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The Maccabi Games


By Terry Schultz

The Beth Ahabah Museum and Archives’ upcoming exhibit, Chai Lights, focuses on 18 stories from the museum’s collections. One of these is the story of the JCCA Maccabi Games, which were held in Richmond three times in the early 2000s.

The games allowed young athletes to interact with their peers from across the country, Israel and the rest of the world in a truly all-Jewish event. As I was writing this article, I wondered about the organizers and those who took part in the games, and how they viewed their participation more than a decade later.

The Maccabi Games were made possible by the leadership of the Weinstein JCC Executive Director Alan Sataloff in 2000 and his Board of Directors.  Bob Siff chaired the 2000 Games while Nathan Shor, president of the JCC in 2000, chaired the Games in 2005 and 2010.

Lifelong Memories

Nathan emphasized that the games gave Jewish teens from all over the world the opportunity to compete athletically while also accomplishing community mitzvot through a day of “caring and sharing” for underprivileged children in our community. The goal for all participants was to compete in sporting events, reinforce their commitment to tzedakah and mitzvot, and develop life-long friendships and memories.

According to Nathan, Richmond was the smallest community to host the games in 2000, and it was only because of the efforts of local volunteers that the program was so successful. The entire community was involved. Volunteers hosted out-of-town participants, provided transportation and worked in the kitchen.  However, it was the coaches who received the most recognition from the community because of the endless hours they spent molding their teams and encouraging sportsmanship on and off the field. Coaches came from every congregation in Richmond.

In addition to coordinating the opening ceremonies and hosting athletes for the Games, Jeff Marks was the local baseball coach, which allowed him to share his passion for the game with his son, Andrew.

Jeff also served as chair of the opening ceremonies in 2005 and 2010. He attended the opening event in New York City’s Madison Square Garden in 2004 for help in planning for the Richmond games.

At the New York ceremony, the athletes were welcomed by a well-known Jewish opera singer, who did not connect with her young audience. Jeff realized that he needed to provide a more meaningful opening event in Richmond. He recalls specifically the opening ceremony he planned for 2005, with its haunting music of Kol Nidre.

This set the tone for the event by bringing to mind the horrors of the Holocaust and the deaths of the Jewish athletes, coaches and referees at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

The opening event deeply affected everyone in the room. Years later, Jeff recalled the tears shed by the non-Jewish sound technicians during rehearsal. After the opening solo, 15 to 20 Holocaust Survivors were recognized and received the game’s first medals. Jeff said the kids were greatly moved by the presence of the Survivors.

He also thought it was here the athletes realized that the most important thing about Games—celebrating life by achieving your personal best.

Tikkun Olam

For Nathan Shor, awarding medals to the athletes was just “the icing on the cake.” The week-long event promoted Jewish consciousness and pride. It also encouraged the practice of Tikkun Olam as volunteers put together backpacks for the underprivileged children in town. The young athletes traded their team uniforms, pins, medals and flags, which all became a part of their collective memories.

Nathan talks with pride about his children and feels there was a direct correlation between their participation at the Maccabi Games and their career paths. Nathan’s daughter, Rachel, works as a sales director for the New York Islanders and his son, Adam, is employed by the Washington Nationals. His oldest daughter Marla, participated at five different Maccabi Games as a dancer for Team Richmond.

Wearing Uniform with Pride

They all wore the Team Richmond uniform with pride for Richmond, Jews and Israel.

My oldest daughter, Hilary, played her violin for the opening ceremony in 2000. Hilary said, “I remember the whole thing so positively.” She recalls her experiences meeting kids from all over the world and having a “blast” representing Richmond with honor. She participated in basketball, track and field and tennis.

For her, the highlight was meeting so many Jewish teens from outside Richmond and having fun together. She remembers running track and winning a relay medal with her best friend and her sister, Liz. As a footnote, Hilary has “traded” her Maccabi suit for a captain’s uniform in the United States Army. This writer agrees with Nathan that there was a direct correlation between the positive influence of the Games and the career paths chosen by our young athletes.

If you participated in the Games, we want to hear from you. Please visit our website,  https://www.bethahabah.org/bama/ to participate in a survey.

For the exhibit opening plans or other museum details, contact Executive Director Bill Obrochta at (804) 353-2668 or wobrochta@bethahabah.org.

Editor’s Note: Terry Schultz serves on the Board of Trustees of Beth Ahabah Museum and Archives.