- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 8, 2004

The Jewish Community Center Maccabi Games — featuring athletes from the United States, Israel and five other countries — begins today and lasts through Thursday — the day before the Olympics begin in Athens.

Jewish athletes 12 to 16 years old will be competing in 13 sports — including swimming, soccer and track and field — in the D.C. area for the first time.

The convergence of young Jewish athletes began in Istanbul more than 70 years ago.

The games are an Olympic-style athletic, cultural and community-service event for Jewish teens.

“It’s awesome,” said Jonathon Alan Siskind, 13, of London, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the flag of Britain. He and two other British boys will be playing tennis.

The boys and two girls from Vancouver, Canada, arrived Thursday and were staying with host parents in Darnestown and Potomac.

“They’ve been very well-behaved. We’re happy to have them,” said Lisa Tomares, of Potomac, whose daughter Carlyn, 13, will compete in soccer.

The Maccabi movement began in 1895, but the first games weren’t held for 37 years. The games were designed to develop democratic values and leadership, enrich the sense of Jewish identity and create a “point of entry to the larger Jewish community,” according to the organization.

This year’s events began last night in the MCI Center with a parade of more than 2,000 participating athletes, a welcome from area officials, including Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan and Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., and the lighting of the torch, or, in this case, a cauldron.

Opening ceremonies featured award-winning sports commentator Jim McKay and Anouk Spitzer, daughter of one of the 11 Israelis killed by terrorists at the 1972 Olympics in Munich.

“I was both honored and moved to learn that the memory of my father and the other Israeli athletes are kept alive at every JCC Maccabi Games opening ceremonies,” said Miss Spitzer, who was just 5 weeks old when her father, Andre Spitzer, was killed.

Officials expected about 8,000 spectators in the MCI Center. The events, including baseball, basketball, bowling, dance, golf, soccer, swimming, tennis, track and field, and volleyball, will be held at facilities in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Simultaneous Maccabi Games are going on in Austin, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; and Boston. About 400 local athletes are in the greater Washington games. Participants have come from Great Britain, Canada, Australia, Israel, Mexico and Venezuela.

Some of the D.C.-area athletes have participated in previous Jewish youth games in the United States.

Jennifer Schwartz, 15, of Rockville, plays basketball and was in the games in Springfield, Mass., and St. Louis. A classmate at Georgetown Day School, Sammi Levin, 14, was in the St. Louis games and will be playing volleyball this year.

When asked whether he would win the three races he had entered, Alan Levin, 16, also of Rockville and Georgetown Day School, said, “I’m definitely going to win.”

His partner yesterday, Alex Tern, 16, said with an uncertain grin, “Sure,” when asked whether he was going to win his races.

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