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Countdown to the Maccabi Games Aug. 14-19

WMass Jewish Ledger | 7-22-11

In just three short weeks, Western Massachusetts will be pulsating with activity when the 2011 JCC Maccabi Games get underway.
Hosted by the Springfield Jewish Community Center from Aug. 14-19, around 800 teens from around the United States, Canada, Mexico and Israel will descend upon the area to participate in the games – joining the more than 100 local teens from around Western Massachusetts who are also participating. The goal of the Maccabi Games is, “through sports, to perpetuate and preserve the American Jewish community by encouraging Jewish pride, strengthening Jewish bonds and by creating a heightened awareness of Israel and Jewish identity.”
The teen athletes will compete in soccer, tennis, basketball, swimming, table tennis, volleyball and track and field. Besides the Springfield JCC campus, venues will include Western New England University, American International College and Springfield College, each of whom have opened their facilities to the JCC Maccabi Games.
As the countdown clock in the lobby of the JCC ticks away, final preparations are in full swing.

“This is what we’ve all been working for,” says Betsy Bertuzzi, Games co-chairperson. “This has been over a year in the making and it all comes down to this, the crunch of the final 30 days. Jeff Grodsky, Fran Mirkin and I could not have asked for a better group of committee people. Everyone has their head down and is fully focused on the main event… August 14th!”

Athletes wave Israeli flags outside the Springfield JCC

“As much as we have done to date, there is still so much left to do,” Michael Paysnick, executive director of the JCC, said. “Last minute details abound, but, as we did in 2002, we expect to deliver the most outstanding week of Maccabi memories ever.”
Paysnick said that every last detail is being reviewed to make sure everything is ready. Committees are meeting, going over scripts and holding rehearsals. They are making sure all contracts are in order and reviewing last minute adjustments and security.
“So, it is really the nitty-gritty details that we are working on to make sure we haven’t missed anything and are covering all of our bases,” Paysnick said.
One thing they are definitely still working on is finding host families to house the teen athletes. By press time, the organizers were still seeking 40 families to host.

“I guess if there is one thing that always – as in 2002, today and probably whoever runs the games – finding host families is really the most difficult job,” Paysnick said. “So we have reached out to the Hartford community and obviously the Upper Valley to help us with this.”
Paysnick was assistant director in 2002 the first time the Springfield JCC hosted the Maccabis. Things are a bit different this time around.
“In some ways it is easier – not everything is a surprise. Whereas we were like deer in the headlights in 2002, today, we have a staff that is experienced,” Paysnick explained. “We have volunteers, many of them who participated in the planning of 2002, and we have new people that have come on board who have had the benefit of their experience.”
One of Springfield’s biggest assets, Paysnick said, is Stu Greene, Games Director.
“Stu has been called on to serve on the Continental Board of the Maccabi Games, so since 2002 he has been going around to communities to help them plan games, so he is much more experienced,” Paysnick said.

Caring and Sharing

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Aug. 16 and 17, when the athletes are not competing, they will participate in two Days of Caring and Sharing. Activities will include working with underprivileged kids from Springfield and with seniors at the Jewish Geriatric Nursing Home.
“The Day of Caring and Sharing is a very special day – it is actually going to be two days this year and the kids are split by the academic they are in. There are a number of terrific activities we are doing,” Paysnick said.

Maccabi Game gear is available at JCC Maccabi Central at the JCC

One project will be with Rachel’s Table, the hunger prevention program of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts. “They do an annual food-raiser and we are going to do something similar with the Big Y.”
An outdoor carnival will be set up at the JCC and children involved with Springfield’s inner-city agencies will come to play games and have fun with the Maccabi athletes.
Athletes will also head over to the JGS to run a “Senior Olympics” with residents of the nursing home.
“They are enjoying the fruits of the labors of the community and this is their way of giving back, and of course, long-term we hope that this translates into giving back and participation in their own communities. And for us, it is important that we try to do something that is meaningful for the kids, and I think this is something where they will have an opportunity to interact and participate in something important.”
A  brand new activity at the Maccabi games this year is “Star Reporter.”
“’Star Reporter’ is for kids who want to participate in the Maccabi games who are not necessarily athletically inclined, but who want to be part of the experience. These are teens who will be going around and will be assigned to go to different venues and take pictures and report. They will be helping us to publish on a daily basis the activities of the Maccabi games,” Paysnick said.
These stories will be on the Maccabi website, on its Facebook page and hard copy versions of the stories will be distributed each day. The Jewish Ledger will publish some of the “Star Reporter” coverage in its Aug. 19 edition.
While the Maccabis will bring the entire Jewish community together, the greater community will also benefit from the games.
“First of all, the venues are at the local colleges and universities and these are all potential students of theirs.  For Springfield and its environs, we are bringing in hundreds and hundreds of visitors and they will be staying in hotels and eating in restaurants and going to tourist attractions. It means well over a million dollars worth of economic activity in the Pioneer Valley.”
And while the JCC and the other venues will be buzzing with activity, security will be a concern.
“There will be a much higher level of security, so in order to get on the campus of the JCC, you will need a credential,” Paysnick said. “We are still going to be open for our members who will have a separate entrance.”
“The outpouring of support from the community, from the business community, from the Jewish community agencies and synagogues has been terrific,” Paysnick concluded. “We really are excited for the kids to come and the activities to begin.”

For more information about the 2011 Springfield Maccabi Games, go to www.springfieldjccmaccabi.org. To host a Maccabi athlete, call (413) 739-4715.



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