By Chad Tessmer
It was a summer of travel for participants in the JCC Maccabi Games, as Milwaukee’s Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center prepares to host the Games for the first time since 1997.
With Team Milwaukee descending on Boca Raton to compete; members of the Games Steering Committee traveling to Detroit to see the Games in action; and professional staff adding additional visits to Cherry Hill, N.J., and New York City — community leaders are engaged in taking the mission of the Games and making it a reality for Milwaukee.
Jamie Miller is co-chair of Milwaukee’s JCC Maccabi Games. He came away from his visit to Detroit’s Games (Aug. 17-22) with a new appreciation for what it takes to host a successful Games, how far the Milwaukee leadership team has come and how much more work is needed.
“The need to be organized and have everyone working towards a shared goal is critical,” he said. “Watching the Games in action really put things into perspective, and reminded me that getting the volunteers and support necessary is achievable.”
About 30 community leaders and staff members traveled by bus to the Detroit Games. They observed a wide variety of athletic competitions, social service projects known as “JCC Cares,” and “Hangtime” — where participants relax, convene and participate in enrichment activities.
Added Games co-chair Nancy Kennedy Barnett, who had also traveled to the Austin Games in 2013 as part of the JCC’s exploratory committee: “I am excited for this opportunity to bring Milwaukee together, to create this type of experience where Jewish athletes can thrive. In Detroit, I witnessed our values coming to life — repairing the world, respect, joy, pride — and I know we will do the same here.”
After the visit, Steering Committee members have shared their experiences, promoted the Games and worked to bring as many volunteers and hosts into the Games through open houses and planning meetings.
“It’s time to rally the troops,” said Miller. “Being in Detroit helped me understand the commitment of JCC Maccabi Games volunteers, and made me appreciate just how great our growing Milwaukee team truly is.”
The previous week, Aug. 10-15, Team Milwaukee participated in the Games in Boca Raton, Fla., boasting its largest delegation of teen athletes since the community last hosted the Games in 1997. Led by Aaron Miller, 37 athletes returned home a week later having earned 17 individual and team medals.
“We’re proud of how our athletes performed on the field,” said Miller, “But we’re even more proud of how these teens embodied our promise to ‘Be Milwaukee.’ “For us that meant showing respect, performing with the highest effort, and demonstrating to our host just what it means to be a member of the Milwaukee Jewish community.”
With open registration for the 2015 Games approaching, Miller and his colleagues are hard at work building the team that will represent Milwaukee during its own opening ceremonies on the floor of the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
The JCC seeks to field a local delegation of more than 100 athletes between the ages of 12 and 16.
JCC Maccabi Games Director Jesse Rosen has been traveling the country to witness as much Games activity as possible. He made a two-week tour of all 2014 host cities — adding Cherry Hill, N.J., to an itinerary that included Detroit and Boca Raton.
For Rosen, the visits validated much of what he had learned over the past year.
“In every conversation I’ve had with a colleague, it became clear that the largest thing we could do to ensure a successful Games is to reach our volunteer and host goals,” he said.
“Simply put, we need over 1,000 volunteers between now and Aug. 8, and nearly 1,000 beds for visiting athletes. I have never been more confident that we can get it done here in Milwaukee — but now is the time to get folks signed up and ready to go,” said Rosen.
Rosen has been building the professional team that will work alongside committee and volunteer leaders. He has travelled throughout Milwaukee to grow the ranks of donors, volunteers and host families.
“The vision for the JCC Maccabi Games in Milwaukee is, quite frankly, aspirational,” Rosen said. “We’re already seeing what’s possible as this community comes together and makes this a reality. It’ll be exciting to watch as more of Jewish Milwaukee makes the Games its own.”
Chad Tessmer is Chief Marketing Officer at the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center.
1st published in the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle