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"The 'Lion King's' Jason Raize, who just wrapped up a run on Broadway, also performed during the opening ceremonies."
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Staten Island Advance (Staten Island, NY)
Let the Games Begin
by Jodi Lee Reifer, Staff Writer
August 21, 2000

Staten Island Advance preview of the Maccabi Games 2000

1,200 Jewish teen-agers 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 Israel.

"Our games are, of course, about athletic excellence, friendship, 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, Va.

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 theater.

"I know this year will be the best year for the Maccabi Games of the new millennium," said Michael Strasburg, a Staten Island basketball player.

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 Romans.

"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 yourself."

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 said, smiling.

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 evening.

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 ceremonies.

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 Israel.

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 fire.

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. 

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