Local Families Enjoying JCC Maccabi Games Hosting Duties

More than 430 families are hosting the 1,250-plus athletes at this week's JCC Maccabi Games in Rockland.

Jennifer Chaitin doesn’t know when to stop. 

Or at least that’s she described the scene at her house last week and this week. Last week, Chatin opened her Nyack home to four boys from Israel coming to Rockland County for this week’s JCC Maccabi Games.

The Israeli athletes were the earliest to show up, arriving Aug. 6 for the games, which started Monday. The Rockland JCC has a cultural exchange program with the Israeli delegation, so those athletes showed up a week early and had activities each day last week, including trips to Manhattan and Six Flags.

The boys are out playing for the Israeli basketball team each morning and afternoon, and have a night activity every night this week except for Wednesday. Wednesday is Host Family Night, a night when the JCC Maccabi Games don’t plan anything so the athletes and families can spend time together. Many host families get together Wednesday night.

On Host Family Night, Chaitin will open her home for a few other families and host a party for 70-plus people.

While most teams leave Rockland Friday, a few teams are staying through the weekend so they don’t travel on the Sabbath. Not only will Chatin’s four athletes from Israel be at her house until Sunday, starting on Friday, she’s taking in three girls from Great Britain whose host family couldn’t watch them over the weekend as well.

“I don’t have a car big enough to take all of them out,” she said. “They’ll have to have fun around the house. We have chickens. Maybe the chickens can entertain them for a few days.”

Chaitin said she’s happy to have the kids over, though. She has three children of her own who are now too old for the games, but she said all three of them only talked about how much they loved them while competing.

“I really believe in the games,” she said. “The only way kids can play is they have somewhere to stay. They’ve been great so far. It’s a great experience. They’re full of energy and life.”

The Maccabi Games have brought 1,250-plus teenage Jewish athletes to Rockland, and all of them stay with about 430 local families. Families that have children competing in the games must take in at least two athletes, which makes up about 150 of the host families. The rest are families that volunteered, either because they had children compete in past JCC Maccabi Games, or just to help out.

Donna Sagona of New City fits in that last category. Her friend Stewart Abrahamson is a former head of the Rockland delegation’s past entrants to the Maccabi Games. He helped bring the games to Rockland. He asked Sagona if she’d be willing to host a few athletes, so she said she could accommodate three kids.

Her three boys from Toronto arrived on Sunday, so she and her husband, Brad, decided to sneak in a quick trip to Manhattan. They have a friend who owns a boat, so they took the three boys from Toronto on a mini-cruise around Sunday afternoon, getting up close views of the Statue of Liberty and a few bridges. They also saw the Empire State Building, Freedom Tower and plenty of the Manhattan skyline. She said they might head back to Manhattan Wednesday night during Family Host Night.

“They seem to be enjoying themselves so far,” Sagona said. “They really wanted to get New York pizza. Not even New York City pizza, just New York pizza. So we had some pizza locally. Driving around at night, they were shocked at how dark it is around here.”

Sagona has two daughters who are passed the JCC Maccabi Games age range of 13-16, and neither of them played. Sagona and her husband don’t belong to the Rockland JCC either.

“We’re thrilled to participate in a great event,” said Sagona, who is also volunteering as a venue director for volleyball at Rockland Community College. “We’ve met so many nice people not only from around the world, but from right here in Rockland we probably wouldn’t have met otherwise. It’s just been great. The was so moving. Even the boys afterwards were talking about how the dedication to the athletes killed in Munich.”

Lauren and Mitch Schimko of Tompkins Cover are hosting two athletes from Springfield, MA and have a daughter playing in the games this year. Lauren Schimko is also coaching one of the tennis teams and said so far everything’s gone well with the hosting.

Because she’s a coach, Schimko said she has to be with the team all day, so she doesn’t see the boys too much until at night, and by that time everyone is pretty tired.

“Outside of my husband, we’re a house full of girls,” she said. “So having two more boys around has been a little different.”

Hannah Schimko, Lauren and Mitch Schimko’s daughter, is playing tennis at the games, and she said she’s gotten along with the two athletes from Springfield, although she doesn’t see much of them either. She’s spent her non-tennis time during the games making friends with athletes from Great Britain and Albany.

For Host Family Night, the Schimko’s and their athletes are going to pool party and barbecue with more than 100 other people. Most of the families going to the party belong to Temple Beth Sholom in New City, including the Schimko’s. She said even the rabbi will be there to welcome and meet the athletes from around the world.

“It’s been a great experience so far,” said Mitch Schimko. “The kids are all interacting like they’ve known each other forever, so [Wednesday] night should be a fun time for all the kids and adults.”


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