Helen Schreiber of New City, New York, thought hosting for the JCC Maccabi Games, set for August 12 to 17 at the Rockland JCC, might be something she and her husband, Rob, would enjoy. But she wasn’t sure she’d qualify.
It wasn’t so much that their kids were grown and gone, but that multiple sclerosis has confined Rob, a former college football and lacrosse athlete, to a wheelchair.
“I thought it was a good fit for us,” Schreiber said. They always were a sports oriented family, and she thought she and her husband would enjoy having athletic kids around. “My primary motive was a little selfish,” she joked.
The JCC gave them the green light, noting that having a variety of hosts, who come from a range of backgrounds and life stages, is part of the experience for the visiting teens, who will come from across the United States, as well as from countries as far away as Israel and Panama. The couple requested lacrosse players, she said, because Rob “will be able to encourage the girls and go to their games.”
She was so taken with the experience that she joined the housing committee and called others, hoping to recruit them for the effort as well.
“We weren’t just looking for families with kids,” Schreiber said. “We were looking for a warm experience for the athletes. It can be anyone. Age doesn’t matter.”
Not only empty nesters like the Schreibers were welcome. So were parents with kids too young to play.
The host family just needed a bed, sofa sleeper or air mattress for each teenager they take, and someone must be qualified to drive them. Each family was asked to host at last two student athletes.
The family must provide the visiting teens with breakfast each day, get them to either the hub at Rockland Community College or their first sporting event each day, and then pick them up at 9:30. Hosts also must either wash the teens’ uniforms or show them how to work the washer and dryer so the athletes can do it themselves.
The housing committee recruited about 450 host families to house the roughly 1,300 visiting teens who will be here to compete in the Olympic-style sports competition. All the Rockland County families whose children are playing in the Games are required to host.
Once the committee found its hosts, it began to match hosts and players, considering such factors as pet allergies, whether a host family can handle a teenager with a chronic condition like diabetes, and levels of kashrut, housing committee chair Lanie Etkind said.
“This is a really enriching experience, to be part of this movement with more than 1,000 teenagers, coming from all across the world, not just to do sports together, but to hang out together,” Etkind said. She added that she had been moved to tears watching Jewish teenagers from around the world march with their delegations during the opening ceremonies in Philadelphia last year.
“I grew up in a small town. If five Jews were in a room together, it was a really big deal,” she said.
During the games, there is the “host family night,” when hosts are responsible for entertaining their guests. They can take them to the city, to a ballgame, dinner, or the movies, or get together with other host families for a pool party or barbecue. Etkind said the JCC is happy to suggest activities.
Etkind’s daughter stayed with an older couple when she played in the games. She had a “really good time,” her mother reported. “They took the kids out for ice cream after the events. We’ve kept in touch with them. They had more time to be better hosts. They came to her games and cheered for her.”
Eighth-grader Eric Wertheim played baseball last year in Philadelphia. It was his first JCC Maccabi Games, and he had a great time. Part of that was the host family, who surprised Eric and the other boys staying there by taking them to a Phillies game.
“It was a nice surprise,” said Eric, 14, who will be playing baseball and hosting this year.
“They were very nice,” he said. “It was nice to meet people that were kind of like my family.”