Beautiful team spirit lifts Peninsula JCC delegation in San Diego

Crying, screaming and laughing in a group hug, the Peninsula JCC girls soccer team looked for all the world like they had just won a gold medal at the 2008 Maccabi Games in San Diego.

But, in fact, they had just lost.

“They didn’t win the game, but they were just totally in the team spirit — it was beautiful to watch,” said Rona Goldstein, director of sports and recreation at the PJCC, who organized and supervised the delegation.

So much so, Goldstein added, that a coach from another city, who hadn’t seen the outcome of the game, came over and congratulated the PJCC team on their win.

This was the fifth year that the PJCC has sent athletes to the Maccabi Games, and Goldstein’s fourth year as head of the delegation. The games were held Aug. 3 to 8 in venues around San Diego.

At the opening ceremony, the athletes marched not with flags, but with surfboards — appropriate, given the Southern California setting. The ceremony included acrobatic bicyclists, dancing and Israeli music — but for the PJCC delegation, seeing the sheer number of Jewish athletes was one of the biggest thrills.

“Just the looks on the athletes’ faces, it was like, ‘Wow! Check this out! These guys are all Jewish!'” Goldstein recalled.

The PJCC delegation included 15 member athletes, as well as two special guests: Israeli tennis players Brit Sharoni and Rona Lavian, both of the PJCC’s sister city, Ramat HaSharon. The JCC received a grant so the two could come to the U.S. and participate in the games.

The American delegates got to know the Israelis before they even arrived; “Facebook played a good part in it,” Goldstein said.

“There was such a sweet connection between a few of our athletes at the PJCC and the Israelis,” she added. “They’re still e-mailing back and forth, sending pictures, and plan to visit each other in Israel.”

One Israeli guest took home a very shiny souvenir — Lavian won a gold medal in tennis. There were four PJCC medalists overall — the other winners were Lauren Meier, who won gold in lyrical dance and a silver in dance and choreography; Tracie Ehrlich, who took silver in dance and choreography; and swimmer Erika Segal, who earned a bronze in the 50-meter freestyle.

Despite the delegation’s success, Goldstein insisted it wasn’t about wins or losses.

“Our Peninsula delegation were not only great athletes, they were really nice people,” she said. “To see them watch and grow, explore and play — it was just fun.”

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