The Magic of the JCC Maccabi Games

January 13, 2023
Lucy Warner

Leawood, Kansas, United States

Class of 2025

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It all started on December 20th of 2021. I had received an Instagram direct message from the dance studio that was inside of my local Jewish Community Center in Kansas City called “Encore! @ the J.” I had heard of this studio before and knew that some of the girls in my BBYO chapter, Saadia BBG, danced there. The message was from the studio director, Maggie Nicholls. The message went a little something along the lines of, “you don’t know me—but I’m the director of the dance program at the J. Would you be interested in going to the JCC Maccabi Games this summer?” I replied, thanking her for reaching out and asked when the dates were. A few weeks later, my mom and I went to the JCC and met Maggie to go over what the process would look like and see if I was fully committed. After discussing the details, I knew this would be something I couldn’t miss out on. I was in!

For most sports, you practice on your own to gain your skill set and can pick up a game on a whim. With dance, that isn’t exactly how it works. Yes, we have private lessons and such to work on improving our skills, just like a basketball player would with a one-on-one coaching session. Basketball players can pick up a basketball and be ready to play after taking some warm-up shots. For dance, we can’t do that as we have a routine we need to learn. Our JCC is fortunate enough to have a dance program, meaning we have instructors and studios ready to prepare us for the Maccabi Games. The rehearsal process began in March of 2022 with six dancers, including me, Drew Liss, Livia Noorollah, Gabrielle Sosland, Sophie Stang, and Rose Wasserman alongside our coach and choreographer, Maggie. At the first rehearsal, Maggie sat us down, explained what the Maccabi Games were, and told us about what we would be doing there. You might be asking at this point, “What are the Maccabi Games?” Well, the Maccabi Games are a week-long Olympic-style sporting event hosted by different cities in the US each summer for Jewish teens ages 12-16 from all over the country and world, including the United States, Canada, Mexico, Israel, and Bulgaria since the 80s. They feature competitions in sports such as baseball, basketball, soccer, ice hockey, volleyball, table tennis, swimming, tennis, golf, and competition dance. This year, they developed a way for everyone to be included by adding the “Access Games”, for athletes with disabilities. 

Maggie choreographed a contemporary-style group dance to “Work Song” by Hozier as well as a jazz solo to the song “SOS” by Rhianna for me. Together, Maggie and I picked out a costume, and I learned and practiced the dance in addition to group dance rehearsals almost every week to prepare for our competition that August. As we continued to practice more and more, I began to get close to my teammates and Maggie. It felt like a family.

The time had finally come: my alarm was set for 3:30 A.M.  and I was up and ready to go to the airport to embark on an experience I would never forget. I boarded the flight, sitting next to Drew and Gabrielle, who were also beaming with excitement.

After our long flight, we arrived at the Lawrence Family JCC, where we would gather with our delegation to go to a quick orientation and meet our host family. Host families are members of the San Diego Jewish community who are kind enough to open their homes and act as a family to a few Maccabi athletes for the duration of the competition. I was fortunate enough to get to room with Livia and two other dancers from Atlanta!

After we finished orientation, I heard my phone ring. It was from my host “mom and dad”, Rochelle and Sacha. They had arrived at the crowded JCC and were looking for Livia and me. Rochelle and Sacha have two adorable little girls, Zara, and Scarlett, who couldn’t wait for us to get back to their house to show us their playroom. Before doing so, there was a task at hand. A great part of the Maccabi Games is that due to having so many people in one area at a time, they want to give back to their community. To do so, they had the athletes and their host families participate in a service project. The girls enjoyed our project, which was making toys for animals staying in the local animal shelter. A few minutes into working on the service project, our Atlanta roommates arrived, Gila and Allie. We all clicked right off the bat and knew this was the start of life-long friendships. As soon as we got to the house, we were greeted by one of the housekeepers, Claudia, who still calls to check up on me every once and a while. We were then taken to the guest house, or as the little girls like to call it, “The Casita!” The Casita was beautiful and had two bedrooms as well as a full kitchen and a living room area. There were so many fun things to do during our stay; around the Casita, there was a pool house, which had a ping pong and air hockey table, as well as a big open space for us to practice and show our dances to each other. Sometimes we would play basketball on the basketball/tennis court, pick fresh figs from the fig tree in the garden behind the Casita, and swim in the pool with the little girls.

After we had finished up our delicious dinner and desserts Rochelle and Claudia made for us, we went to bed and set our alarms for 5:50 A.M. At the Maccabi Games, it is all truly “Get up, and get going!” You have to pack everything you need for the entire day as you are not able to go back to your house once you’ve left and in my case, my bag would be extremely heavy! I packed everything I needed for the dance competition, as well as the activities planned for the rest of the day. Most importantly, I made sure to never forget my credentials. Credentials are extremely important at the Maccabi Games because you can’t get anywhere without them! It is similar to a BBYO convention name tag, but at the Maccabi Games, it allows you to go into each area as well as ride the buses. I also made sure to have a few Kansas City pins packed. Pin trading is a big part of the Maccabi Games and is a great way to meet people from all over the world as each delegation has its own pin. You can put these pins that you have traded for just about anywhere you’d like but most people put them around their credential lanyard!  Think the Miami Beach pin would look cool on your credentials? Soon enough, you’d find yourself talking to someone and trading pins with them. Now you have a new friend from Miami!

