Next summer, the 2022 World Maccabiah Games will be held, the 21st installment of games that bring Jewish athletes together from across the globe to Israel. The games feature more than 10,000 athletes from 80 different countries in an array of sports, but its impact stretches much further than results on the tennis court or playing field.
First held in 1932, the Maccabiah Games were formed by Maccabi World Union, a Jewish, non-political organization that was dedicated to the furthering of Jewish education and sports, as well as promote Jewish identity and traditions through cultural, social and educational activities for all ages.
“Jews were being excluded from sports at this time, so the Games were started for two main reasons, one to give them a place and opportunity to play, and secondly to portray an image of healthy and athletic Judaism,” said Shane Carr, Senior Director of Programs for Maccabi USA.
Maccabi USA is the governing body of the delegation from the United States that participates in the quadrennial games, as well as the other competitions such as the Pan-American Games and European Games. The organization sent more than 1,100 athletes to Israel in 2017 for the Maccabiah Games, of which 81 were tennis players, and that number looks like it will increase for next summer’s Games.
The tennis portion is just one of the many sports played. In the past, the participants have been broken into U18, Open (18+), and Masters 35+, 40+, 45+, 50+, 55+, 60+, 65+, 70+, 75+, 80+ for both male and female players. For the Game next year, a U16 division has been added.
“In the past, younger players were eligible to play in the U18 division, but this is the first year we’ve added a U16 event,” added Carr. “It makes for a more level playing field for the younger players, but also allows us to add six more roster spots for both boys and girls and have a larger delegation.”
The experience of participating in the Games is hard to put into words, and has a profound impact on those who make the trek. Immersing into the Jewish culture and learning about your heritage is at the heart of what has made the Games so important to people.
Ondrea Schiciano became involved in the Games thanks to her father, who began competing in 1979. After seeing how important the Games were to him, she knew she wanted to be a part of it as well.
“I traveled with him over the years to many different places, including Israel, and when he passed away in 2006, I decided it was my time to play,” she said. “I played in the 2009 games, and have continued to do so since. At the European Games in Budapest a couple of years ago, I was the Chairperson for our USA Tennis team that went. I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps and do what he did. I really wanted to continue that legacy, and I’m really enjoying what I’m doing.”
Schiciano has been successful in maintaining the legacy, and has also won many of the tennis events in her time competing. But as valuable as those Medals are, the significance of the Games has a much broader reach.
“Besides the fact that I am a competitive tennis player, the importance of the organization is how it connects people to Judaism, and the invaluable experience it provides,” she said. “It’s great seeing people come and find their roots and their heritage; you feel the connection as soon as you walk off the plane, it’s immediate.”
Part of the Maccabi USA’s mission when it arrives is the program Israel Connect, which takes place the week before the Games begin. It’s what the organization considers to be the highlight of the whole experience, and team members get to tour historical cultural sites, train with their teammates, become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, and take part in a Jewish Identity Seminar, and helps the members establish a sense of Jewish awareness and pride.
Next summer’s Games will be held from July 12-July 26, and players are encouraged to tryout for the teams across the many tennis divisions. Tryouts in the U16 and U18 teams take place at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona, Florida from October 16-17, while the tryouts for the Masters Divisions are held at the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens from November 11-14 and tryouts for the Open team is still being determined.
To learn more about the Games, visit MaccabiUSA.com.