3,000 Wrap Tefillin at Maccabi Games
It’s a first for the JCC as CTeen mans Mitzvah Booth at all 3 Maccabi locations!
Jewish Pride was high and alive at this year’s JCC Maccabi Games, hosted in Boca Raton, Florida; Cherry Hill, New Jersey; and Detroit, Michigan. Over 12,000 athletes and guests from around the world gathered in three cities to participate in four days of sports, fun, and community unity. Though much of the energy can be attributed to the game itself, it’s what happened off the court that made the biggest impact. Over three days, a record number of 4,000 men donned tefillin, while women and girls excitedly took candles for the mitzvah of lighting Shabbat candles. All this and more was thanks to the CTeen Mitzva Booths, which were coordinated with the help of shluchim, Rabbis Arele Gopin, Mendy Mangel, and Dov Stein.
In addition to Mitzvah Booths at all three locations, CTeen hosted the Hangtime Room at the Boca Raton Maccabi games, an area for athletes to hang out and play games in between games. Teens played games like Jewish Jenga, musical chairs, and giant ring toss with volunteer rabbinical students Hirschel Gourarie, Levi Gerlitzky, Levi Sudak, and Dovid Ginsberg. Rabbinical students Chaim Eilenberg, and Eliyohu Spiro manned the Mitzvah Booths at the games in Cherry Hill and Detroit.
One of the most popular activities was “Tiles for Smiles,” a project where athletes decorated ceramic tiles to hang on the walls of an Israeli bomb shelter. “Tiles for Smiles” was a huge success in the past, and was brought back because of its popular demand at last year’s games. Other projects included decorating sweatbands for special needs athletes, and making medals for wounded soldiers. Athletes received a special mitzvah pin to display proudly among their other Maccabi pins on their ID badges. This year’s expanded pin collection included tzedakah, mezuzah, Shabbat candles, tefillin, kashrus, and learning Torah pins.
Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky, executive director of Merkos 302 offered an explanation to the incredible openness teens had for Mitzvot. “Coming at the close of a difficult summer for Israelis and Jews around the world, the mitzvah booths served as a beacon of Jewish unity, and encouraged strong Jewish identity.” Kotlarsky said.
”I think this is such a pleasant surprise,” Cindy Bergman, Associate Executive Director at JCC Boca, said of the project. “It brings Israel home to all our Jewish teens. It’s important that while they are playing sports, that they feel that they are part of something bigger, and something that ties them all together—their Jewish identity and connection to Israel. This will help to ensure Jewish continuity today and in the future.”
Teens at every location felt the strong impact of CTeen’s presence. “Spending time with the CTeen organization was an awesome, spiritual, and fun experience. We all put on tefillin as a team before the game. I felt how it made a difference,” said Anthony Fodamp from Boca Raton.
Jake Schner, was very grateful for his experience.“The CTeen table was amazing. They always had the best energy, and know how to have fun. Getting wrapped for tefillin was great too. Thanks for a great time!”
“I love how CTeen is a welcoming environment for teens to explore their Judaism at their own comfort level. It allows teens to be Jewish in ways that they’ve never been before,” said David Dossick, the South Florida Direction of Jewish Student Connection.
Matt Cohen, a parent who attended this year’s event, was extremely impressed with how the booths were run: “The Tefillin Table was an excellent demonstration of the heritage of Jewish history. The people involved were extremely helpful and eager to assist in any way. Thank you!”