It was an evening of pageantry, passion and purpose Sunday night as the 2017 JCC Maccabi Games Opening Ceremonies were held at Bartow Arena at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
The Birmingham Jewish community, with only 6300 members, is one of the smallest communities ever to host the Maccabi Games. The arena was jammed and buzzing with excitement as delegations of teen athletes from across the country and across the ocean entered the hall.
This weeklong extravaganza which has brought 900 teen athletes to Birmingham will feature a week of athletic competition, community service, Jewish growth and plain old fun. Almost the entire Birmingham Jewish community and many friends of our community have become engaged in Maccabi.
The evening was narrated by Birmingham Jewish community member Robert Levin, a local pediatrician who serves as the band announcer at University of Alabama football games. He began by recognizing the 2017 JCC Maccabi Games Co-Chairs, Amanda and Layne Held, and Carlton and Bruce Sokol, along with LJCC Executive Director Betzy Lynch, Games Director Spencer Lynch, and LJCC Board President Allison Weil.
Layne, a driving force behind Birmingham’s Maccabi Games, spoke to the crowd on behalf of the leadership team.
Robert also highlighted the presence of Stephen Seiden, Board Chair of JCC North America. Also present were the Honorary Chairs of the Games, former Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive and former Birmingham-Southern College President and retired US Marine General Charles Krulak.
Auburn University basketball Coach Bruce Pearl, who is Jewish, also spoke. Coach Pearl’s talk was a motivational speech about Jewish pride and identity.
Excitement built and reached a crescendo as Robert began welcoming the Maccabi delegations into the arena: “And now, let’s meet the over 900 athletes and their coaches of our 28 Delegations from around the world.” As the delegations entered, he shared a little bit about their hometown Jewish communities and cities in general.
One of the most moving introductions was for the delegation from Israel: “What would Maccabi be without athletes from Israel, and what would we be as Jews without Israel?…These Israeli teens are OUR children, and we envelop them with affection. They are Israel’s future, they lift our hearts. Our love for their country unites us and we say ‘Shalom.’ We are glad you are here. Welcome, Team Israel.”
And, of course, there was Robert’s introduction of the Birmingham-anchored Alabama delegation, the last one to enter the arena: “As we host the Maccabi Games for the first time, Team Alabama includes athletes from Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile. And, if you hear some Team Alabama athletes without Southern accents, those teens are from our Israeli and Ukrainian Sister Cities. The Alabama Jewish community has a passion for Jewish life that’s going to blow you away. Just wait! Welcome, Team Alabama.
To officially kick off the Games, Gen. Krulak and Commissioner Slive both lit the Maccabi torch, symbolically lighting the cauldron that was assembled at Sloss Furnace, an important part of Birmingham’s history.
The passion of the opening ceremonies will be on display all week as our community has come together to host what promises to be an extraordinary happening.
Update will be covering the Games throughout the week so please send us your favorite “Maccabi Moment” — an encounter or experience that touched you personally — in 1-2 paragraphs. Please send it to Update@bjf.org.
We will try to run as many as possible.