By Samantha Dubrinsky, BJF Director of Community Impact
What could be more exciting for our Jewish community than approximately 700 Jewish teens from around the world storming Birmingham’s city limits? It gives me chills just thinking about it!
You may be asking yourself, “Why in the world would 700 Jewish teens be coming to Birmingham?” The Levite Jewish Community Center has been named a host of the 2017 Maccabi Games, that’s why! The Games will be in Birmingham from July 31 – August 4, 2017.
The Maccabi Games are an almost week-long series of athletic events, specifically geared toward Jewish teens ages 13-16. The purpose of the Maccabi Games is to provide Jewish youth with an environment that fosters mutual respect and sportsmanship. The Games also strive to cultivate a deeper understanding, and to instill an appreciation of Jewish values while promoting and encouraging the health, physical fitness and well-being of Jewish youth.
There is also an aspect to the Maccabi Games that allows teens who aren’t into athletics to participate. Artsfest is a competition for dancers, actors and musicians. There really is something for everyone when it comes to participating in the Maccabi.
As a teen, I never participated in the Maccabi Games, but, a few years ago, when I was working in a shared role at the Birmingham Jewish Federation and LJCC, I had the opportunity to take five teens to Austin, Texas for the Maccabi Games. I had the time of my life and, more importantly, so did the teens I was with. It was amazing to see how the Austin Jewish community pulled together to host the Games and I know that the Birmingham Jewish community will do the same.
NOT JUST FUN & GAMES
The Games will be such a fun experience for our community — from the teens participating to the adults opening their homes to our visitors. But, it won’t be easy. As I alluded to above, hosting the Games in Birmingham means that our Jewish community will have to unite and work together.
The announcement that Birmingham will be hosting the Maccabi Games came after BJF Executive Director Richard Friedman and I presented our findings from a fundraising feasibility study to the LJCC Board of Directors that we conducted on behalf of the LJCC. In the 20 formal interviews we had, we found some positive patterns, as well as several challenges. While these challenges are significant, the Maccabi Games present a great opportunity to help address the issues that the LJCC may face in the future.
But, there are other reasons that Birmingham should be excited about what the next 18 months hold in store for our city and Jewish community. Already, teens are buzzing about the news. In fact, LJCC Executive Director Betzy Lynch told me that one young girl specifically told her how much she was going to practice her sport so she could be the best when Birmingham hosts the Maccabi Games.
What is most touching about this effort is how this activity brings young Jews from around the world together for a common purpose. This isn’t just a sports competition or an opportunity to travel. It’s a Jewish activity that lends itself to teens broadening their horizons, meeting others like themselves and having fun, all while celebrating their Jewishness.
Our city is already gearing up for the Games. Betzy and her LJCC staff are working hard to lay the groundwork for Games marked by success and volunteer leaders in the community are stepping up to lead the event forward. The co-chairs for the Maccabi Games will be volunteers Layne Held and Bruce Sokol.
“I have a deep-seeded, long-time love for the JCC and when I heard about the Maccabi Games coming to Birmingham, I felt that it would be beneficial to the greater Birmingham community and especially the Jewish community. Birmingham has grown in leaps and bounds and this will help put us on the map, so to speak,” Bruce explained to the BJF.
Layne also feels a special connection to the LJCC. “The Maccabi Games mean a great deal to me. I’ve been fortunate to be both a player and coach. After being in Israel as a coach a few years ago, I immediately knew I wanted Birmingham to to be a host city for the games. That dream became closer to reality when the LJCC hired Betzy Lynch as Executive Director. All I noticed on her resume was the fact she had run the Games during her post in Memphis, and she immediately received my vote,” Layne said.
He continued, “I cannot articulate how important and exciting this is for our entire community. It is going to be an extraordinary event and opportunity to showcase how wonderful this city is. I look forward to you being involved and encourage anyone with interest to reach out to me. Chances are, though, we will be reaching out to you.”
This is a momentous time in the Birmingham Jewish community’s history. Hosting the Games will help us ensure a vibrant Jewish community in Birmingham now and in the future. As Betzy put it, “We are so excited to be the host of the 2017 Maccabi Games. I am confident that this will be an amazing experience for our entire community. What a fabulous way to showcase the best of Birmingham and the vibrant Jewish life that exists here.”
Get ready, Birmingham!
If you are interested in helping out with the Maccabi Games, please email Betzy at email@example.com.
Photo is of Birmingham’s Maccabi delegation in 2013. The Games were held in Austin.
Click to watch a video about Birmingham hosting the Maccabi Games.