“It’s basically an Olympic-style festival for Jewish teens that has a very strong basis in community service,” said Jesse Rosen, JCC Maccabi Games director. “That to me is what makes it stand apart from any other sports festival that we know of.”
The games, established in 1982, are held each year in different cities of the United States and draw Jewish athletes from across the world. In addition to promoting the health and wellbeing of youth and instilling in them a sense of sportsmanship, the games provide an opportunity for Jewish youth to deepen their understanding of Jewish values.
The games also aim to “introduce Jewish youth to the international Maccabi Movement, which presents athletic, cultural, and social opportunities with Jews from around the world,” according to the 2015 JCC Maccabi Games website.
For many Jewish youth, the games represent their first big Jewish experience, according to Rosen.
“It gives them a chance to develop relationships and friendships with kids from all over the place that are just like them but different,” Rosen said.
The 2015 games will run from Aug. 2-7 in Milwaukee as well as in Dallas, Texas, and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. – all of which were selected through a competitive bid process by the Jewish Community Center Association of North America, which owns the brand of the JCC Maccabi Games.
Milwaukee last hosted the games in 1997.
The Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center is taking the lead on organizing the 2015 Milwaukee event and coalescing community partners. On the athletic side, the event will feature competitions among Jewish athletes ages 12 to 16 in sports such as basketball, baseball, swimming, tennis, soccer, volleyball and bowling. Sports represented at the 2015 games in Milwaukee are still being determined, according to Rosen.
Teams competing at the JCC Maccabi Games represent cities. While some cities hold tryouts to form their teams, Milwaukee’s team will welcome anyone age 12 to 16 who identifies as Jewish, Rosen said.
Tournaments will take place in venues all throughout southeastern Wisconsin following an opening ceremony for the games on Aug. 2 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Winning teams will receive medals and other recognition.
On the community service side, all participating athletes and coaches will take time to volunteer while in Milwaukee.
“Without exception, everyone associated with the game…all stop their competitions for some part of the day, and we go do a community service project,” Rosen said.
That community service project is still in development, according to Rosen. Through the project, the JCC hopes to make a lasting impact extending beyond the week of the JCC Maccabi Games.
“Our priority right now is to identify partners that can help us figure out what the community needs,” Rosen said.
According to the JCC, the games have a projected $3 million economic impact on southeastern Wisconsin with close to 1,500 athletes and coaches expected to attend and about 500 families expected to host visitors.
The five-day event won’t be limited to Jews but will be inclusive of members of the general public who share the values of the Jewish community.
“Anyone can have a Jewish journey, whether you’re Jewish or not,” Rosen said. “So we really look forward to bringing this unique journey to all of Milwaukee.”