A Light During Dark Times

February 6, 2024
Camelia Schwartz

Alameda, California, United States

Class of 2026

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In the United States and other countries alike, there is a lot of hostility toward the Jewish community in certain sectors. But on my recent trip to Argentina, the minute I saw American Jewish teens all come down the stairs of the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Argentina in their matching shirts, I could tell that our community has not been broken. 

Recently, my family was invited to the home of the United States Ambassador in Buenos Aires, Argentina. What made this experience special and unique was that the event being held there was a dinner in celebration of the players in the 2023-2024 Pan American Maccabi games. 

It was inspiring to see this community of teen athletes standing together as one right now when everyone is scared.

Even though people hear about the Maccabi games all different types of ways whether it be by email, through a teammate, friend, or by being at an event (which is how I came to learn about it), in the end, the athletes all come together as a community and further their bonds with Judaism through their love of sports.

“The Maccabi games are a place where Jewish people can compete in sports against each other and build community and camaraderie,” said Alexander Kennedy, age 17, from Dallas, TX, part of BBYO’S North Texas Oklahoma region (talking about the games for U18 boys soccer). Kennedy heard about the games from a friend who was doing it and became interested so he submitted his highlights and got in. “I'm representing more than myself. I'm representing the Jewish community and where I come from,” he added.

“My two favorite things, volleyball and Judaism,” said Allie Cohen, age 17 from NYC (talking about the games for girls U18 volleyball). Allie heard about the games from a girl on her club volleyball team who did them about two years ago. “These are at a higher level of competition which I thought was really awesome.” 

“It’s really just about meeting people from around the world and connecting with people that love the same sport that I do and also feel so strongly about their Judaism like I do,” said Cohen. “Just meeting people, listening to everyone's experiences, and knowing that I'm not alone is really awesome.” She feels that especially during this time, it has been very special to bond with this community.

Some have found that the Maccabi games have provided a Jewish atmosphere that they have lost along the way.

“Being in the games is really special because I used to go to K-8 Jewish Day School but now that I go to a non-religious high school, it's nice to still be able to get around and see a lot of different Jewish people and be around them,” said Aries Wickham, age 16, from Manhattan, New York and part of BBYO’S Manhattan region.

Others have found that the Maccabi games have helped them find the Jewish identity they never had.

“We were not honestly that connected to our Judaism,” said Debbie Kelly, age 55 from Milwaukee, WI, attending as a part of the delegation as a mental health specialist on the medical scene. “And I think just by doing this, Judaism has become a bigger part of my identity….You automatically have something in common with all these people who practice their Judaism at different levels,” said Kelly. 

The Maccabi games are about more than just sports. They are about community, and embracing a Jewish identity that may or may not have been a big part of their life. The Ambassador of the United States in Argentina said, “We can’t ignore the elephant in the room,” regarding the attack of October 7th and the world’s anti-Jewish reaction since then, and I couldn’t agree more. Now more than ever during times as such, this community that may have started because of sports has turned out to be so much more. “It’s a place where we can all connect in some way whether it’s sports or culture,” said Declan, age 14, from Washington DC, who’s in the games for tennis. And I say, after just having been around these people for a short time, I could already start to feel the strong embrace of this community of Jewish youth.

Camelia Schwartz is a BBG of Oakland BBG #2 from Central Region West and loves to ski.

All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

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