There is nothing more special than spending quality time with your family, no matter what those experiences are. You don’t have to take an expensive trip – it can be a visit to the zoo, hike, or tea party with your daughter’s stuffed animals that make a memorable family experience. It’s about giving uninterrupted time to each other and putting in the effort to create shared experiences.
We just enjoyed one phenomenal family vacation. Spending five days with my family watching our youngest son playing soccer in the San Antonio Maccabi games was an incredible experience. I’ve had the great fortune of attending three other Maccabi games, in Montreal, Greater Washington, and Baltimore, to root on each of my three children. I wondered if the experience would get old by the fourth go-round, but I am pleased to report that it was as special as ever.
The Maccabi games are about sports, but the athletic competition is merely the venue that draws these teenaged athletes together. For both the participants and the lucky family members who get to root on the sidelines, the games conjure feelings of great pride. We are proud of our Jewish heritage, proud to live in South Jersey, and proud to become part of this community of spirited teens from all over the world. Sure, these kids competed against each other, and the competition was fierce. But at the end of each game, they chatted with their rivals, and during social events throughout the week, they formed solid friendships. All of the athletes in attendance felt a mutual respect.
Seven of the eleven boys on my son’s team had played together in the Maccabi games held in Baltimore two years ago. While they live in five different towns and attend different schools, the wonderful bond they previously formed remained strong. The new members of the team fit right in, and together these Sexy Jews, as they dubbed themselves, had a blast. The strangest thing about this team was that two of the boys are named Brady….not a very popular name for a teenager. The opponents were confused when the spectators gave Brady a shout-out, because one Brady was a forward the other one was in goal.
All but two of the young men on the team were fortunate to have family members in San Antonio to support them. The parents all shared in the excitement and enthusiasm of the games, and we all became temporary best friends. Even my 21 and 19 year olds enjoyed the camaraderie of the group, although they rolled their eyes more than once during our seemingly continual “Jewish Geography” go-rounds. We also brought Grandma along with us to kvell over her grandson.
Despite temperatures reaching 104 degrees (according to the rental car thermometer,) there were plenty of ways to stay cool. The JCC had a great fitness center and incredible swimming pool, which our family gravitated to each afternoon when the games were complete. We discovered that the residents of San Antonio must be among the nicest people on earth. Everyone was friendly, helpful, and welcoming. The only drawback was the never-ending loops of highways that were confusing to navigate at first. When my son broke his cleats and we needed to get him a new pair, it took an hour to find the Sports Authority which we realized was just 10 minutes away.
The Coles, the family who hosted our son, were incredible. They housed three 15 and 16 year old boys, feeding them, doing their laundry and carting them from venue to venue. The boys formed an instant bond with their temporary family and were sad to say goodbye. Phyllis and Steve went over and above, carting them to favorite restaurants, serving up venison that Steve had hunted, (that was surely a new experience!) and fortifying them with plenty of Gatorade and protein bars.
The boys’ teamwork showed as they handily won game after game. Their coaches, Chuck Lampitt and Ed Eichen were incredible cheerleaders, always positive and supportive of all the boys. The JCC staff, including Rob Kiewe and Emily Lieberman were not only efficient, but managed to keep eleven 15 and 16 year olds on the straight and narrow throughout.
The final medal game was a nail biter. The mid-day heat radiated off the turf field, practically wilting the sweat-soaked athletes. In the end, Los Angeles prevailed 2-1 to win the gold and South Jersey took silver.
The boys were proud of themselves for their success, but the silver medal was really just the icing on the cake. It was the relationships they made and experiences they enjoyed that made these Maccabi games a time they will always remember.