Little more than a score of Steel City athletes recently returned from the Capital Region Maccabi Games in Albany, N.Y., but for the 27 local participants, the opportunity to compete against fellow Jews was not only “really fun.” It was, according to incoming Pittsburgh Allderdice sophomore Caleb Evoy, a “good experience.”
Caleb, along with five other Pittsburgh players, joined a group of Philadelphia teens to comprise a mixed Pennsylvanian squad for 16U Baseball at the five-day Olympic-style meet.
“It was definitely an experience that I will remember,” said Ziv Mayo, an incoming junior at Pittsburgh Allderdice and a fellow member of the 16U Baseball team.
Unlike last year, when Ziv was the sole Pittsburgher playing baseball at the games, this year was a bit more enjoyable, he said. “I think last year it was a lot harder, because there were a lot of kids I didn’t know on my team. This year I felt a lot more connected to the players on my team and my coaches.”
The group, which ultimately finished fourth, built a connection that should last a lifetime, said Jonathan Mayo, Ziv’s father.
While there are various aspects to the games, such as an opening ceremony, closing party and community service project, “the main part is meeting new kids,” said his son. “I met a kid from central Jersey the second to last day and we ended up talking for like four hours.”
“I got to spend more time with people I don’t normally hang out with and meet new people,” echoed Caleb.
The JCC Maccabi Games, which holds events at multiple sites annually, welcomes more than 6,000 teens between the ages of 13 to 16. In upstate New York, athletes from as far away as Mexico, Canada and Israel participated.
“I live in Pittsburgh, so that’s a big community but also a small community; so when you get to meet kids from Israel or Mexico or Canada, you wouldn’t meet them unless you met them in that place, it’s a different connection — you connect with them through your faith and through sports because we are all competing together,” said Sammy Nayhouse, an incoming junior at Pittsburgh Allderdice.
Like Ziv, this was Sammy’s second go-round with the games. But apart from meeting new kids, the competition, through its home hospitality program, provided a chance to connect with local residents, said the tennis player.
“This is my last year because I am too old, but if the Maccabi Games ever come to Pittsburgh I would love to host a family if I am that age and have a house,” Sammy offered. Reason being is that the “host families and parents are so welcoming. They took us around the city, showed us cool things, different restaurants. I would like to give the next Maccabi kids the same experience that I had.”
“I would love for Pittsburgh to host it in the future,” added Ziv’s father. “I think it’s great for the Jewish community, it brings a lot of people into town. … I think it would be a cool way to shine a light on the Pittsburgh Jewish community and what it has to offer.”
Pittsburgh last hosted the JCC Maccabi Games in 1997. Since then, athletes have traveled to cities including Baltimore, Boston and Detroit for the competition.
“I know that the Jewish community sometimes searches for ways to get young people engaged Jewishly and this is a great way to do it,” the elder Mayo said.
Sammy, who won a gold medal for doubles and a bronze medal for singles in tennis, concurred, and hoped that people know that “if you’re Jewish and you play sports or do arts, that it’s just a great experience to connect with new people.”
“Meeting new people in general is important, but especially other Jews,” said Ziv, a third baseman and pitcher. “You get to ask them what they do for certain holidays or how they celebrate certain things, and you get to learn how they express their Judaism.”
Caleb, a left fielder and first baseman, agreed. “It makes you realize that there are a lot of people that are like you,” he said. PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.