While most of the 1,200-plus teen athletes competing in next week’s JCC Maccabi Games won’t arrive in Rockland until this weekend, the athletes from Israel have been in the county since Monday,Aug. 6.
The Israeli athletes come to Rockland from Hod Hasharon, a city in Israel that encompasses multiple villages. The JCC Rockland has established a connection to Hod Hasharon in recent years as its sister community in Israel.
“They’re virtual friends already,” said Daniel Sonnenschein, community shaliach for the JCC Rockland. “Last year, when the Maccabi Games were in Israel, some of the athletes got to go over there. The idea is that if in a few years, our kids go to Israel to study abroad or during a year off, they’ll already know people around their age living in Israel.”
Sonnenschein said the group has gone to Manhattan and on Wednesday they took 28 Israel athletes and 22 Rockland athletes to Six Flags.
“Our bus broke down on the way there,” he said. “We were at a rest stop for like two hours, but it gave the kids time to really sit and talk and get to know each other better, opposed to going to the park right away and splitting it up. So I think it all worked out.”
For many of the athletes, it’s their first time in America, and first time out of Israel. Liron Aroch, 14, is one of those athletes.
“People say more ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’ and are more polite,” she said of her early impressions of America. “But I think if I were to choose where to live, in Israel or America, I like Israel more because they are more warm.”
Aroch is one of the members of the girls basketball team, a team she said has a few players she knew on it and others she hadn’t talked to before landing in America.
“They’re really nice,” she said. “We really connected. We’re learning new things, new exercise, new words.”
Efrat Kazmirsky, 15, is on that same team, although she and Aroch have played on the same team in Israel for the past two years. She said she’s really enjoyed practicing with the team, as well as seeing Times Square. She’s also looking forward to the actual tournament starting.
“I never expected to have an opportunity like that so fast,” she said. “I never thought I’d have an experience like that, just different from anything that I’ve ever had in my sports career.”
Sapir Ifrach, 15, is also on the girls basketball team, and also played on that same team in Israel with Aroch and Kazmirsky. It’s her first time in America, and she said she’s excited for the tournament because she thinks it’ll help make her a better basketball player. She added that she’s never played against players from another country.
“It’s very good experience,” she said. “So it’s nice to do new things.”