The new executive director of Maccabi USA will have a tough act to follow, because Jed Margolis, who’s leaving his command after 16 years, has become almost an institution.
But the man who once played for Hall of Fame coach Harry Litwack at the 1973 Maccabiah Games, and has been a mainstay in Jewish community service for 44 years, said it’s time to leave the organization to the next generation.
There’s plenty left to do before he departs — beginning with next month’s 20th Maccabiah Games in Israel, where a record 1,120 athletes will compete for Team USA beginning July 4.
“That’s double the size of the U.S. Olympic team,” said the 65-year-old Margolis, who’ll leave for Israel June 21 to make sure everything is ready in terms of credentials, hotels, security and more. “To think now we have over 1,100 I marvel at the commitment of our volunteers and staff to get the job done and provide a quality experience.
“I’ve spoken with Olympic athletes who’ve said the Maccabiah Games were special to them.”
Margolis — who’d been working as a volunteer while running Jewish community centers in Cleveland, Cherry Hill, N.J., Hartford, Conn., and St. Louis — took the reins here in 2002.
“He’s really built up the organization over the last 15 years,” Maccabi USA Marketing Director Sara Feinstein said. “He brought with him knowledge as a volunteer and as an athlete who’d participated in it.
“He’s got a real calm demeanor and doesn’t get rattled, which is important because there are always fires to put out.”
That’s just one reason why there will be little time for Margolis to sit back and take in the scene while the games go on from July 4 to 18.
“I’ll hold my breath until we’re home safe,” said Margolis, the son of a Cleveland Jewish educator who lives in Dresher and attends Or Hadash. “You always worry about somebody jaywalking or doing something stupid. You have to respond when the buses don’t show or the hotel’s having some issues or there’s a problem with the food.
“I’ll sleep in my next lifetime.”
A search committee is now looking for his successor. So what words of advice does he have for his replacement?
“We need somebody who can take us to continue successes we’ve had and grow the organization and keep us going strong,” said Margolis, who intends to stay involved as a volunteer and spend more time with his wife, Beth, and granddaughter, Sophie. “[We need] someone who can motivate the volunteers and the international partners.”
Besides coordinating all the teams and sports, fundraising is a vital aspect of the position. While competitors and even coaches are asked to essentially pay their own way — with the option of getting some financial aid — money is always needed.
Some of those funds go to the Maccabi World Union, which assists Jewish athletes in distressed areas like Cuba or the Ukraine who might otherwise not be able to afford participating.
While Margolis concedes he’ll miss it, he’ll leave with a feeling of accomplishment.
“I‘ve been fortunate to impact Maccabi in a very powerful and meaningful way,” said Margolis, who first attended the games as a spectator in 1965 where a young swimmer named Mark Spitz burst onto the scene. “It’s been a privilege, and I look back with pride at what we accomplished together.
“It’s been a good run.”
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