Giving Juniors A True Israel Experience

The Maccabi Canada Israel Experience

By any conceivable standard, Israel has been an extraordinary success story: national rebirth in the ancestral homeland after millennia of exile and dispersion; resuscitation of a dormant biblical language; the creation of a modern, highly educated, technologically advanced, and culturally and economically thriving society, as well as a vibrant liberal democracy in one of the world’s least democratic areas. It is a world leader in agriculture, medical, military, and solar energy technologies, among others; a high-tech superpower attracting more venture capital investment per capita than the United States and Europe; home to one of the world’s best health systems and philharmonic orchestras, as well as to 10 Nobel Prize laureates. And so on and so forth. Truly a miracle in many respects.

One would think that Israel has deservedly found its rightful place among the family of nations. Not so, the drumbeat of de-legitimization and calls for genocide grows louder every day. Additionally, as you are no doubt well aware, Jewish communities in many places around the world are under threat. It’s unrelenting and we also are reminded of this everyday.

The Jewish world is threatened by many challenges but the one that is most concerning is the fact that the next generation, our youth do not seem to have the same understanding, pride and connection to Israel or the Jewish people. The Maccabiah movement plays a significant role in addressing this problem.

At the 18th Maccabiah Games in July 2009 my son was chosen to represent Canada in baseball and the team went on to win a silver medal at those games. But as a parent, the Opening Ceremony struck me as one of the most truly significant moments in my life. Watching 7,500 Jewish athletes from 65 countries march into the stadium in front of 50,000 people with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Peres welcoming the Jewish world to the games resonated within me and it illuminated for me how truly special our tribe really is. But what was extraordinary about the opening ceremonies and the Games was the pure joy and pride we felt to be Jewish, to be there, with our community as one family. It may sound silly but the joy and pride approached a feeling of ecstasy.

Most importantly, through my son’s participation in the Games and meeting Jews from across Canada and around the globe, the flame of Jewish pride and connection was ignited and in spite of his Jewish day school education this wasn’t present before. That is when the value of the Maccabi movement became obvious to me.

I also realized at that moment how the Maccabi movement can connect us all, Jewish communities from every corner of the world, and it instills Jewish values of community, leadership and excellence through sport. Since 1932, tens of thousands of young Jewish athletes, many disconnected from their heritage have found the meaning of their Jewishness and pride through their passion for sport.

I joined the Maccabi Canada Board soon after those games and along with an exceptional new group of board members and staff are taking this organization to a new level in Canada. We have dedicated ourselves to building an organization that is sustainable, and one that is growing a movement across Canada that inspires pride and develops strong Jewish values in our youth.

As a board member, I chair the Culture and Education Committee for Maccabi Canada which has the task of providing for the first time, the “Israel Experience”, a 6 day extraordinary tour of Israel preceding the 19th Maccabiah Games, for the 200 junior athletes, (15 to 18 years of age), that have never been to Israel. As well, we will be providing exciting and interesting cultural and educational programming throughout the Games for all athletes and supporters. Our entire delegation will also participate in a number of Tikkun Olam (Repair the World) projects and charitable activities during their stay in Israel. It is our mission to ensure that the games of the 19th Maccabiah will leave a deeply powerful and emotional mark on everyone that participates. We are fund-raising to underwrite all the costs of the Israel Experience so that these young people can be connected at a young age to Israel.  Needless to say we are proud and excited about what we have done to date but we have a lot of work to do before next summer and need your support.

From the Maccabi Canada Website:
One of the most important aspects of the 19th Maccabiah Games will be the inspirational Israel Experience program, a six day comprehensive educational tour of Israel. During this 6-day journey of discovery, held prior to the start of the Games and integrated with pre-games training, Canadian Junior athletes will travel Israel’s historic and modern sites, from Masada to Yad Vashem, from the Golan Heights to the Dead Sea. Maccabi Canada’s Junior athletes will share in the wonders of the Jewish homeland, falling in love with the beauty of its geography, people and heritage.

Some athletes will choose to renew their bond to their Jewish roots, becoming a bar or bat mitzvah for the very first time at our Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration in Jerusalem. This program will also help to foster a deep bond within the Canadian Junior delegation; creating a genuine comradery whereby athletes will form life-long friendships.

Over the course of the Maccabiah Games, Canadian athletes will take part in Tikkun Olam (Repair the World) projects. Athletes will have the opportunity to visit hospitals and facilities to improve the lives of the disabled or of victims of terror. They will visit local elementary and high schools where they will run sport clinics and play with local Israeli kids and teens. They will volunteer in local shelters and soup kitchens to help give back to the Israeli community.

The Israel Experience will enable Maccabi Canada to create a heightened awareness of Jewish identity, strengthen Jewish bonds, encourage Jewish pride and continuity and foster solidarity with our Jewish homeland.

As a result of the Israel Experience, returning athletes will be engaged as community leaders and act as ambassadors for state of Israel.  The Maccabiah Games is a transformative event and gives the participants a new perspective of themselves as athletes, as Canadians, and as Jews.