A few years ago, Jewish Community Center President and CEO Lynn Wittels was at a Cardinals game with some leaders of Maryville University.
The Maryville officials mentioned their efforts to increase Jewish life on campus. Wittels suggested that the school help the J in its efforts to bring the JCC Maccabi Games to St. Louis.
That “innocent conversation,” Wittels said, culminated in St. Louis succeeding in its bid to host the games and in Maryville, a one-time Catholic school, serving as the hub for the gathering, which takes place Sunday, July 31, through Aug. 5.
The partnership is the latest example of the school’s outreach to the Jewish community.
A Jewish Student Union, founded in 2010, last year transformed into a Hillel chapter with a full-time director. And private donors have established scholarships to help Jewish students attend the school.
The school now has between 225 and 250 Jewish students on campus, which represents a 70 percent increase over Jewish enrollment five years ago, according to the school.
“Maryville had been seen as a women’s school and a Catholic school, and obviously that meant that our student base and alumni base came from a particular sector,” Maryville President Mark Lombardi said. “We wanted to expand and grow and become a more diverse and inclusive campus.”
School officials were excited to help host the games, Lombardi said, because “we always get energized about young people, whether it’s academically or athletically, really pushing themselves (and) finding out what they can achieve.”
The games also introduce Jewish participants to Maryville so that “they may want to take a serious look” at the school “when they are thinking about their” college plans, Lombardi said.
The school is donating its space to the J for basketball, tennis and volleyball, as well as activities for athletes between games. In addition to Maryville and the J buildings in Creve Coeur and Chesterfield, Maccabi events also will be held at Chaifetz Arena, Lindenwood University, Westwood Country Club and the Chesterfield Valley Athletic Complex.
Wittels said the organization had been looking to host some of its events outside the J’s two locations to avoid disturbing J members’ usual routines. She said having Maryville as a hub is “the perfect resolution.”