Ross Friedman with Coach Preston Goldfarb at the 2013 Maccabiah in Israel.

“Out of all the things I’ve done in soccer, I would say the [JCC] Maccabi Games is my proudest,” says Bexley native and former Columbus Crew member Ross Friedman.

Friedman competed in the 2004 JCC Maccabi Games in Columbus at the age of 12. After graduating from Bexley High School, he went on to play soccer at Harvard University. In between his Junior and Senior year of college, he competed on Team USA for The Maccabiah in Israel, an international athletic event which takes place every four years. Two years later he returned to Columbus to play for the Columbus Crew for a year. Now he is the coach for young athletes following in his steps.

Though he says participating in both the 2004 JCC Maccabi Games and the 2013 Maccabiah have helped him further his soccer career, the most important part was the people he met along the way. “We became a family. No matter what city I’m in we get together when we can. [The people I met at the Maccabiah] are still a major part of my life two years later.”

Friedman and another Bexley native Josh Barkan have gone full circle. Both former JCC Maccabi Games and Team USA athletes have returned to help with the 2016 JCC Maccabi Games being hosted by the Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus this summer, July 24-29.

“I have already been lucky enough to experience what it is like to participate in the Maccabi Games as a player, and I am excited to get a whole new perspective on Maccabi as a coach,” says Friedman.

JCC Maccabi Games Steering Committee meeting Jan. 10. Josh Barkan is back row, three from the right.

JCC Maccabi Games Steering Committee meeting Jan. 10. Josh Barkan is back row, three from the right.

Barkan participated as an athlete in the 1999 JCC Maccabi Games in Columbus and in the 2003 Pan American Maccabi Games in Santiago, Chili on Team USA for baseball. He said, “As a young person, it gave me an unbelievable perspective of the power of the worldwide Jewish community.” Now he is on the Young Professionals Committee and helping coach the Columbus baseball team for the 2016 JCC Maccabi Games.

In addition to competing as athletes,  Barkan and Friedman’s families hosted athletes from around the world. “It was great to come home at the end of the day and shoot hoops with the entire Israeli basketball team.”says Friedman.  Barkan related, “One of my best memories was when we invited everyone to my aunt’s pool after the 1999 JCC Maccabi Games. There were 80 people in the pool and we had the best time. Those are the memories that stick.”

Having experience not as just an athlete, but as a volunteer, host, and now as a committee member, Barkan stresses how important the JCC Maccabi Games are for the entire community, of all ages. “We want young professionals, even those without children, to volunteer as security, chaperones, coaches, and host families. The Games will come back [in the future] and all of us in our late twenties will have kids the next time it is here. If we get involved now we can be prepared and aware of how important it is when that happens.”

When asked for advice to give those participating this summer, both former athletes say the camaraderie and experiences matter most.  “Enjoy the experience,” says Friedman, “I know it’s a competition, and you want to take it seriously, but at the end of the day it’s all about the friends you are making.”

Barkan says, “Don’t look at this as just a week of athletic competition. See the relationships, the people you meet, and the experiences you have.” He also advises young athletes to take advantage of all the events at the 2016 JCC Maccabi Games, and to plan their own events afterwards.

The 2016 JCC Maccabi Games begin Sunday, July 24 with Opening Ceremonies at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. Athletic competition runs Monday through Thursday during the day and then fun, social events take place in the evening. Over 600 athletes from 23 delegations are expected to attend, coming from 17 different U.S. cities and four different countries, including Israel, Australia, Mexico, and Canada.

Teams are forming, but there is still time to register as an athlete. The sports offered for both boys and girls are basketball, soccer, tennis, swimming, golf and table tennis. Boys’ baseball and girls’ volleyball are also offered.  There is also a Star Reporter program which allows kids the opportunity to report the Games through social media and daily newsletters throughout the day and participate in the same events at night.  All participants must be 12 years old by July 31, 2016. However, those ages 8-11 can still attend the opening ceremonies, receive admission to all sporting events, and participate in their own activities through Junior Maccabi.

As Barkan says, the JCC Maccabi Games is a powerful demonstration of community, and it would not be possible without volunteers and host families. Close to 150 families have already signed up to house athletes from across the world, but more are still needed. Volunteer opportunities in all areas of the JCC Maccabi Games are also still available. Visit columbusjccmaccabi.org or contact Jeanna Brownlee at jkbrownlee@columbusjcc.org or (614) 559-6274 for more information about all the ways to get involved in this incredible event.