Carrying on the Maccabi Legacy

The JCC Maccabi Games Opening Ceremony on July 24 will be as entertaining and monumental as the Olympic Games it is modeled after. Held in the Greater Columbus Convention Center downtown, the Ceremony will feature a Parade of Athletes from around the world, guest speakers, anthems, and a special five minute entertainment finale presented by Cirque Dreams.

The Opening Ceremony will kick off a week of competitions, social gatherings, and community service that hundreds of young Jewish athletes from around the world will participate in during the JCC Maccabi Games. It is a life-changing experience that has required two years of preparations by JCC staff, volunteers, committee members, parents, sponsors, and host families.

Neil Goldberg, founder and artistic director of the internationally renowned CirMaccabi-2que Dreams, will generously produce a one-of-a-kind opening ceremonies spectacle exclusively for the Columbus JCC Maccabi Games.  Unique performance artistry, acrobatics, imaginative costumes, special effects and more will encompass the entire Exhibit Hall E at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.  This special celebratory production is a tribute in memory of Goldberg’s daughter Allison Goldberg Senser.  Senser was an active JCC Board member and assisted in planning the 2016 JCC Maccabi Games as Chair of the Fundraising Committee.

“Continuing Ali’s legacy in Columbus, Ohio by bringing Cirque Dreams’ talents to the JCC Maccabi Games is not only a tribute to my daughter but a celebration of her Maccabi vision.  Ali wanted these Maccabi Games to be the most memorable of their kind,” says Goldberg.  “Therefore Cirque Dreams will present an unparalleled experience for the athletes and spectators not to be missed…exactly the way we all know Ali would want it!”

The night begins with a special pre-show video at 6 p.m. which will welcome visiting delegations to Columbus. It will feature background information about the city, interviews with athletes, and more to catch everyone up on the hard work and fun that the Columbus Delegation has had while preparing to host the Games.

The Opening Ceremony starts at 7 p.m. Junior Maccabi participants will lead in each delegation in the Parade of Athletes. There will be guest speakers and Bexley High School Vocal Ensemble will sing the anthems. The Ceremony also features a commemoration of “The Munich Eleven,” the eleven Israeli athletes who lost their lives at the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics.

The Columbus Jewish Foundation is the official sponsor of the Opening Ceremony and Mills-James is producing it, ensuring that the kick-off is an unparalleled event.

Admission is free, but spectators need to obtain credentials first by registering at columbusjccmaccabi.org. Spectators with credentials are also welcome to attend competitions during the week.

“We want people to get really excited about the Opening Ceremony – we want them to imagine the energy and thrill of what a crowd of over 2,000 attendees can produce,” says Opening Ceremony Committee Co-Chair Pam Gurwin. “We want them to get passionate about what the week will hold – all through the Opening Ceremony launch!”Maccabi Host Family

Sunday is just the beginning of an incredible week that will make a lasting impact on athletes, visitors to Columbus, and the community as a whole.

“The Maccabi Movement” began in 1895 when the first all-Jewish sports club was formed in Constantinople. The first world Maccabiah Games were held in Israel in 1932 and are still held every four years. The first North American JCC Maccabi Games were held in 1982 with 300 athletes. Due to overwhelming interest, Regional Games were added in 1985 to augment the even-year Continental Games. 1997 marked the first time that the Games were held simultaneously in six American cities with 4,000 participating athletes.

Since their inception in 1982, the Games have grown from a small pilot project in one host community to a week of competitions held in multiple sites throughout North America. Today, over 4,000 teens, ranging from 12 to 16 years of age, participate in the JCC Maccabi Games each summer.

Hosting the Games is a huge endeavor that requires the entire community to come together. Luckily, Columbus is well-positioned with experienced staff and volunteers from having hosted the Games in 1985, 1995, 1999, and 2004.

“There’s some familiarity doing it for the fifth time [in Columbus]” says Local Delegation Head Richard Williams who has been involved with the JCC Maccabi Games for 15 years. “It takes a tremendous amount of work to put this together. We’re extremely fortunate to have people like Jeanna Brownlee (Games Director) and Mike Klapper (JCC Assistant Executive Director) who have been in charge before. The Co-Chairs [Jon and Karen Meyer] have put in hundreds of hours in terms of coordinating committees… I won’t say it’s easier, but it’s more familiar.”

This is the first year for Co-Chairs Jon and Karen Meyer who volunteered to chair the event because their daughter had such a positive experience when she competed. “It still affects her,” says Karen. “She went to March of the Living [in Poland] and ran into kids she knew there [from Maccabi]. It’s because of her experience and our love of the JCC that we had to get involved.”

This positive experience is no exception. The JCC Maccabi Games connect young Jewish athletes from around the world, foster Jewish pride, and create memories to last a lifetime.

“It’s a great way for Jewish kids to get together, sometimes as their first Jewish experience,” says Games Director Jeanna Brownlee. “The sports, community service, and social events help them be with others and give them a deeper understanding of who they are.”

However, Brownlee is quick to point out that the Games are an experience for everyone involved, not just the kids. “It really is a community program,” Brownlee explains. “It brings us together, which is why we can do it five times. Our community is just giving. We wouldn’t be able to do it without that support.”

For more information, contact Jeanna Brownlee at jeannabrownlee@columbusjcc.org.