The recently completed Maccabi Games were successful on several counts, says Eric Lightman, the event’s director at the JCC in Rockland County, which hosted this year’s games.
“It’s hard to believe it’s over,” he said. “We were having such a great time.”
According to Lightman, the games drew 1,125 athletes, 260 coaches, 430 host families, 750 volunteers, and 2,800 spectators – not including host families.
“The total number watching was about 4,500,” he said, adding that the Rockland games attracted more spectators than most host communities. “It’s easy to get here, there are other JCCs nearby, and people want to come because of our proximity to New York City.”
Visits to the games’ website also were noteworthy, with 1,500 unique viewers for the live streaming of the opening ceremonies.
Feedback, Lightman said, was overwhelmingly positive. “We feel really good about what we have done here and the impact we have made on the lives of the kids who participated,” he said. But, he added, the games also will have a lasting impact on the Rockland community.
“We’re trying to bring the community together and engage new segments of the population,” he said. “This was a good first step. It shows what the community is capable of when we work together toward a single goal. To accomplish something amazing, we have to work together.”
Lightman cited the JCC Cares project as a highlight of the gathering.
“We think of the games as athletic events, but one thing that separates us from other [sports events] is that we stop all sports for half a day to teach kids that there are things that are important other than sports,” he said. “When we gave them an opportunity to give back to the community and show that they care about others, they did.”
Lightman said it was “phenomenal” seeing teenagers interact with children with special needs, visit hospitals and nursing homes, and clean up parks – “not because they had to but because they were engaged and understood why it was important – more important than a gold medal.”
Of the games themselves, the director said there was no one dominating delegation, but “overall there was a very wide spread of medals, a pretty level playing field.”
“I’m proud of the positive impact this has had on all the children,” he said. “You can see it with your own two eyes when they’re interacting with each other, exchanging email addresses, and friending on Facebook. It’s about building bonds. I can tell you from experience that more often than not, they have made friendships here that will last for years.”
Area athletes and artists were busy on two fronts last week, representing our local community in both the Rockland games and the JCC Maccabi ArtsFest in Houston.
The arts gathering, run at the same time as the athletic event, offers students the chance to take master classes during the day and enjoy social events at night. Specialties included this year were acting/improvisation, culinary arts, dance, musical theater, rock music, and vocal music.
“We sent eight artists,” Sara Lewis, teen services director at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, said. “They performed beautifully.”
The Rockland event, to which the JCC sent 41 athletes and six staff members, was a success as well.
“Our athletes had a great time in Rockland County,” Lewis said, noting that the 14 and under basketball team carried home a bronze medal, while the baseball team “played really well all week and made it to the quarterfinals.”
The 16 and under basketball team also made it to the quarterfinals, losing by only three points “in an incredibly close and challenging game,” Lewis said.
Local teens scored high in individual sports as well.
In table tennis, Ethan Murad of Teaneck won a bronze medal in singles and a silver medal in team, while Jacob Lewinson of Demarest won a bronze in doubles and a gold in team.
Tennis wins were also impressive.
“All of the tennis players had a great week,” Lewis said, noting that medal winners included Zachary Greenblatt of Engelwood, who won silver, and Mia Rabinowitz of Tenafly, who got gold.
In other events, Sara Edelman of Teaneck won gold in modern dance and silver in jazz dance, while Adam Rosen of Franklin Lakes carried home two bronze and one silver medal in golf.
In the end, however, it’s not just about the medals.
“It was really fun,” said 15-year-old Carly Latner of Closter – even though her soccer team lost in double overtime.
“I made a lot of friends,” she said, explaining that she will keep up with them through email and Facebook. For her JCC Cares project, Carly worked with the Special Olympics program, helping disabled children participate in sports.
“It was very meaningful,” she said.
Tennis gold medal winner Mia Rabinowitz – a 13-year-old who attends Tenafly middle school – came to the games for the first time this year but plans to participate in future events, including next year’s gathering in California.
“It’s a lot more than sports,” she said, though she admitted it was “cool” to win the medal. “I met so many people, and it was really great to stay with a host family and meet kids from all over the world.”
While winning the gold was special, she said, it was even more special to “meet and play with kids from everywhere and see what they’re like.”