Heading to Israel with high hopes for the JCC Maccabi Games

This story was written by Israel “Avery” Austin, a student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a Welcome Desk staffer here at The J. She wrote this piece for one of her classes at UAB.

The United States will participate in an impressive Jewish cultural event in July, when two Levite Jewish Community Center staff members will fly to Israel to guide their team of local teens in the 2023 JCC Maccabi Games. From July 5 to July 23, Membership Director Cody Bass and Community Engagement Director Katie Hausman Grace will lead the LJCC’s youth sports teams in competing against five other nations. Participants will have a unique opportunity to connect with their Jewish roots through sporting events ranging from soccer to flag football to ice hockey, plus cultural excursions across Israel.

The LJCC Maccabi team, family members, and other supporters gather for an early-morning send-off.

Although many people refer to the JCC Maccabi Games as the “Jewish Olympics,” the event holds even greater significance. According to the organization’s website, the JCC Maccabi Games were first played in 1932 after being created by Yosef Yekutieli. He wished to showcase his Jewish pride by creating an event to uplift Jews around the world. Since then, the games have been held every four years to promote community, service, development, and pride in one’s heritage.

Implementing the LJCC’s participation this year required much time and effort. Thankfully, the LJCC had previous experience with the Maccabi Games, having hosted the event in Birmingham in 2017. Having experienced the excitement and comaraderie of hosting more than 900 Jewish athletes, they were eager to participate once again. 

LJCC Executive Director Brooke Bowles says that it was Katie who wanted to get more involved. “If she organized it, I would back her up,” Brooke says, adding that she has a lot of faith in Katie and Cody, whom she describes as strategic and creative. “Cody is a good visualizer, and Katie is a strategizer. Together they really are a great team.” 

Despite the early hour, a crowd gathered for the July 5 send-off. One of the well-wishers even handed each team member a dollar bill as part of an age-old Jewish tradition. Members of the team were instructed to donate the dollars as a mitzvah, or good deed, while in Israel. The tradition holds that travelers with such good intentions are afforded extra protection.

After competing in the games and traveling throughout Israel, the team will return to Birmingham on July 27.