Connecting Jewish teenagers through kindness, competition

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | C&G Newspapers | Published August 25, 2014

METRO DETROIT — Thirty-two years after the Jewish Community Center Maccabi Games teed off in Memphis, Tennessee, metro Detroit welcomed more than 1,500 visiting Jewish teens from across the globe to participate in the games and ArtsFest Aug. 17-22.

The JCC Maccabi Games is known as an Olympic-style sporting event for Jewish teens, and the ArtsFest debuted in 2006. When metro Detroit, which has hosted the games five times, held the 2008 games, ArtsFest was not offered.

“Maccabi is such a wonderful experience, but not everyone plays sports,” said Maccabi Co-chair Karen Sklar Gordon, adding that the JCC headquarters decided to think outside the box to expand the Maccabi experience by adding the ArtsFest this year.

ArtsFest offers Jewish teens ages 13-17 a weeklong arts experience where participants delve into seven disciplines — acting/improv, culinary arts, dance, musical theater, rock band, star reporter, visual arts and vocal music/glee. Teens participated in a variety of workshops, performances and exhibitions leading up to a final showcase, which was scheduled for Aug. 21 at the Berman Center for the Performing Arts, and which was to be streamed across five countries.

Formerly, the JCC ArtsFest was separate from the Maccabi Games, but combining the two benefits teens with all talents, according to Elaine (Hendriks) Smith, ArtsFest coordinator and managing director of the Berman.

“I’ve never had a feeling that there’s one true sport or one true art. I think it’s all the same thing,” Smith said. “I think we’re all artists, we’re all athletes, we’re all everything. … The more we bring together, the better we are as people.”

The 2014 Maccabi Games & ArtsFest was the first time in the history of the games and ArtsFest combined that athletes and artists performed on a stage together in the showcase, Smith said. Mark McCleese, artist-in-residence for dance, choreographed a piece where 40 competitive dancers from the Maccabi Games joined ArtsFest participants in a performance.

“All humans need to stop with the division — with the labels — and we need to stop and embrace humans,” Smith said, adding that the Maccabi Games & ArtsFest is a way for Jewish people to embrace Jewish people.

Of the 60 teens involved in the ArtsFest, half were from metro Detroit. In every city the ArtsFest is held, half of the teens are from that area, Smith said.

“Those 30, unless they age out, should get on a plane and go next year to the next city. That’s how it grows,” she said.

Jordan Abramsky, 16, said this was the first time he competed in the Maccabi games, and it was an experience he will never forget.

Jordan, a Canadian-American, played on the 16U Toronto delegation basketball team.

“Even though we are all here for the same reason, I think each of us (athletes) understands that only one (team) can win. … And we realize that it doesn’t make sense to be sour about losing or else you’re going to regret it and waste your time here,” Jordan said.

At the time Jordan was interviewed, the 16U Toronto delegation had only played three games, which he said were a “let down” because they lost all three despite having strong talent and one of the tallest teams — their center is 6 feet 6 inches tall. The team had not played any games or tournaments together prior to the Maccabi games.

“I feel that the games, even though they haven’t gone our way yet … are going to be games I remember for the rest of my life,” he said, adding that the highlight of the week has been making new friends from across the globe. Jordan plans on visiting his new friends from California and New York in the future.

For more information about the JCC Maccabi Games & ArtsFest, visit