While athletes competing in the JCC Maccabi Games from , athletes from other foreign countries touched down in Rockland later in the week.
The teams from Great Britain and Venezuela both arrived on Thursday, and spent part of Friday in Manhattan. Friday night, both teams, along with athletes from Los Angeles, Israel and Rockland, were at the JCC Rockland for a Shabbat dinner.
For some, like Julie Wise, 15, of Great Britain, it was a return to the games.
“It was the most amazing experience ever,” she said. “The people you get to meet, I’ve kept in touch with all of them.”
Wise, a lacrosse player, came to America last year to compete in the games in Philadelphia. She said she keeps in touch with the players from last year on Facebook, and she probably made the most friends last year from the Baltimore team, a city she didn’t really know anything about before.
The Great Britain team comes from North London, leaving behind the final few days of this summer’s Olympics to take part in their own version. Before leaving, Wise took in some Olympic action.
“I went to watch the handball the other day and the atmosphere, it was just amazing,” Wise said. “It mimicked the games last year. I was just so much more excited and pumped up to come. We just want to do the best we can.”
Josh Tray, 14, of Great Britain, said he liked the games last year because the competition was fun, as well as meeting other athletes from around the world that are Jewish and around his age.
“You have a conversation starter with everyone which is nice,” he said.
Daniela Nessim, 15, of Venezuela, was also at the Philly games last year and returned this summer. She’s a swimmer on the team from Caracas, Venezuela.
“It was a great experience and we met a lot of people and won a lot of medals, so we decided to come back,” she said.
She added she go to see some of the friends she made at last year’s games who live in Mexico when she traveled to Mexico this year to compete as part of a dance group.
Gabriela Gabor, 15, is another member of the Venezuelan swimming team that went to Philly last year and is in Rockland this summer.
“It’s fun and I can interact with other people,” she said. “I can know other people that don’t live in my country and that’s fun.”
She made friends last year with athletes from Mexico, Guatemala and Israel.
But there are also plenty of athletes who will make their JCC Maccabi Games debut on Monday when competition officially kicks off. From Great Britain, soccer player Sam Belchak, 14, is one player appearing in his first JCC Maccabi Games.
“I know a few people who came last year and they said it was an amazing experience, so I thought I’d give it a go and tryout,” he said.
From Venezuela, swimmers Brenda Torres, 15, Nicolas DiMiele, 13, and Jacob Simkin, 14, are all participating in the JCC Maccabi Games for the first time.
Torres said she’s looking forward to swimming and meeting people from other countries. DiMiele said he hopes to make new friends and improve his swimming times. Simkin was told by past competitors that he should compete.
“My friends tell it was a good time,” he said.