Local teens head to Israel for JCC Maccabi Games

From left, Noah Ockner, Max Pepose, Jason Thompson and Joey Mayer are all participating in JCC Maccabi ArtsFest.


All 32 teen members of the St. Louis delegation to the 2011 Jewish Community Center Maccabi Games and ArtsFest will gather in Israel Sunday, July 24. The Maccabi experience will run from July 24 through Aug. 5 as the participants compete, perform and tour the Jewish State.

While the Games have existed since 1982, this is the first time they have taken place in Israel. While the Maccabiah Games take place every four years in Israel, the annual JCC Maccabi Games are a different entity altogether, and in the past have taken place in North America. Since the games are in Israel this year, participants will spend an extra week seeing sights around Israel after the competitions and performances finish.

Fanchon Auman, head of the St. Louis delegation, is excited about the opportunities this trip will offer. She was last in Israel 22 years ago for her son’s bar mitzvah, and looks forward to getting to know the country better the way it is today.

“We are going to be staying in a host family’s house in our sister city Yokneam, and we’re going to be there for a weekend over Shabbat,” Auman said. “I don’t think there’s any better way to connect to Israel than actually going there and meeting the people and seeing how they live.”


In preparation for the trip, some of the teens from the local delegation participated in a Skype interview with teens from Yokneam on July 10. Shira LeDeaux, who will play volleyball in the Maccabi Games, said the groups talked about everything from movies and soda to what they like to do for fun. This will be Shira’s first visit to Israel, and she hopes to make the most of her time there.

“I’m going a week early with some friends that are also doing Maccabi so we can do some exploring…I’m really excited to climb Masada, to see the Dead Sea, to walk around Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and really to see everything,” Shira said.

Shira, like all of the athletes from St. Louis this year, will play on a team with teens from other U.S, cities during the Maccabi Games. When delegations do not have enough athletes to fill a whole team on their own, they often combine with other cities to form mixed teams.

Justin Malin, a sophomore at Marquette High School, will play on the boys’ basketball team, which consists of five St. Louis teens and four teens from Tucson, Ariz. Though the coach, Roger Siwak, hails from St. Louis, he has contacted the Tucson athletes so the whole team will know his strategies and be able to play well together while in Israel.

“I didn’t know any of the other guys on the team before doing Maccabi, but we’ll get to know each other when we play together,” Justin said. “It’s always a lot of fun.”

The St. Louis delegation will field athletes for seven teams this year, including boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, volleyball, tennis and swimming. In past years even more athletes have participated in sports such as baseball and dance. The teens must try out to participate in the Games, and the coach for each sport chooses which athletes to include on the team.

While the athletes compete in the Maccabi Games, the Maccabi ArtsFest includes workshops with professionals in eight different arts specialties and performances at the end of the week. The ArtsFest program began in 2006, and this marks the third year that St. Louis will participate. Six St. Louis artists will enter in the dance, rock music and vocal music categories.

Four of the ArtsFest participants are the members of a band called Resume Carnage, which played its first show on July 10 at the St. Louis Maccabi send-off event. Max Pepose, a band member and an incoming junior at Whitfield School, has played guitar for three years, but this is his first time at Maccabi.

“I’m looking forward to meeting new people from all around the country and collaborating with other musicians. I think it’ll give me a broader view of music from all the different people,” Max said.

In addition to his music, Max has another major interest: he is a member of Circus Harmony’s St. Louis Arches, a youth circus troupe based at the City Museum. Max has been involved with the social circus for five years, working on skills such as juggling, acrobatics, tumbling and wire walking.

“We usually say a social circus uses the circus arts to motivate social change. For example, the troupe went to Israel a few years ago and we collaborated with an Israeli/Arab circus group there,” Max said.

Max left for Israel July 17, a week before the Maccabi Games and ArtsFest begin, so that he could attend a social youth circus convention. He will join the St. Louis delegation on July 24 for the start of Maccabi, and spend the next two weeks playing music and touring with the other athletes and artists.

The JCC Maccabi Games and ArtsFest offers a unique experience for all involved. Whether it’s a kid’s first time or a coach’s tenth, the participants seem eager to continue their involvement year after year.

“[Maccabi] is a time when all Jews, any type of Jew – whether Reform, Conservative or Orthodox – come together and we’re just Jewish. We make friends, we have lasting memories, we do something we want to do like competing in a sport or playing music or dancing, we learn a lot about rachmones [compassion] and giving to others [and] we do community service,” Auman said. “When [the kids] come home, they’re not talking about their gold medal, they’re talking about another experience they had that they’ll remember for rest of their lives.”