Thursday, August 17, 2000

Maccabi Games bring together 1,300 Jewish youngsters

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Brooklyn may not be a baseball town like Cincinnati, but a bunch of Brooklyn boys brought balls and gloves to the Queen City this week to play ball.

        The 14 team members are among more than 1,300 teen delegates from five countries who came here this week to participate in the Jewish Community Center Maccabi Games.

        The program is an international, Olympic-style athletic competition for Jewish teens ages 13 to 16, in team and individual sports, from baseball to table tennis. It also includes social activities and community service.

        Organizers call it the largest single program for Jewish teens in the world.

        “In the 20th and the 21st century, the Jewish community has been spreading out so much,” said Pam Saeks, a spokeswoman for the event.

        “In order to help ensure Jewish continuity, it's important for Jewish kids to feel their Jewish connections, to get together with other Jews and feel connected to their background, to their heritage.”

        After losing all four of their games, the teens from Brooklyn sat in the Shoemaker Center at the University of Cincinnati and cheered on friends in a basketball tournament.

        “Baseball this year was new for our delegation,” said 15-year-old Josh Sabari. “We just got a team and put a bunch of guys together.”

        It was friend David Ashkenazi's first year to attend.

        “It's a great chance for kids to come out and be competitive,” he said. “There's a feeling of togetherness. You feel like you're

        friends with them and you don't even know them.

        “The connection is there.”

        The Maccabi Movement began in 1895 when the first all-Jewish sports club was formed in Constantinople. The first world Maccabiah Games were in Israel in 1932. This two-week international competition takes place every four years and has featured many world-class athletes.

        The first North American JCC Maccabi Games were in 1982, and because of overwhelming interest, regional games were added in 1985 to augment the even-year continental games.

        Lauren Butler, a 16-year-old from Cherry Hill, N.J., has participated in the games for four years. It has been an enriching experience, she said.

        “I love the competition,” she said. “It's so much fun participating with all Jewish kids. You're with people who basically have the same beliefs and views as you.

        “To me, my religion, Judaism, is very important to me. I really believe in it and it's good for people to see how many Jewish kids there really are.”

        Closing ceremonies for the event will be tonight at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center.


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