Summer, sun and sports

Nini Panner , Reporter

Jewish teen athletes from around the country gathered in San Diego this summer for the 40th annual JCC Maccabi Games. The 2022 games, held from July 31 to Aug. 5, hosted over 1,500 American athletes from the ages of 12 to 16 years old, offering them a unique opportunity to bond with peers while competing for athletic recognition. 

Five CESJDS students traveled to San Diego this year, representing the Bender JCC of Greater Washington on the boy’s baseball and basketball teams. Among these students was junior Todd Lazoff, who played on the basketball team and had a great experience competing in San Diego. 

“I met a lot of new Jewish kids just from my area and also from all over the country like Chicago and Cleveland,” Lazoff said. “I wanted to do Maccabi because playing basketball is something I really love to do and it’s basically a big sports tournament that I can play with other Jews from my area.” 

Besides sports games, Maccabi hosted different events and activities for the players including attending professional sports games, beach parties, baking and mini golf. These activities gave the athletes a chance to relax and socialize with participants from around the world. An important aspect of this connection for many athletes was the chance to meet fellow Jewish teens in new communities. 

“Maccabi really brought all types of Jewish athletes from across America together and I got to meet athletes with similar interests from totally different areas,” junior Sam Sharp said. “It was really nice for me to see more people like me and it made me feel like I wasn’t alone in being a Jewish athlete.”

Similar to the Olympic Games, the Maccabi games have opening and closing ceremonies. All 56 delegations from around the world gathered in a stadium to meet with fellow players and hear speeches from the leaders of the games. 

Teams and delegations worldwide grew to understand and appreciate each other’s skills. The under-16 basketball coach and delegation head for the Bender JCC Kindy Diallo noticed this difference on and off the court for his team. 

“From Monday to Wednesday there was a difference,” Diallo said. “The bond they created, they were always together. They were always hanging out and then they showed on the court as well. They played for one another. We didn’t have a single selfish player. Everybody really just played their role, played smart.”

Outside of the games, athletes were either placed with host families or, as a new arrangement due to COVID-19, stayed in the dorms of San Diego University. It gave the teens a chance to form lifelong friendships with people of all ages in the Jewish community. 

“My host family was amazing,” Lazoff said. “They were really kind and … even went to some of the games. They always made sure we had everything we needed and even planned a party for us.”

Whether competing as a team or individually, there was a place for every Jewish teen in the 2022 Maccabi games. 

“Maccabi obviously focuses on being competitive and trying to win, but it also allows you to learn more about the Jewish faith and allows you to learn more about being involved, being more mature,” Diallo said. “… [The athletes] have to grow up and learn about themselves … There’s a competitive aspect to it, but it’s also a great comradery and just making friends and learning more about the sport, learning more about yourself and growing.