Beyond the Medals: A Jewish Rite of Passage

Written by Shlomit Ovadia of JCC Denver

JCC Denver is gearing up for another JCC Maccabi Games this summer in Houston and is proud to be sending a full delegation to represent our wonderful community.  

“It’s great to have Denver back in the game. We really cherish our partnership with JCC Denver to have this special program back in your community,” Jewish Community Centers of America (JCCA) Continental Director of the JCC Maccabi Games Samantha Cohen shares of the Colorado Delegation’s brief hiatus in recent years. 

The Games unite “every corner of our community and give our youth an opportunity to discover the joy and pride in being part of the Jewish people,” she adds. 

Besides for having the chance to connect with Judaism through a passion for sports, teens get to engage in fun and informal Jewish and Israel engagement programming led by Israeli emissaries during what’s known as Hang Time. “This provides more pockets of educational content to help teens form their own Jewish identities,” Sam says. 

Each Game takes between 2 – 3 years on average to plan out, and JCC Maccabi Games staff have been working diligently to help the Games reach even more teens.  

This summer in Houston be no different. Some expansion markers include their new JCC Maccabi Access for Jewish youth with cognitive and developmental disabilities as well as global delegations from Argentenia, war-torn Ukraine, Mexico, Great Britain, and Sderot, Israel. 

This “adds to and deepens the impact of the Jewish peoplehood aspect for teens through meaningful encounter,” Sam explains.  

Jewish pride and culture are embedded into every aspect of the Sunday-Friday experience. For instance, the Game’s six official middot, or positive attributes, are awarded to exemplary teens through a limited number of special middot medals that are highly coveted and sought after. 

“It’s really for them to explore their role and respond as a Jewish athlete in upholding Jewish values,” Sam shares. 


All athletes and coaches participate in JCC Cares—a community service project that gives back to the local community in some way and are asked to bring donatable items as part of the Tzedakah Project. Teens are also matched with local host families according to their level of Jewish observance and all food provided at the Games is kosher.  

The Game’s Olympic style opening ceremony in Houston at Rice University promises to send chills down your spine. The thoughtful programming will include both celebratory moments and thundering rounds of applause for the athletes, as well as commemorative pauses to honor the victims of both October 7 and 1972 Munich Olympics Games while singing Hatikvah. It will be experienced collectively by the anticipated 8,000 athletes, coaches, spectators, volunteers, local community, and host families who are expected to join. 

“I’m most excited to see thousands of Jewish teens and the wider community in both Houston and Detroit come together during this very difficult moment in history for the Jewish people and celebrate and be joyful and enjoy the power of Jewish peoplehood.”