Maccabi USA athletes volunteer with Jewish National Fund-USA’s Hashomer HaChadash
Maccabi USA athletes volunteer with Jewish National Fund-USA’s Hashomer HaChadash
Photo: Courtesy JNF-USA
Maccabi USA athletes volunteer with Jewish National Fund-USA’s Hashomer HaChadash

Maccabiah athletes' connection to Israel given a sporting chance

A novel partnership between Jewish National Fund-USA and Maccabi USA is seeing Jewish athletes develop a deeper connection to the land and people of Israel with a weeklong journey before the Maccabiah commences

Zach DuBow |
Published: 07.25.22, 14:40
How many times have you visited somewhere and felt inspired? A new frontier, a new vista in the world opened up to you, an uplifting experience that leaves you feeling invigorated and excited. What a world we live in!
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  • But then you return home and the feeling is gone. Before long, the inspiration fades. Nothing tethers you to the foreign land and people you visited.
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    Maccabi USA athletes volunteer with Jewish National Fund-USA’s Hashomer HaChadash
    Maccabi USA athletes volunteer with Jewish National Fund-USA’s Hashomer HaChadash
    Maccabi USA athletes volunteer with Jewish National Fund-USA’s Hashomer HaChadash
    (Photo: Courtesy JNF-USA)
    This was the scenario facing the Maccabiah Games, the world's largest Jewish athletic competition and third largest overall. This year marked the 21st time the Games were held, where over 10,000 Jewish athletes gather in Israel from 400 clubs in 80 countries to compete in 3,000 events in 42 sports across 18 cities. The gathering purportedly represents the third largest international sporting event in the world.
    Athletes enjoy the competition and often form bonds with playing partners. But what keeps them connected to Israel and Israelis? What tethers them to the Holy Land? These athletes come to Israel, they participate in athletic competitions, and then they go home. Is that all they take away from Israel - sport?
    Not this year.
    This time around, Jewish National Fund-USA’s philanthropic investments enabled Maccabi USA to create Israel Connect, a weeklong journey where athletes form a bond with Israel before the Maccabiah commences.
    Following the week, when they’re not busy competing in sports, athletes are able to engage in two weeks of self-directed exploration. Most notably, under-16-year-old participants are brought to Alexander Muss High School, a semester study abroad experience near Tel Aviv where they are given a tour of the campus and taught about the program.
    3 View gallery
    Maccabi USA athletes volunteer with Jewish National Fund-USA’s Hashomer HaChadash
    Maccabi USA athletes volunteer with Jewish National Fund-USA’s Hashomer HaChadash
    Maccabi USA athletes volunteer with Jewish National Fund-USA’s Hashomer HaChadash
    (Photo: Courtesy JNF-USA)
    Thanks specifically to Jewish National Fund-USA’s Boruchin Center, the Israel Connect program featured a week of activities where over 1,000 athletes were led through travel expeditions and discussions about Jews, Judaism, and Israel.
    The week was highlighted by a day of volunteering with HaShomer HaChadash, a Jewish National Fund-USA supported social, educational, and Zionist organization devoted to supporting local farmers while forging strong bonds between their volunteers and all things Israel. The group works to safeguard the land and its economy by helping farmers who are the backbone of both. Without their support these farmers would have an extremely difficult time keeping up with the work, and some of them might otherwise be forced to close.
    “It’s very important that Jewish National Fund-USA & HaShomer HaChadash do this,” said a HaShomer HaChadash representative who facilitated the day’s events. “Not just to come and compete in sports but also to recognize the land by hand. Forming this connection between land and person.”
    Some 200 U.S. athletes participated in this special day of volunteering called Lev L’Lev, "heart to heart." They were brought to four farms and helped alleviate the farmers’ workload, supporting their work in pruning, picking, planting, and weeding. These athletes got their hands dirty off the field before the sporting competitions take place on the field.
    “Our Lev L'Lev community service day is key to Maccabi USA's mission of building Jewish identity, strengthening connection to Israel, and teaching Jewish values to American Jewish athletes,” Maccabi USA CEO Marshall Einhorn said. “Working with our partners at Jewish National Fund-USA and its affiliate, HaShomer HaChadash, was a deeply meaningful experience that helped our athletes understand the importance of stewarding the land and farms of Israel, embodying the Zionist ideals on which Israel was founded. Thanks to the Boruchin Center, our six-day Israel Connect pre-Maccabiah program is more deeply engaging the future leaders of the American Jewish community.”
    Giving back to the community, participating in a noble cause, and building up the land of Israel — all pillars upon which Zionism was founded.
    The athletes shared the sentiment, like Nick Braunstein from Brooklyn, New York. “Working the land and knowing you’re helping people feels good,” he said. “Seeing the effects of your work is satisfying.” Nick is here in Israel to compete in fencing.
    3 View gallery
    Maccabi USA athletes volunteer with Jewish National Fund-USA’s Hashomer HaChadash
    Maccabi USA athletes volunteer with Jewish National Fund-USA’s Hashomer HaChadash
    Maccabi USA athletes volunteer with Jewish National Fund-USA’s Hashomer HaChadash
    (Photo: Courtesy JNF-USA)
    Scott Gelb arrived on the Maccabi delegation as Manager for the Maccabi USA Judo team. Back home in the U.S., he serves on the Board of Directors for JNF-USA Greater Los Angeles. He had this to say:
    “I am so happy that our athletes have the opportunity to come here and work the land together with JNF. This is so important because now they can see Israel and help contribute to the people that live here. These athletes will come home and be emissaries for Israel, helping them connect to Zionism. We are here as part of Lev L’Lev, Heart to Heart, in order to give back to Israel.”
    Thanks to the Israel Connect program, this year’s Maccabiah athletes will return home with a stronger connection to the land of Israel and to its people. They will return home with a better sense of what it means to be a Zionist, whether a 19th century pioneer, a 21st century farmer, or a Maccabiah athlete. They will return home, but they’ll carry a piece of Israel with them in their hearts.

    For more information about Jewish National Fund-USA’s Boruchin Center, visit jnf.org/boruchin.
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