performance as well.
Another rabbinic student, Chaim Freund, told the athletes, “You’re not guaranteed to win - but you’ll definitely connect to G-d - and that is a win for everyone.”
Caralyn Vessal, a Lower Merion resident, is the mother of a participant, Jonathon, 13. “The weather was terrible,” she recounted, “yet Jewish children from around the world came together. We met people from as far away as England and Panama.” Regarding Chabad’s involvement, she said, “There’s no organization that has done more for the Jewish community. It’s a wonderful thing that they’re there. The Maccabi game is a Jewish event. It’s not religious, but it brings everyone together physically. Chabad is offering something more-- Chabad unifies the Jewish youth spiritually.”