Tikkun olam is key part of Maccabi Games

By Hannah Snidman, Staff writer

When the 2016 JCC Maccabi Games get underway in St. Louis beginning Sunday, July 31, much of the focus will be on the athletic competitions that underscore the weeklong event. But a hidden gem defines the spirit of what these Games are truly all about: the service project.

Every year, the Games hosts a program for the more than 1,000 teen athletes to help those in need. Entitled “JCC Cares,” this year’s project  involves packing meals for donation to the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry.

“We were looking for a project that would make a big impact in the community and that the teen athletes would enjoy as well,” explained Mindy Horwitz, a Kol Rinah congregant and co-chair of the Maccabi Community Connects Committee. “We also wanted to do something inside so the athletes could get a break from the St. Louis summer heat.”

All Maccabi athletes will gather Wednesday, Aug. 3 in the gym at the J’s Staenberg Family Complex to pack over 100,000 meals together.  

“The service project was chosen by the committee after going through a large list of possible activities,” said Lee Rosenberg, United Hebrew Congregation congregant and co-chair of the Maccabi Community Connects Committee. “With the challenge of engaging over 1,200 people, we were excited to find one project for the entire group.”

The project was inspired by STL World Food Day, a similar annual event that takes place in St. Louis. For JCC Cares, meals will include staple foods such as beans, soy and rice.

“We are lucky that the Jewish Food Pantry is able to accept every meal we pack during the games,” Rosenberg said. “The contribution made by the Maccabi Games will help the food pantry serve individuals and families with food insecurity.”

He explained that the Games strive to emphasize six central values: Joy, Respect, Pride, Peoplehood, Big Heartedness and Repairing the World. The service project helps demonstrate “tikkun olam” or repairing the world.

“At the JCC Maccabi Games, sports is the convener, but the true purpose and magic of the games is related to Jewish community, peoplehood, and Jewish values and identity,” Horwitz said. “This service project is a critical element in the effort to come together as a community and give back to help those in need, fulfilling and teaching the important value of tikkun olam.”

Both Maccabi Community Connects Committee co-chairs have connections to the Games. Horwitz has two sons playing basketball for the St. Louis delegation. Rosenberg also has a son who will be playing  baseball.

The 2016 Community Connects Committee is responsible for arranging the ‘Hang Time’ area for participants — where athletes can relax and enjoy down time together — in addition to overseeing the JCC Cares program.

Major sponsors in St. Louis of JCC Cares include J Associates, Wendy and Mark Gellman, Lisa and Jim Deutsch and Coca Cola. Other support comes from the St. Louis Rabbinical Association, College Hunks Hauling Junk and Jewish Family & Children’s Service. Local synagogues lend a lot of help to the Games as well, the co-chairs said.