Bham Leaves Its Mark On Jewish Teens
Today, almost 1,000 visiting Jewish teens head back to their homes after competing in the JCC Maccabi Games. These teens, however, left their mark on Birmingham and, in turn, Birmingham left its mark on the young visitors from all over the US, Israel and Ukraine, according to a wonderful Al.Com article published today. Here are excerpts from the article.
By Joseph Goodman, Al.Com Writer
One of the most culturally significant events in the history of Birmingham for its Jewish residents ended on Thursday.
On Friday, nearly 1,200 athletes and coaches of the 2017 JCC Maccabi Games will be leaving Birmingham after a week of athletic competition. It was served up with a huge helping of Southern charm (and security) by this host city. As the T-shirts worn by host families read, proudly: “Yes, Ma’am, there are Jews in Birmingham!” Athletes from Mobile, Huntsville and elsewhere participated with Team Alabama to represent the state in the Games.
That I’m only writing about the JCC Maccabi Games now, after they are over, is an unfortunate reflection of these tumultuous times for our country and world. With so many bomb threats called into the Birmingham Levite Jewish Community Center leading up to the Games, publicizing the location of the Games’ athletes would have been reckless.
The lack of publicity for the 2017 JCC Maccabi Games does not mean they were insignificant, or unimportant for the city. Nearly every major corporation, business and university in Birmingham, including UAB, Birmingham-Southern College, Alabama Power, Vulcan Materials, EBSCO, Mayer Electric and Children’s Hospital of Alabama partnered with the Birmingham Levite Jewish Community to sponsor the weeklong athletic event, and showcase of the city.
About 250 Jewish homes in the city hosted athletes ages 13 to 16 from cities all over the country, and Birmingham’s two sister cities in Ukraine (Vinnytsia) and Israel (Rosh Ha’ayin). Sponsored by the JCC Association of North America, the JCC Maccabi Games are annual sports festivals designed for Jewish teenagers to come together, take pride in Jewish culture and experience a city away from home.
As Auburn basketball coach Bruce Pearl said at the opening ceremony: “Be proud of the struggles that we as a people had…I’m grateful because this wonderful country of ours allows us to gather together. It allows us to worship together. It allows us to be Jews and be free, and not everybody in the world has those same freedoms, so thank God for those freedoms. Thank God for the United States of America that we get to do this here in Birmingham, Alabama. I’m grateful that I can be Jewish and be a basketball coach in the SEC. How ’bout that?”
BHAM TAKES GREAT PRIDE
In the 36-year history of the JCC Maccabi Games, Birmingham is the second smallest American city to host the event. Of that fact, Birmingham’s Jewish community takes great pride. Also, because of that fact, everyone’s really exhausted and needs a strong drink.
All jokes aside, Birmingham’s Jewish community is beaming with pride after such a successful week. The city came together for something bigger than itself, and that’s an important sign of positive growth. No one is prouder of being from Birmingham and being a part of its unique Southern culture than the city’s Jewish residents. For many, having the opportunity to show off this city to the rest of the country was a great thrill, and responsibility.
“It was very important to be able to do this with a small community, and to be able to showcase the pride that we all feel living in Birmingham, and in our community,” former SEC commissioner Mike Slive said. “Historically, the Jewish community has made significant contributions to the growth and well being of Birmingham, and to be able to continue to make contributions to the community in which we live and enjoy, and take pride in it, was a special thing for all of us.”
Security is tight at every JCC Maccabi Games, but Birmingham’s event was especially pre-cautious.
Throughout the week, venues like Birmingham-Southern, Birmingham Crossplex, Bartow Arena, Mountain Brook High School and the JCC were locked down by the police. Transportation hubs had 15 police units during drop-off and pick-up hours. All buses had at least two police escorts through the city, and bomb-sniffing dogs were used at every location throughout the week.
In the end, the city did everything in its power to provide the experience of a lifetime for participants of the JCC Maccabi Games. That certainly bodes well for bigger, future events like the World Games, which Birmingham is hosting in 2021. On Tuesday, athletes and their coaches visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Museum. On Wednesday evening, Birmingham Mayor William Bell thanked families at a block party held downtown between McWane Center and Pizitz Food Hall.
Participating vendors volunteered their time and talent. Cheesemonger Brian McMillan, owner of Busy Corner Cheese and Provisions, made about 400 grilled cheese sandwiches for the event.
Visiting families fell in love with the city, said Slive, who hosted internationally famous Jewish cantor Alberto Mizrahi for the opening ceremony at Bartow Arena. Slive brought Mizrahi to Bottega in Southside and Salem’s Diner in Homewood.
“What I heard most is that people could not get over two things: just how beautiful it is here in Birmingham and north-central Alabama, and how friendly everyone was to all of our visitors,” Slive said. “I’ve heard that over and over again.”