Philadelphia Brings Home Maccabi Memories

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Shane Fein executes a bunt for the Philadelphia Maccabi 16U baseball team. | Photos provided

In the Southern California heat, 15-year-old Mackenzie Sherman felt her teammates watching as she faced off in the tennis quarterfinals.

“It had to be like 100 degrees. It was so hot,” Sherman said. “I was down 1-4, and my whole team was watching. Everyone was watching because this was going to be the final four. My whole team was there. Everyone else was there, and I came back, and won in a tiebreaker to beat this girl who was the higher seed.”

Mackenzie Sherman wears her bronze medal.

This was Sherman’s third year participating in the JCC Maccabi Games. She ended up placing third in tennis for girls ages 15 and 16.


Delegations from cities across the country and from several countries around the world gathered in Irvine, Calif., from Aug. 5-10 for this year’s games. Athletes ages 13 to 16 competed in soccer, basketball, swimming and more. They also participated in volunteer and social programming.

The Philadelphia delegation brought 99 athletes, 22 coaches and three delegation heads.

They brought back 57 medals, with a gold in girls 16U soccer, a silver in boys 14U soccer and a bronze in girls 16U basketball. In addition, players from Philly won 41 medals in swimming, 11 medals in tennis and two medals in dance.

Amy Krulik, Kaiserman JCC CEO and one of the delegation heads, noted that Philadelphia’s ice hockey team was the only team that scored against two particularly talented Canadian teams.

“Jews in sports is a real thing,” Krulik said. “You can have tough competition with other Jewish athletes. They learn that the Jewish community is bigger than just their synagogue and youth group and family. There really are Jews all over the world.”

This was one of the biggest JCC Maccabi Games in memory, Krulik said. Most years, two communities host the games, with about 1,500 athletes at each. But only the Merage JCC of Orange County hosted this year, so about 3,000 athletes were in one spot.

This meant that especially large numbers of local Orange County families stepped up to host the multitudes of athletes in their homes.

“Their community came out in amazing support to have over 800 host families,” Krulik said. “All of our athletes stay with members of the local community and are cared for, have like surrogate parents and are schlepped around and made sure that they get to their games on time and to evening activities. Their community really came out in force.”

Sherman stayed with the family of a friend she made at a previous JCC Maccabi Games. The two became even closer during the week. Now, Sherman said, her friend knows she has a place to stay in the Philadelphia area.

She also got closer to the other athletes in the Philly delegation, many of whom come from spots around southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Because of how close these new friends live, she’ll really have the ability to stay in touch, Sherman said.

“It’s kind of cool,” she said. “Jewish geography, everyone knows everyone.”

Krulik compared the games to the Olympics. At least, she joked, they are the closest she’ll ever come to attending the Olympics.

The week started off with an Opening Ceremony, where the different delegations walked into a stadium to the sounds of cheering and an announcer talking about their city. Afterward, the delegations watched a performance by the Maccabeats, an a cappella group.

As part of the evening activities throughout the week, athletes went to Newport Dunes, a waterfront resort and marina, and Boomers, where the athletes could play arcade games, ride go-karts and enjoy other activities.

On Aug. 8, the athletes also spent time with their host families, who showed them around Orange County. Many of the host families took the players to the beach.

The athletes also participated in JCC Cares, a staple of the JCC Maccabi Games, where they are involved in a variety of different service projects.

Krulik noted that all coaches are volunteers.

Michael Keitz, for example, coached the girls soccer team. Volunteering to coach at the JCC Maccabi Games “is purely a labor of love” for him, he said.

Keitz competed as an athlete in one of the first JCC Maccabi Games 32 years ago. There, he learned about other Jewish communities different from suburban Philadelphia.

“Everybody wants to win every game you ever play. You know, you’re not playing a sport to lose, of course,” Keitz said. “Ultimately, the point of these games isn’t truly about the winning. There’s something very special about the Maccabi Games and bringing Jewish kids together from all over the world.”

The girls soccer team

At the end of the day, the medals aren’t what’s most important, Sherman said. She’ll take home memories and new friendships, too.

“When we played, we played,” she said, “but after it, we got each other’s Instagram, social media, all that kind of stuff. It’s great because they live all over the world, and you see what kind of racquet they use or what they wear, and you have a place to stay if you want to travel.”

On the return flight, Krulik was already starting to think about the 2019 games. The Kaiserman JCC is getting ready to host the Mid-Atlantic Junior Maccabi Games next year.

“The games were a week I will never forget,” Krulik said. “It was a reminder to me that … people don’t always say the nicest things about teenagers, but I watched 99 kids be stellar representatives of our community.”

As the end of the week approached, Sherman’s parents started texting her, asking her if she was ready to come home.

“I really had a great time,” Sherman said. “My parents didn’t really hear from me ever. I told them how I did, and that was about it. I showed them a few pictures, but then when I got home, I don’t think I shut up once. I told them every detail about it. They probably felt like they were there.” 

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