New Experiences for Canadian Delegation

   Brazil offers a new experience for Maccabi Canada delegates

panamericanBy Lester Glantz

Whether it’s planning a trip to the Holy Land, a long-awaited visit to family roots in far-away places, or a chance to compete in an international sporting event where you’ll encounter members of a diaspora living continents apart, when the conditions are right, grab it and run with it.

For members of the Maccabi Canada delegation winging their way to the Maccabi Pan American Games in Sao Paulo, Brazil over the next several weeks, this competition presents the perfect scenario. A unique opportunity to experience Jewish culture and life from another perspective, a somewhat foreign look with new sights and sounds, a new world experience for a cross-section of Canada’s best Jewish athletes.For 145 Maccabi Canada delegates, including 89 athletes from centres in and around Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal, the December 25 to January 3 competition opens doors and provides a window to a familiar culture in an unfamiliar land. A place where the English text in prayer books is replaced by Portuguese, while the language and scrolls of our ancestors remain the same.

“Games like these are important to promote world Jewry,” said Maccabi Canada President Tommy Bacher as he helped with last minute preparations for the Christmas Day departure for Brazil. “It (Brazil) is a little removed from the mainstream (Judaism), but an event like this helps galvanize the country and presents a great opportunity.”Brazil, home to one of the world’s larger Jewish community centres with its 35,000 members in Sao Paulo, also has the second largest Jewish community in Latin America and the 11th in the world.

“The country does not typically have a lot of opportunity to come together to host events like this,” Bacher added, reflecting on the demands on the host country to provide food, lodging, cultural events and quality sport venues. “It will bring their Jewish population together.”The Games will be highlighted by competition in 18 different disciplines involving 2,500 athletes and delegates. For Maccabi Canada athletes, including four basketball teams, two softball teams, a soccer team and a table tennis player, preparation for the games has been ongoing for many months.

“They have been training for a long time,” said Bacher. “We are expecting them to be very competitive. Our softball teams, for example, should be competitive with any team in the tournament.”“No one is here to horse around. Everyone is expected to play the best they can and try to bring home a medal.”

In addition to athletes, their families and Maccabi Canada officials, there are three physiotherapists and a team doctor making the trip to help insure everything runs smoothly.For the relatively new executive committee of Maccabi Canada, these Games provide a unique opportunity to test their organizational skills and to also begin planning for the Maccabiah in Israel in 2013.

“This is an opportunity to put our stamp on this organization,” said Bacher, a Maccabi Canada athlete who has competed in several Games. “There have been a lot of logistical decisions to be made. It has taken a lot of time to try to make sure everything runs smoothly.”“We have worked hard to be prepared. We have looked at everything. It (the Pan American Games) also gives us a chance to develop relationships with other national bodies and to be a part of the negotiations and event planning for Israel.”

Having a successful Pan American Games, from an organizational and competitive standpoint, also reflects on upcoming Games participation. “If we impress our supporters enough more will come on board in the future,” said Bacher. “And then we can take it to a higher level.”But for now, the focus remains on Brazil and Sao Paulo and the once-in-a-lifetime experiences that await. With the opening and closing ceremonies, cultural and historic tours, workshops, live entertainment, a New Year’s Eve party and Shabbat dinner, the delegation’s plate with be  full. Distractions will also include a lounge and games area as well as a theater which will run films with English sub-titles. All this and more will book-end the Pan American Maccabi experience for the delegation.

Once on the tarmac and the doors to this South American paradise open, the Maccabi Canada delegation will hit the ground running, trying to take in the sights and sounds of everything Brazil and the Games have to offer. And a week later, as they leave this tropical paradise behind, they will return with souvenirs, the highs and lows of athletic competition, as well as thoughts of new friends and memories of old acquaintances renewed. And the sense of unity among the Jewish diaspora will become even greater.