By Sharon Wisch-Ray
If you are like me, you are just getting back to your normal routine after last week’s successful Dallas Maccabi Games.
More than one person has asked me, “Have you recovered yet?” There are so many highlights of the week I’d like to share — interestingly enough, none of them have to do with sports — I’m not sure where to begin. I guess the beginning is always a good start.
We were thrilled to learn that we would be hosting two boys from the Australian 16U basketball team, Greg Diamond, 15, and Jordan Spyrides, 14. Prior to their arrival, I had numerous conversations with their moms, Shelley Diamond, who traveled with the team as their welfare officer, and Ariella Spyrides, who remained back in Sydney.
In the small world of Jewish geography, we quickly figured out that we had friends and acquaintances in Dallas in common as both the Diamonds and Spyrides families were originally from South Africa. I quickly learned a new word, billeting, which I had to look up while chatting with Shelley one day. For those of you like me who don’t know, a billeting refers to lodging someone in a nonmilitary facility aka… in Big D, a host family.
When we realized our boys would be arriving Thursday, we quickly put together a Shabbat dinner with some family and some of the other folks who were hosting Aussies.
As luck would have it, my nephews Aaron and Garrett were in town from Oklahoma. Aaron and Garrett, whose dad Jordan is Jewish, have met a few Jewish people, mostly their family from the Rays’ side and my family the Wisches.
However, I don’t think that it really hit home to them that there are Jews everywhere until they met their new Australian friends. To top it of, all these Aussies knew the same prayers they’ve heard around the Shabbat table for years. Seeing these boys together sharing Shabbat solidified to me one reason opportunities like Maccabi are so important.
Rachmanus in action
It was Sunday at the close of Opening Ceremonies. I was eager to get my Aussie athletes, who were exhausted from their 28-hour travel to get to Dallas, and Sam, my own baseball player, home. I was already tired and the games hadn’t really even begun yet.
As sports commissioner and venue director for the Star Reporters, I was due to attend a meeting at the Hilton Lincoln Center at 10:30 p.m., and I really didn’t want to go. I’d been to my share of meetings over the last few months and, in truth, Star Reporter did not demand a whole lot of face time. I saw Steve Schneider, aka “Mr. Maccabi,” and Athletics Chair of the Games, and asked him if I had to go to the meeting. His answer: “Yes and no, I want you there because I’m proud of you, but I understand if you don’t want to go. I’d like to recognize your hard work though.”
Is this guy really a Jewish mother, I wondered? I pushed myself to get to the Hilton as soon as the boys were settled.
As soon as the pleasantries and requisite admonitions were done, Mr. Maccabi took the podium and among other sage advice told a story that to me was the essence of what the Maccabi games are all about.
In 2004, Steve took his first Dallas baseball team to Austin for the Games. They were playing up, mostly 13- and 14-year-olds with just a couple of 16-year-olds playing in the 16U division. They faced Atlanta, a 16U team that produced more than one division one baseball player in college.
They got creamed. The Dallas boys were demoralized, and to add insult to injury, as they boarded their bus back to the hub, they were faced with Team Atlanta who had just skunked them. To their surprise, they were greeted with a heartfelt rendition of Hinei Ma Tov which led to the singing of Jewish and Hebrew songs all the way back.
The feelings of humiliation and defeat were replaced with the jubilation of brotherhood and camaraderie. As Mr. Maccabi finished his story my eyes welled up and I was so grateful that I had pushed myself to attend the meeting. It put the whole week in perspective.
It’s not about the athletics
If you’re like me, you’ve paid your share of fees to provide opportunities for your kids to participate in various levels of athletic competition. Those options are always available, and trust me, folks will take your fee regardless of your child’s talent level.
What sets Maccabi apart is the opportunity for your Jewish child to participate in sports within a Jewish framework with Jewish values and — when the competition is over — to learn about folks from other parts of the Jewish world both here and abroad.
Furthermore, many athletes reported that their favorite day of the week was JCC Cares, a community service project combating food instability.
It takes a village
Throughout the week, I spent a lot of time at the J — arriving by 7:30 a.m. and leaving late after The Dallas Maccabi Post (Star Reporter news) was put to bed well after the athletes had headed to their evening activities. I was struck by everyone’s willingness to go the extra mile to make things happen.
For example, our 12 star reporters were treated to talks by Jared Sandler, one of the voices of the Texas Rangers, at 7:30 Wednesday morning and Jeff Platt, sports reporter for Time Warner Cable News. Both Dallasites, Sandler had worked the Ranger game late the night before and Platt was participating in the games as a coach for the gold medal-winning 16U Team Dallas Silver basketball team.
These guys didn’t have to do this, but they went that extra mile to help budding journalists and share some really valuable information.
I was also impressed by the number of seniors at the JCC volunteering in numerous capacities as well as members of Chai House.
From medical staff to hospitality, venue directors to security, I personally did not have a negative encounter.
These Games engaged everyone and we are a better, more cohesive community for it.
Yasher Koach to Games Chairs Dan Prescott, Wendy Stanley and Ruthie Shor, Games Director Kerri Aikin, their vice chairs and assistants and all the JCC staff and of course…. the volunteers for a job well done.
Next year, … Meet me in St. Louis!