Elyse Hausner and Frieda Levitas agreed more than a year ago to co-chair the organization of the community service portion of the upcoming JCC Rockland Maccabi Games. Since then, they, along with about 100 volunteers and Jared Rosenblum of the JCC, have planned a myriad of activities that are considered as important as the athletic events of the games. The goal of JCC Cares is to teach the athletes about “tikkun olam,” a Jewish value that means repairing the world through giving back to the community and helping the less fortunate.
“Without it, we don’t believe the children get as full an experience,” said Hausner.
Levitas said they want the 13- to 16-year-old athletes from Mexico, Canada, Israel, Great Britain, Venezuela, California, Ohio, Florida, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Illinois, Delaware, Michigan, New Jersey, Connecticut and New York including Westchester County to get a first hand experience of community service and go home with the desire to continue.
“That’s a very important part of our mission,” she said.
Levitas and Hausner said they have the goal of sharing the principle of “tikkun olam” with the athletes to help them understand how they can make a difference.
“It’s come to mean social justice – social action,” explained Hausner. “So we feel very strongly in the Jewish community that we all have a part to do in “tikkun olam” – in repairing the world. And that’s what makes it important.”
Levitas explained there are almost 20 projects for the 1,239 athletes to participate in. The community service projects will take place across Rockland County, in Orange County and Bergen County, NJ on the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 15. The athletes and adult volunteers will go to projects in Valley Cottage, Congers, Palisades, Monsey, Spring Valley, Haverstraw, Suffern, Chestnut Ridge, Sloatsburg and Newburgh.
“We paired with nonprofit organizations,” Levitas said, naming the New York Special Olympics, which is bringing 150 athletes to the JCC, the Challenger Little League, Keep Rockland Beautiful, Mitzvah Clowning, Bonim Builders and numerous nursing homes.
The two New City residents said the projects fulfill different needs.
“They range from planting a garden in a home for seniors to cleaning up and helping to restore a Native American trail,” said Hausner.
Some athletes will go to the Holocaust Museum in Spring Valley and meet with Holocaust survivors; others will plant a garden at Harmony Hall in Sloatsburg. Still another group will paint trash barrels for Keep Rockland Beautiful and some youths will go to Newburgh and clean up a park.
After the projects are completed, the Maccabi athletes and young adults from Venture and Jawonio will join together. Members of Jawonio and Venture wrote songs, which they will perform along with providing the music. They will be joined by 50 of the Maccabi athletes and entertain the entire group.
Everyone will be wearing a white t-shirt with blue lettering created by Jessie Alcheh, a graduate of Clarkstown North High School. The design depicts all the different sports played during the Maccabi Games.
“We wanted to be one team,” said Hausner. “All of our athletes, Special Olympians, musical people, Challenger Little League, volunteers will be ‘Team Maccabi’.”
Both women, who teach in the Clarkstown School District, said practicing "tikkun olam" was important to them and their families.
Hausner, whose four children are adults, said her family members all have strong feelings about giving back to the community and volunteering.
“The idea of giving back is the thing we live for,” she said.
Levitas, whose children are young, said, “We’re also teaching our children about giving back.”
The results and impact of the Maccabi athletes’ community service will not just be visible locally. Hausner said she visited Israel recently and met with members of the Israel Defense Forces and asked what they would like to have. Their response was t-shirts from the United States.
“We asked all of our athletes to bring t-shirts from where they live,” said Hausner.
Other organizations, inlcuding the New York Rangers and Bronx House JCC are donating t-shirts as well.
The JCC Maccabi Games take place from Sunday, Aug. 12 until Friday, Aug. 17.