Hundreds brave heat for South Bays Maccabiah Games

In an attempt to recreate the sense of ruach, or spirit, that youngsters experience at Jewish camps, the South Bay Jewish community recently held a Maccabiah Games Day at the Addison-Penzak Jewish Community Center in Los Gatos.

The local event was not affiliated with the official adult Maccabiah Games in Israel or the Maccabi Games for teens in the United States. Nonetheless, more than 500 people endured record-breaking temperatures to take part in swim relays, gaga (an Israeli ball game), softball, volleyball and tennis, as well as chess and Jewish trivia games.

The games, which coincided with the center's Yom HaAtzmaut celebrations, was sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater San Jose and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Santa Clara County.

Events were open to individuals of all ages and focused more on fun than on serious competition.

"I signed up for Jewish Jeopardy because I've been making up my own versions at home and thought it would be fun to play it at the center," said 13-year-old Billy Ravel.

"There were categories for different age groups…but no one showed up for the 10 and under category so those questions became freebies and were pretty easy. The other categories were a challenge, but our team eventually won."

Ravel said he first heard about the Los Gatos games at Temple Emanu-El in San Jose, where the information was frequently mentioned at services and during religious school.

Miriam Silver, an 11-year-old Hebrew student at Congregation Sinai, also in San Jose, said she, too, had heard about the games at her congregation and quickly put her name on an activity sign-up sheet.

"I signed up to play gaga. It was open for anyone to join in," she said.

Local congregational support early on was key to gaining interest and participation, according to the event's co-chairs. Alan Engel and Aaron Gabriel contacted synagogue leaders approximately one year ago.

"Reception to the idea was overwhelming right from the start," said Engel. "It was very satisfying to see the idea take hold among the different congregations.

Sue Maltiel, a Temple Emanu-El board member who helped organize her congregation's participation, gave it two thumbs up.

"We need to have more events like this one," she said. "You read about these kinds of activities happening in San Francisco and Berkeley all the time. We have the potential for building a strong local Jewish community in San Jose, but we need to work at it to make it happen."

In addition to the scheduled activities, attractions included a petting zoo, ethnic foods and informal talks by local rabbis. Kiosks were set up to sell jewelry and display art or provide information about synagogues and local Jewish organizations.

"The best part of the event was that it drew people from all aspects of the community, including families with young children, teens, young adults, seniors and single parents," said Maltiel.

"This event brings the community together," said Arnie Addison, past president of the center, which bears his name and his wife's maiden name. He was called on to throw the symbolic first pitch to open the games.

Rabbi Shmuel Jablon of South Peninsula Hebrew Day School in Sunnyvale also emphasized the importance of coming together.

"This event shows that no matter what our differences may be, we can treat each other with honor and respect and show our support for the Jewish community."

While ribbons were distributed to winning participants, the organizers pointed out that all the games were designed to be just for fun.

"It wasn't about who came in first, second or third," said co-chair Gabriel. "It was about building community and there is no doubt that the winner today was the community."