Twenty teams made up of more than 60 people in total will combine for a run from JCC Rockland to Rockland Community College (RCC) this Sunday.
The run serves two purposes: to honor a group of Israeli athletes killed by terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics known as the Munich 11, and to kickoff the opening ceremony for this year’s Maccabi Games. The JCC Rockland has been among groups calling for those slain athletes to be honored at the 2012 Olympics. Today, The House Committee on Foreign Affairs adopted a resolution sponsored by Reps. Eliot Engel and Nita Lowey calling on the International Olympic Committee to hold a minute of silence to commemorate the 40th anniversary of that tragedy.
The Maccabi Games are a yearly Olympic-style competition in various sports that last a week long. This year, the Rockland JCC is one of the host sites, as there are three a year. The other two host locations are Memphis and Houston.
While the games don’t start until August 13, Sunday’s run will bring the torch of the games to the Eugene Levy Field house at RCC, which is acting as a sort of homebase for the games. The teams are made up of a wide variety of people, from sponsors of the event and people who donated a Munich 11 sculpture to the JCC to the actual sculptor and elected officials, police chiefs and Rockland County Sheriff Lou Falco.
There are also a number of participants in the Torch Run from the JCC who are organizing the Rockland portion of the games. Junior Maccabi athletes, those under the age of 13 and are too young to compete in the games, will run the second-to-last-leg of the run and hand the torch to Dr. Cliff Wood, RCC’s president, to finish it off.
The games will bring about 1,250 kids to Rockland from different states, Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Israel and the United Kingdom. All athletes are staying with host families, and the host families are all volunteers, according to Eric Lightman, JCC Maccabi Games director.
Lightman said all local families with competitors in the games are required to host an athlete, and so about 150 Rockland families have at least one child competing in the games. There are roughly 300 other families that have volunteered to take in an athlete for the week.
"Most of the host families are in Ramapo," said Clarkstown Police Officer Mark Hamilla. He added that there will be about 1,500 people in August for this event and police are preparing for the influx of people. "We're training with different SWAT teams."
The games feature 12 sports for boys and girls, although only the girls compete in lacrosse, volleyball and softball, whereas only the boys compete in baseball and inline hockey.
RCC is the main hub for the games, also serving lunch for the athletes and hosting some of the events. Other locations for the games are Suffern High School, Suffern Middle School, Torne Valley Sports Complex, Clarkstown South, Germonds Park and West Rock Indoor Sports in Nanuet. There will also be events at a few golf courses and inline roller hockey will take place in Newburgh.
It’s Rockland’s first time hosting the games, which started in 1982.
“We’ve been participating in the program since 1988. I think it’s been a dream for many in this community for at least 10 of 15 years to be a host site,” Lightman said. “You go and see it, and it’s such a phenomenal event. It really forces the community to come together as one single Jewish community. But even beyond the Jewish community, it really requires the input of many people to put together an event of this size.”
He said the JCC has really put on a focus on hosting the games since it moved to its new building in West Nyack about five years ago. Getting the new facility had taken up the organization’s focus for years before, and once that was out of the way, he said they really started putting forth an effort to host.
“It’s an opportunity to demonstrate to the rest of the country what we’re capable here and make people aware of the unique and diverse county we are,” he said. “People might’ve heard about Rockland, but don’t know much about it. A lot of people think it’s on Long Island.”
In addition to host families, the JCC is looking for additional volunteers to help out with a variety of different things, such as with opening ceremonies, assisting in the parking lot as venue directors, security, food service, transportation and chaperones for social events for the athletes three nights while they’re in Rockland. Lightman said they have most of the host families they need, but anyone interested in volunteering in some way is asked to call 845-458-1622 or email maccabi@JCCRockland.org.
Lightman added that so far they’ve seen a lot of people who haven’t volunteered with the JCC volunteering for the games, or people who haven’t volunteered with the JCC in a while coming back to help out.
“This isn’t just a program for JCC members, or for people that work out in our gym or for people that go to our camp,” he said. “For this community to be successful, we have to find things to collaborate on. This can be one of those things.”