Some 900 students from middle school and high school came to Israel for the 30th annual JCC Maccabi Games and ArtsFest, which runs through Aug. 5. When the JCC Association of North America decided to move its annual summertime American Jewish athletic competition to Israel for the first time, interest in going to Israel for the games soared after the JCC Association secured assurances from Birthright that participating in the games would not make teenagers ineligible for Birthright trips. They brought with them several hundred coaches and family members.
The 900 U.S. and Canadian teenagers came to compete in soccer, basketball, volleyball, table tennis and swimming. Delegations from South Africa and Israel also participated in the competitions.
The sporting events took place in six different villages in the northern Galilee near Kiryat Shemona. On Shabbat, the games organized home hospitality for the athletes, sending the teens to whichever city in Israel was the Jewish federation sister city of their hometowns.
The games are organized jointly by the JCC Association and the Maccabi World Union, which puts together Jewish sporting events the world over, including the so-called Jewish Olympics: the Maccabiah Games, which are held in Israel every four years.
Designed to foster Jewish identity through sports, the JCC Games began in 1982 with 300 participants. Today they take place in three host communities each summer and involve thousands of teens. This year, in addition to Israel, competitions were held in Springfield, MA, and Philadelphia, PA.
Six years ago, the JCC Association decided to broaden its outreach to teens by adding an arts component to the games. The ArtsFest includes workshops in music, dance, broadcast journalism, photography, visual art and food.