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Off to Israel for the JCC Maccabi Games

Judging by the looks of this crew, traveling to Israel for the JCC Maccabi Games is serious business (clockwise from left): Katie Hausman Grace, Ari Altmann, Miles McMillan, Jonah Kipp, Dylan Bor, and Eli Brook; not pictured are Ben Davis and Bobby Rutkoff.

Even though members of Birmingham’s Jewish community hardly need an excuse to visit Israel, this year’s 75th anniversary of the nation’s founding, or Yom Ha’atzmaut, is a pretty darn good one. The commemoration is a big enough deal that this year’s JCC Maccabi Games will take place in Israel, and a contingent from the Levite Jewish Community Center will be in the center of the action July 5-25.

A Pew Research Center study cites 80 percent of American Jews saying that “caring about Israel is an important or essential part of what being Jewish means to them.” In fact, according to the same study, nearly half of the entire Jewish population in the United States has been to Israel at least once, and fully one-quarter of American Jews have been to Israel more than once. Katie Hausman Grace, community engagement director at The J, was excited when presented with the opportunity for her fifth trip to Israel — this time leading seven teenage B’ham boys who will compete in this year’s JCC Maccabi Games: soccer players Ari Altmann, Dylan Bor, and Miles McMillan, and flag footballers Eli Brook, Ben Davis, Jonah Kipp, and Bobby Rutkoff. 

“I’m very excited to meet kids from other cities,” says Miles, who can hardly wait to board the plane. “But what I’m most looking forward to is seeing Israel and its geography, and experiencing its culture. It’s all going to be so different.”

A serated sculpture on a pedestal stands in front of the Israeli and U.S. flags
This sculpture in front of The J commemorates our hosting the JCC Maccabi Games in B’ham in 2017. Director of Community Engagement Katie Hausman Grace played a major role in that endeavor, and today is looking forward to taking a group of seven J teenagers to Israel for this year’s event.

A sporting adventure

The three-week JCC Maccabi games will bring together as many as 1,000 Jewish teens from around the world to compete in baseball, basketball, ice hockey, volleyball, flag football, soccer, tennis, and swimming. As part of the experience, visiting athletes will tour significant sites, meet with professional athletes, and participate in volunteer service projects. 

“This is a great group of kids, and I’m thrilled for them and all they’re going to get from this experience,” Katie says. She should have some idea of what to expect — not only from her prior trips, but because she played a major role in the JCC Maccabi Games when The J was selected to host the global event in Birmingham in 2017. “That was so much work and so rewarding,” she recalls. “But this time, in Israel, I’m looking forward to someone else doing most of the planning and for our group to have a rewarding athletic and eye-opening cultural experience.”


Not part of this trip but still itching to go to Israel? Consider the Israel at 75 Alabama Community Mission Trip in October.