2014-08-06 / Columns

Welcoming the Maccabi Games to our community!

Jewish Federation CEO

It’s hard to imagine that after so much planning, the Maccabi Games are finally here! The games officially kick off on Sunday, Aug. 10, and run through Friday, Aug. 15. Athletes from around the world will begin arriving tomorrow and our host families are making their lastminute preparations to welcome them.

The enormity of this event cannot be overstated.

There are 1,000 athletes from delegations across the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, Venezuela, Mexico, and Israel traveling to Cherry Hill this weekend to participate in this year’s games. We have another 250 local athletes participating as well. We are expecting 10,000 spectators during the games, and to manage all of this, we’ve recruited 2,500 volunteers from our community. For the out-oftown athletes, part of the Maccabi experience is staying with a local family, 500 of which have graciously opened their doors for the week.

The excitement over this year’s Maccabi Games is palpable. The games are not just a time for competition, but also a time for community. They foster lifelong memories for everyone involved—the athletes, the volunteers, and the spectators. They offer a chance to build a bond with our worldwide Jewish community and a chance to create lasting friendships. The Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey and Our Family of Agencies is honored to be a part of something so powerful and so meaningful.

We welcome our out-of-town athletes to Cherry Hill with open arms and open hearts. We wish all of our athletes a “good game,” and everyone involved good camaraderie, good cheer, and good memories. Before we know it, the games will be over, but the memories will last a lifetime.

The weeks leading up to this year’s Maccabi Games have been overshadowed by the crisis in Israel. With each passing day, we have watched with concern as the conflict intensified. There is not much that we can do to stop the violence. What we can do is help provide emergency support to the victims, help build protected areas in case of future violence, and show our solidarity with Israel. The athletes arriving over the next few days from Israel have lived this violence for themselves. This year’s Maccabi Games have the unintended effect of providing them with some respite from this. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families back home as we share this week with the Israeli delegation.

In collaboration with our parent organization, Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), and each Federation across the U.S. and Canada, the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey has been hard at work since the start of this conflict raising funds for emergency relief. Through the Stop the Sirens campaign, JFNA has already allocated $8.5-million for critical services on the ground in Israel. This translates to providing a critical day away for 45,000 children living closest to the line of fire, aid for 20,000 elderly and disabled individuals, trauma support for 15,000 Israelis, and NGO funding in 13 front line cities. Last week, JFNA charged us with raising additional funds for the Stop the Sirens campaign as the need in Israel has grown with the continued violence. To learn more or to make a donation, visit us on the web at http://fnd.us/c/cok26.

This, unfortunately, only helps to meet the short-term need. The long-term need is providing a safe haven for the future. Last spring, our Federation led its first Israel Mission trip in nearly 13 years. We traveled to Israel with 72 community members and saw some of the places that have been targeted in this latest violence: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Zichron Ya’akov. We also visited LOTEM—a Jewish National Fund Accessibility and Therapeutic Services partner organization dedicated to helping people with special needs maximize their enjoyment of nature. This particular stop was the impetus for pledging a safer and better tomorrow for Israel and its citizens with special needs. We are raising $150,000 to build a fully accessible, protected classroom at LOTEM, which will serve as a safe haven in the event of an attack. To learn more or to make a donation, visit us on the web at http://fnd.us/c/1ohO8.

With the Maccabi Games upon us, we take this time to reflect on the violence that has rocked the Israeli countryside in recent weeks. The Maccabi Games are about building Jewish community, strengthening Jewish identity, and ensuring Jewish continuity. What we have built in Israel is a testament to this. . jweiss@jfedsnj.org

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