JCCSF calling all Maccabi athletes and volunteers

Let the signups begin.

In anticipation of next summer’s JCC Maccabi Games coming to San Francisco for the first time, local organizers need volunteers. Lots of them.

To that end, the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco scheduled a Community Kickoff on Nov. 6. Games Director Jackie Lewis had high hopes of lining up plenty of eager volunteers during the two-hour, early evening event.

It will take close to 1,000 volunteers to handle the magnitude of the games, which run from Aug. 2 to 7, 2009. The JCC Maccabi Games will bring to town 1,200 Jewish teen athletes — ages 13 to 16 — from across North and South America, Australia, Britain, Israel and elsewhere, competing in a wide array of sports, played at venues throughout the city.

“Volunteers range from chaperoning an evening party, to being at the field, to loading kids onto buses,” said Lewis. “You can do anything, volunteer for one shift or for the whole [games].”

The teens also need host families, about 600 in all. The requirements are simple: the household must be Jewish, in San Francisco, and able to accomodate two teen guests.

While a big responsibility, hosting the young athletes can have great rewards, according to Lewis.

“Being a host family means you are going to be the proud new owner of two teenagers. It means taking them to [the University of San Francisco, where daily activities begin] every morning, feeding them breakfast, picking them up every evening.”

If that all sounds like living an episode of “Supernanny,” Lewis assured that hosting can be “incredibly meaningful. Many of the kids really connect with their host families.”

However, it will take more than host families to pull of the week of sports and celebration. Lewis says more than 40 lay committees are already up and running, planning the logistics — from opening ceremonies at the Cow Palace to the final farewell.

“This is probably one of the first truly urban sets of games,” said JCC Maccabi Games co-chair Randi Fields. “Distances are shorter here, but there are tremendous challenges: 1,500 athletes plus 300 coaches and delegation heads and chaperones; we’re talking about 1,800 people moving around the city.”

Athletes will be going from their hub at USF to fields and courts at St. Ignatius High School, Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory School and City College of San Francisco. The city’s Recreation & Parks Department will also partner with organizers to provide venues for the games.

The JCC Maccabi Games may focus on the teens, but they are not the only ones to benefit. Organizers say the games usually bring a Jewish community together. Agencies such as the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, the Israel Center, local synagogues and Jewish day schools will all play a role.

As for underwriting the week’s events, several heavy hitters have stepped up, including the JCF’s Endowment Fund, the Koret and Taube foundations, and, of course, the JCCSF.

The games themselves are presented by four partners: the Jewish Community Center Association, the Israel-based Maccabi World Union, Maccabi USA Sports for Israel and Maccabi Canada.

For Lewis and Rhodes, organizing the JCC Maccabi Games is a labor of love. Both have children who formerly represented San Francisco in games past, so they understand how deeply the games can impact teens, volunteers, organizers and the Jewish community as a whole.

“Our kids have been hosted by others,” said Lewis. “Now it’s our turn to return the favor.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.