from all over the world participate in
opening ceremonies for the JCC
Maccabi Games 2000
Like the thousands of iridescent laser
lights that illuminated their
entrance into the theater at Madison
Square Garden, 1,200 Jewish
teen-agers beamed with enthusiasm at the
opening ceremonies yesterday
for the Maccabi Games 2000, an
Olympics-style competition taking place
on Staten Island this week.
Youngsters from as far as Australia and as
nearby as Brooklyn
participated last night in the 21/2-hour
extravaganza. It featured
expertly choreographed dance numbers, a
performance by a Broadway
singer and a tribute to the 11 Israeli
athletes murdered at the 1972
Munich Olympics as well as the four
Australians accidentally killed
during the Maccabi Games in 1997 in
"Our games are, of course, about athletic
sportsmanship and we welcome everyone
here," said master of ceremonies
Warner Wolf, a sportscaster for WCBS-TV.
"Let the fun begin!"
Carrying signs shaped like Torah scrolls,
delegations marched onto the
Manhattan stage and introduced themselves.
One after another, jogging
suit-clad teens proclaimed their pride and
thanked the Jewish Community
Center of Staten Island, the host of the
North American JCC Maccabi
Games Northeast region's competition.
Earlier this summer, games were
held in Tucson, Ariz.; Boca Raton, Fla.;
Cincinnati, Ohio and Richmond,
Staten Island's delegation of 170 teens
marched onto the stage last to
the sound of loud applause. The largest
group of participants, the
borough's delegation tossed
glow-in-the-dark necklaces to the other
athletes seated in the front of the
"I know this year will be the best year
for the Maccabi Games of the
new millennium," said Michael Strasburg, a
Staten Island basketball
This year the College of Staten Island
serves as headquarters for the
games. Events include swimming, track and
field, tennis, baseball,
basketball, volleyball, soccer, golf,
bowling, karate and table tennis.
Competitions begin today and end Thursday,
with closing ceremonies set
for the Statue of Liberty.
Begun as a means to increase Jewish
identity among teens and as a youth
version of the World Maccabi Games held
every four years in Israel, the
North American games combine sportsmanship
with cultural building
activities. Participating athletes are
staying in the homes of Staten
Island host families, many of whom filled
the 4,000-seat Manhattan
theater last night.
The games, which started in 1982 in
Memphis, Tenn., have become the
largest single gathering of Jewish youth
in the world.
Wearing a coach's sweat suit over a dress
shirt and tie, Dr. Mark
Sherman, chairman of the Staten Island JCC
Maccabi Games, told the
young athletes the word "Maccabi" is
derived from the name of a
fearless and rebellious leader, Judah
Macabee. He was one of the great
warriors in Jewish history, who laid the
foundation of the future
Jewish state and led a revolt against
"Macabee means hammer. He was persistent,"
said Dr. Sherman. "The
Maccabi Rebellion taught us that if a few
people have will, they can
beat all odds and that you have to have
faith. I hope that you remember
to keep the faith, seize the moment of
your glory and believe in
Confidence was in strong supply backstage
before the Philadelphia
delegation marched into the theater. "We
are pumped," said 13-year-old
Eric Frank, punching a closed fist into
his palm. "I've been played
hockey since I was 2 years old."
Sydney Pesko, 16, also of Philadelphia,
said her volleyball team was
just as prepared as her delegation's
hockey team. "We're going to win
the gold cause we practice real hard," she
Canadian soccer player Jason Goldstein,
16, said he expected his team
to do equally well. "Most of us have been
playing together for four
years," said the member of the Toronto
delegation. He has participated
in games for four years because the
excitement level is unparalleled,
said Jason, who is staying with
16-year-old Brian Cohen of Annadale.
Both teens said the extensive laser light
show at the conclusion of the
ceremony was their favorite part of the
But the lasers were hardly the only thing
that dazzled the eye. More
than 100 dancers from Staten Island's Star
Struck dance studio spun,
shimmied, and somersaulted across the
stage. The jazz sequence was
performed to a mix of Jennifer Lopez's
"Let's Get Loud." All
differently aged girls in turquoise,
green, fuchsia and purple costumes
formed intricate, fast dance movements. A
handful of male dancers from
the Prince's Bay studio were also part of
the number as well.
Equally mesmerizing were L.A. Dance, a
group affiliated with the Staten
Island JCC. Performers of all ages stomped
and swayed to the late
Notorious B.I.G.'s "Mo' Money, Mo'
Problems." The dancers wore
sparkling orange tops and Army fatigue
pants decorated with sequins.
The Israeli Friendship Caravan, members of
the Israeli Scouts who tour
the United States each summer bringing
Israeli culture to the United
States, also performed an assortment of
dances and sang in Hebrew.
Their number was called "Shalom, Shalom."
The "Lion King's" Jason Raize, who just
wrapped up a run on Broadway,
also performed during the opening
One of the biggest charges out of the
audience came before Jon Salmon,
president of the Staten Island JCC, led
the coaches in an oath to
observe the rules of fair play.
The Salmon family is hosting four
Australian girls, Rebecca Pollak,
Lorraine Lipson, Melissa Weinberg and
Bianca Zajonc. Since the
basketball players arrived Friday, he's
learned a couple of things.
"Auzzie, Auzzie, Auzzie," he demonstrated.
"Oiy, Oiy, Oiy" chanted the Australian
athletes in return.
After the ceremony, the girls said Salmon
sounded like a "dinky di
Auzzie." Translation: A true-blue
Australian. Being on stage was one of
the biggest rushes of his life, he said.
"I've never been so proud to
be Jewish. I've never been so proud to be
a Staten Islander."
Sheila Lipton, associate executive
director of the Staten Island JCC,
used similar words to describe the
aftermath of the event. "Energizing,
inspiring. It makes you feel proud to be
part of this and proud to be a
Jew," she said.
One of the most poignant moments of the
evening came during the tribute
to the 11 Israeli athletes murdered at the
1972 Munich Olympics. Also
remembered were four Australians killed in
the collapse of a pedestrian
bridge during the Maccabi Games in 1997 in
The end of the opening ceremony was marked
by a symbolic lighting of
the torch by Staten Island teens Evan
Kessler, Adam and Matthew Cohen,
Sean Sherman, and Matthew, Craig and Eric
Buxbaum. An image of a flame
was cast onto a screen instead of actual
Also participating in the opening ceremony
were Annadale resident
Phyllis Martin of Starfire Music, who sang
the U.S. and Canadian
national anthems, and Cantor Mordechai
Edry of Congregation B'nai
Jeshurun, who sang "Hatikvah," the Israeli
national anthem, and the
"Shehikhiyanu," a prayer sung before
joyous occasions. Ms. Martin was
accompanied by Michael DeLorenzo.
Others who addressed the crowd were Staten
Island Deputy Borough
President Jim Molinaro; Arnold Beiles,
immediate past president of the
Staten Island JCC; Cheryl Sherman, past
president of the Staten Island
JCC, and Stephen R. Reiner, chairman of
the continental governing body
of the JCC Maccabi Games.