This post originally appeared in the St. Louis Jewish Light.
By Lynn Wittels, President & CEO of the St. Louis Jewish Community Center
Know This: Our Community is Special
As I write this, a week has passed since the last Maccabi athletes returned to their homes. I thought the Maccabi experience might feel less intense after a few good nights of sleep, but it doesn’t. I still feel grateful and emotional and proud — especially proud.
The JCC Maccabi Games is a relevant and successful engagement tool for teens. When our board voted to host the Games two years ago, we knew we were about to embark on an enormous challenge, but we enthusiastically took it on. For the kids, yes, but also because we wanted to help build capacity within the Jewish community, and break down barriers so that all Jews, regardless of their affiliation, could come together toward a common goal.
Well, we did it and then some. Our community worked incredibly hard, together, to provide a life-changing experience for 1,200 Jewish teens, their coaches, delegation heads and families. The feedback from our community has been (and still is) overwhelming. We have created a new sense of ruach that will serve us for years to come.
Know this: The St. Louis Jewish community is truly special. We asked, and you stepped up, and believe me when I tell you it took every single one of you to make the Games happen — every person who volunteered, or donated or hosted. It took every last person to create this experience.
We are blessed with great lay leaders and a committed, professional staff at the J. Hosting the Games is truly a massive amount of work. There aren’t many communities that are able to host even once — but we’ve done it four times. I hope this fills everyone who participated with pride.
Let me share a thank you from Matt, a 13-year-old baseball player in the Games:
“I would just like to let you know I appreciate what you’re doing so much to make my experience amazing. I want you to know this is my first year and I am having one of the best weeks of my life! All you guys have done to make this so special really worked and it means so much that you go so far out of your way for me because that means you really take pride in caring for others and it’s amazing. Thanks for EVERYTHING!”
We received many notes from parents who expressed their appreciation for our hard work, for giving their children memories that will last a lifetime, and for providing a unique Jewish experience. One parent said it’s a success just to get 1,200 Jewish teenagers together! But we know what we provided over those five days went much deeper than that.
“Every game of his life, my son has had to repeat his name to coaches and players since no one in our baseball world is familiar with the name Avi. He says it slowly and explains, ‘It’s a Hebrew name. I’m Jewish.’ My eyes filled with tears of joy today. Ten Jewish sounding names, 10 Jewish boys on the field, and the implied assurance that no one would ask my boy how to pronounce his name today. I feel so proud that he has this opportunity to be with kids just like him, doing what he loves. These memories will last a lifetime. Thanks for all you’ve done and for creating this new community for him. Our family is filled with pride and gratitude,” said a Philadephia parent.
These stories and many others say to me that two years of planning, long hours logged by many, and the last-minute scrambles due to the weather was worth it. I am so grateful that the J was able to do this and that our community supported it in such profound ways. I wish we could thank each of you personally.
It’s almost impossible to measure the full impact of the Maccabi Games, but think about this. Nearly 4,600 people registered to participate in some way in St. Louis. Multiply that by three sets of games each year and it’s easy to see how your efforts helped changed the face of the Jewish community this summer and for decades to come.