Critical shortage in homes leaves committee 350 shy
By Brian Bateman
When Dallas hosted the Maccabi Games in 2005, roughly 700-800 athletes competed.
This year’s gathering has hundreds more, but before the committee can declare “Game on, y’all,” the host family committee must find enough homes.
As it stands in mid-April, 150 homes have been registered to host Jewish athletes during the Aug. 2-7 games. That’s nearly 350 homes shy of the required mark.
“We have to start matching athletes to a host family home in May. It’s a very big job,” said Debbie Katz, member of the host family committee.
Planning for the games is already underway. By the start of May, the committee must start choosing in which homes the 1,000-plus athletes will stay.
The Maccabi Games bring teens from all over the nation — and world — to compete in a quasi-junior Olympics for Jewish youth.
At the outset, potential host families could feel their participation could be a time-consuming endeavor.
Kathy Schneider, another chair on the host family committee, said that’s far from the truth.
“A lot of people think they have to do more things with the athletes, but once they’re gone in the morning, you don’t see them again until 10 p.m.”
Outside of sponsored events, driving the competitors to and from the drop-off site, evening activities and a Tuesday get-together, host families aren’t permitted to have extraneous contact with athletes.
But the time they do spend can spark lifelong bonds.
Tara Ohayon, a JCC director of early childhood education and on the host family committee, remembers the life-changing atmosphere at her host family’s home when she attended the 1988 Games in Chicago.
“They were so warm and welcoming. They were my parents for the week,” Ohayon said. “It’s a big part of the week. You have an evening you go out with them.”
She says she remains in touch with several people she met that week.
Schneider hosted tennis players in 2005. Her son went to Austin the previous year, so she said she had a better understanding of what hosting entails than first-time families.
“We felt such pride watching them play and welcoming them home and talking about their day,” she said. “They were very tired. We gave them a nice snack. It felt really good to provide for them.”
“The Jewish geography thing is really fun. There were so many hundreds of people involved.”
Katz’ children were too young to compete in 2005, but Katz saw her kids’ eyes grow when watching the older athletes compete.
“They were people (my kids) could look up to,” she said. “We were able to go watch them and show them a really normal, loving family.”
Making the athletes comfortable will be even more important for international delegations. Venezuela, Israel, Mexico, Panama and Australia will send squads, bringing their unique cultures to the Metroplex.
At the Tuesday get-together, hosts are permitted to barbecue, take the players to a Rangers game, or join with other hosts and come up with another fun activity.
“Last time, we had a bunch of different people over. It was like a big party,” Katz said. “It’s amazing how quickly you get to know them.”
Families interested in hosting can find a link here. The JCC of Dallas would like to have its allotment filled by the end of April, but orientations for the families are set for July.
Host families aren’t required to have a kosher home, but must be Jewish. Each home will have at least two athletes, who need beds or air mattresses, and one driver from each home must be at least 21.
For complete requirements or to sign up, go here.