Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Central Florida delegation to JCC Maccabi Games returns with medals


September 1, 2017

Team Central Florida, 13 teens from Orlando, Jacksonville, Gainesville, Tampa, & Sarasota-marching in during Opening Ceremonies.

A delegation from Central Florida recently returned after competing in the 35th annual JCC Maccabi Games, a weeklong Olympic-style sports competition giving close to 3,000 teens the chance to gather with fellow Jewish youth this summer. The Central Florida delegation, with teens from Orlando, Jacksonville, Tampa, Gainesville, and Sarasota, participated in the first week of JCC Maccabi, which convened July 30-August 4 in Birmingham, N.Y. (hosted by the Levite Jewish Community Center).

JCC Maccabi is an initiative of JCC Association of North America, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, marking the centennial year of the JCC Movement.

Orlando teen, Nathaniel Cohen, won the silver medal in boys 14U tennis. Cohen competed in the competitive division as opposed to recreational, meaning he won second overall.  Other Central Florida teens to medal were Sarasota twins, Lana and Micah Katz who participated in various individual swimming events.  They follow in the footsteps of their older sister Fallon who medaled in swimming at the 2014 JCC Maccabi Games in Boca Raton.

Bringing together Jewish teens from around Central Florida was a unique opportunity as most cities have their own delegation.  The Central Florida teens though had the opportunity to bond with other Jewish teens from around the area.  Orlando teens, Nathan Waldbaum and Matthew Dvorchik participated on a 14U basketball team along with Ethan Grand from Gainesville and Daniel Santana Jr. from Tampa, both part of Central Florida.  Ayden Israel from Jacksonville participated in flag football with Nathan King, from Tampa.  Nathan and his twin sister, Stella, (volleyball) are the grandchildren of CNN's Larry King who tweeted to his millions of followers words of support for the Central Florida delegation and about the teens' great experience at the Games.  Other Central Florida teens participating were Natan Egosi, Tampa 16U basketball; Aidan Gonzaelz, Tampa volleyball; Zach Mizrahi, Jacksonville baseball.

JCC Maccabi is more than an athletic competition, promoting community involvement, teamwork, and Jewish engagement, and bringing together teen participants, community volunteers, coaches and host families.

"While medals were won, the more important takeaway was that friendships were made." said Robby Etzkin, The Roth Family JCC's executive director and the Central Florida delegation head.  "The JCC Maccabi Games use sports as the vehicle to engage Jewish teens from around the world and by all measures, this summer was another great success, especially for Central Florida.  For Jewish teens to stand together, more than 1,000 strong at each site and sing Ha'tikvah, see the tribute to the Munich 11, and to participate in local community service, it's clear that the Games are much more than just another sports tournament.  The JCC Maccabi Games are an identity-strengthening, impactful Jewish teen experience."

Together known as JCC Maccabi, JCC Maccabi Games and JCC Maccabi ArtsFest engage the entire Jewish community in a celebration of Jewish peoplehood with a love of Israel at its core. Each program gives Jewish teens the chance to give something back to host communities through JCC Cares, a day dedicated to acts of tikkun olam, or repairing the world. In addition to taking home gold, silver and bronze medals in their sports competitions, participants can earn Midot Medals for outstanding acts of chesed (kindness) and in enhancing the spirit of the event.

"JCC Maccabi began as a way to engage Jewish teens through athletics and connect them to their heritage and more importantly, to one another," said Randy Ellen Lutterman, vice president of arts and culture and JCC Maccabi Games and ArtsFest at JCC Association of North America. "As the JCC Movement celebrates our centennial this year, JCC Maccabi is inspiring Jewish teens in new and innovative ways by offering them an exciting way to meet, compete and create in multiple host communities."

These weeklong experiences provide teens-many, for the first time-to feel part of k'lal Israel, the greater Jewish people. East host community kicks off the week with an opening ceremony where JCC teen delegations march amidst great fanfare. The following day, competitions and creative workshops begin.

The competition in Birmingham was followed by two subsequent weeklong events Aug. 6-11, in the New York Capital Region (hosted by the Sidney Albert Albany Jewish Community Center and the Robert and Dorothy Ludwig JCC of Schenectady), and in Miami, hosted by the Alper JCC.

Nathaniel Cohen, Orlando, who won silver in boys 14 U tennis

The Maccabi Movement began in 1895 when the first all-Jewish sports club was formed in Constantinople. The first world Maccabiah Games were held in Israel in 1932. The first North American JCC Maccabi Games were held in 1982 with 300 teen athletes. The weeklong Olympic-style competition is the largest athletic tournament for Jewish teens ages 13-16 in North America.

Team Central Florida will be travelling to the West Coast for the 2018 Games, Aug.5-10, 2018. Jewish teens who are 13-16 years old (on July 31, 2018), are eligible to participate.  Next year's sports lists will most likely include: basketball (boys and girls), flag football, baseball (boys), volleyball (girls), soccer (boys and girls), tennis, swimming, bowling, lacrosse, dance, and star reporter (social media track).  For more information, contact Robby Etzkin at RobbyE@orlandojcc.org.


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