On the first full day of being there, we competed in our group dance, and won the gold medal! We were all extremely proud and excited. After we performed, we quickly ran to the locker rooms and got ready for the opening ceremonies. Similar to the real Olympics, each city walked out with its delegation and its coaches at the Del Mar Racetrack in Del Mar, California. It was incredible! There was a DJ, tons of food, and most importantly, thousands of people! Luckily, Kansas City was right in the middle of the alphabetically ordered ceremony, meaning we had to wait a little bit but also got to see the other cities walk out.

Once again, we packed our bags and headed up to the main house for a quick breakfast. The Atlanta dancers and Livia had multiple dances that day, but I didn’t have any. After supporting them by watching their rehearsal, I decided I was going to watch my cousin from Chicago, Zach, play a tennis match. The way that the Maccabi Games works is that there are specific locations where specific sports are played. Within one click, the Maccabi app on my phone could tell me exactly where his match would be and what time it would start. The app told me he would be playing at Miramar College, so I waited in line for that specific bus to take me from the JCC to Miramar. I made some great friends while waiting a long time for the bus that I still keep in touch with today, and can’t wait to see them again at International Convention. Once we got to Miramar, there were tons of activities to do aside from watching many of the athletic competitions. There were therapy dogs, massage chairs, a BBYO booth, information about taking a trip to Israel, and lots of refreshments. I headed down to watch Zach play tennis with my aunt and uncle, as well as some of the other Chicago delegates that I had met last summer when visiting my cousins. After playing a great match, Zach advanced in his bracket to later win the bronze medal for his age division!

Later that night, it was time to go to Sea World. I couldn’t wait to ride the new roller coasters they had built with my dare-devil cousin, Zach. We always ride roller coasters together whenever we get the chance. We walked around Sea World together, meeting each other's new friends from the experience. It was neat to see all of the animals that I would never see in Kansas City.

The following morning, I was quite stressed. It was Wednesday, which meant that it was time for me to compete solo for the first time. I was so nervous but knew that my teammates would all be there to cheer loudly as I was performing. My solo went really well and I was so proud of myself once I stepped off the stage. Later that night, we had “host family night” meaning that it was a night for you to spend with your roommates and your host family. Some host families had plans with their friends who were also hosting athletes, but others chose to do their own thing. In my case, my host family and all of the roommates went to the beach, followed by a lovely dinner back at home along with some swimming! The sunsets in San Diego are UNREAL and were definitely a highlight of being there. 

On our final day, we had a personal favorite dance of mine, the Israeli dance. Our teammate, Rose, was DYING for us to compete an Israeli dance, but as we didn’t have one prepared, there wasn’t time to learn it until just about an hour or two before putting it on stage. Despite the challenge, we decided to do it plus sprinkle in a bit of the Maccabi magic. A few days prior, we met Sarah, a dancer from Memphis. The Kansas City team was fortunate enough to have Maggie, our coach, come along on the trip with us. But, for some, that was not the case. For Sarah, she was on her own. She was the only dancer from Memphis and didn’t have a coach there with her. The Kansas City team shortly took her (and a few other dancers without a coach there to support them) under our wing. Just as we were about to start learning our Israeli dance, Maggie brought up an idea. “What if Sarah learned the dance with us?” We all looked at each other and agreed that would be perfect. Prior to our departure from Kansas City, we made t-shirts that said “Kansas came to dance” in Hebrew on the front, and on the back, a lightning bolt that said “Kansas City”! We had planned to wear this shirt for our Israeli dance and we made sure to give Sarah one as well. We taught Sarah the dance, and we were ready to perform the silver-medal-winning dance that we had learned in a few short hours. Once we had been awarded our medals, we were told to stay up at the front of the stage, as a Midot medal was being given to our entire team. A Midot medal is a gold medal awarded to athletes who exemplify Jewish values and the true meaning of Maccabi. This was a true honor to our team and we absolutely loved the experience.

Unfortunately, the duration of the Maccabi Games was coming to a close, which called for a closing party, hosted by the JCC. There was a DJ, personalized Maccabi water bottles, tons of fun food, laser tag, photobooths, rock climbing, and bungee jumping in addition to all of the amazing people who were a part of the Maccabi Games. It was truly unforgettable getting to “mosh”, dance, and connect with so many Jewish people from around the world in a short amount of time. If you have the opportunity to go to the JCC Maccabi Games, you should take it! 

To view our gold-medal-winning dance, click the link below!

Lucy Warner is a BBG from Mid America Region: Kansas City, and she loves to dance, hangout with her friends, and meet new people.

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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