Jewish teens from all over the world entered the FLA Live Arena in Fort Lauderdale in August. Colorful lights flashed around them, loud music hyped up the entire arena, and teens cheered from all corners—probably the loudest for their own cities, but for all the others, too. The athletes gathered for the 2023 JCC Maccabi Games opening ceremonies and were eagerly anticipating their events in the coming days and realizing the significance of the experience.
The JCC Maccabi Games are an international multi-sport event held annually for Jewish teenagers. The games take place in a different city each year throughout the world. Teens compete in sports including basketball, tennis, and soccer, with the top performers taking home medals. In the summer of 2023, the games were hosted in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Israel, where Cincinnati teen, Gavin Isakov, competed in tennis and brought home a bronze medal!
The games bring in people from all around the world, including Argentina, Israel, South Africa, Cananda, Ukraine, Mexico, the United States, and the United Kingdom. While there are 64 delegations and more than 1,900 athletes, they all share one common bond—everyone who attends has a Jewish background.
For some teens, this is a new experience, and they aren’t sure what to expect. For others, this is another year of connections, growth, and, of course, sports.
Shoshana Mayers was a returning athlete this year. She loved her time at the 2022 JCC Maccabi Games so much that she and her twin sister, Deena Mayers, decided to participate again.
Shoshana and Deena both attend Atara Girls High School here in Cincinnati. While they play on their school’s team and attend a summer basketball camp, they thrive on the high level of competition at the Maccabi games, which is just one of the things that keeps them coming back. At the games this year, they played in teams mixed with other delegations. Their team didn’t medal, but they still embraced that competitive spirit.
“Some of my favorite moments at Maccabi were the opening and closing ceremonies because I got to talk to different people from all over and trade pins,” Shoshana said. “It was my second time going, and what made me want to go back this year was not only that I could play basketball, but I got to meet Jewish teenagers from all over the world.”
The pins she mentioned are a huge part of the culture at Maccabi. Each city brings a stash, specially designed each year, with something unique about their city. For Team Cincinnati this year, it was all about Joe Burrow’s rose-colored glasses—showing confidence in our athletic ability and a quirky sense of style. Clever pins are a hot commodity at the event and a keepsake once teens return home.
Shoshana noted that her experience was unique because of the accommodations at the games. Instead of staying in hotels, the athletes stay with host families and get the opportunity to learn more about other Jewish families.
Host families open their doors for the week and treat the teens like family. They cook food, do laundry, and make them feel like their house is a place to relax and feel at home! Shoshana and Deena’s host family made the extra effort to connect them with the other host families by having family game nights.
The summer sun was brutal in Fort Lauderdale during the games, with temperatures even higher than normal. To accommodate for the severe weather, all competitions took place before noon or indoors. Once the logistics were sorted out, this created plenty of time for the athletes from other delegations to explore the city and spend time getting to know each other.
One night Shoshana and Deena visited an entertainment park with teens from every delegation, where they got to play games, bowl, play mini golf, and laser tag. This is the stuff memories are made of, whether you bring home the gold or not. The experience may not be all about the hardware, but it did feel sweet when Team Cincinnati athlete Olivia Swift won a silver medal in 14U tennis.
On the plane ride home, athletes from Cincinnati said they are looking forward to next year—and will invite friends to join them.
“For anyone who is interested in attending Maccabi, I say have fun and enjoy it,” Shoshana said. “Try to be open and get to know people. It’s a great way to make lifetime friends!”
Congratulations to all who participated in the 2023 Maccabi Games, Cal Frischer, Gavin Isakov, Max Kuresman, Evan Leader, Shoshana and Deena Mayers, Jacob Peerless and Olivia Swift.