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Haifa to host world’s largest Jewish teen sports competition

The event seeks to strengthen the youths' identity before they head to college.

JCC Maccabi Games participants. Credit JCC Association of North America.
JCC Maccabi Games participants. Credit JCC Association of North America.

More than 1,000 Jewish teenage athletes from North America, Israel and countries around the globe will gather in Haifa next week to participate in the JCC Maccabi Games, in an event aimed at strengthening the connection with both their own communities and Israel via sports.

The annual competition, which is billed as the largest Jewish youth sporting event in the world, is returning to Israel for the first time in over a decade and only the second time in its four-decade history, in celebration of Israel’s 75th anniversary year.

700 athletes from North America will join 300 Israeli teenagers for the weeklong event, along with scores of participants from dozens of countries around the globe, including a six-member team from Morocco, which made peace with Israel as part of the historic Abraham Accords, and 10 youths from war-torn Ukraine. 

Run by the JCC Association of North America and the Maccabi World Union, the annual sporting event, which is geared for teens between the ages of 14-17, is separate from the more prominent Maccabiah Games, commonly known as the “Jewish Olympics,” which takes place every four years in Israel.

Team sports include baseball, basketball, flag football, ice hockey, soccer and girls’ volleyball.

The 41st JCC Maccabi Games, which will include opening and closing ceremonies and a recorded address by Israeli President Isaac Herzog, will be followed by nearly two weeks of educational travel throughout the country, designed to strengthen the teenagers’ Jewish identity through sports and connect them with Israel’s land, people, history and cultures, organizers said.

The tour will include encounters with leading Israeli sports figures from the past and present, including 1972 Munich Olympics survivor Shaul Ladani and Olympic judoka Ori Sasson.

At a time of growing assimilation in America, and an intermarriage rate of two in every three couples, 80 percent of the participants from abroad do not go to oft-prohibitively expensive Jewish day school, while half will be coming to Israel for the first time, according to figures cited by the organizers.

 “Drawing teens from communities across North America, Israel and around the globe, the Games bring us together through competition, service and a profound encounter with the wider Jewish world,” says Doron Krakow, president and CEO of the JCC Association.

“To be returning to Israel as part of the ongoing celebration of the country’s 75th anniversary year and the enduring fulfillment of the dream of the modern Zionist movement is a source of enormous pride for all of us.”

The JCC Association said that it raised more than $5 million for this year’s sporting event in Israel.

“This experience is also a special way to welcome teens into the Maccabi Movement and strengthen their Jewish identity before many of them head to college,” said Samantha Cohen, JCC Association senior vice president of Program and Talent.

In contrast to the Maccabiah Games, in most years the JCC Maccabi Games are held in North America and draw delegations from the United States, Canada and Mexico, as well as a small number of teens from around the globe. The athletes from North America coming to Israel represent 70 different communities, each of whom is vying for the awards.

Cohen said that organizers hope to turn the Israel venue for the Games into a quadrennial event.

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