Where Jewish Athletes Always Win
In December 2015, JWRP Co-Founder and Board Member Jeanie Milbauer’s whole family — along with thousands of other Jewish athletes — flew to Chile for the Pan American Maccabi Games.
Jeanie’s family had come to watch her 47-year-old sister compete in field hockey, her teenage son play for the American basketball team, and her teenage daughter go for the gold in soccer. Their third child was too young to compete, but joined and had a great time, too.
Her daughter’s game was intense, filled with competition that didn’t always feel friendly. Tensions ran high while the Americans and the Brazilians battled on the field. Then, the Americans scored the winning goal, the game ended, and all of a sudden, the energy changed.
“On the field, the girls were competitors,” said Jeanie. “But once the whistle blew, they were Jews and family once again.”
The Brazilian girls ran toward their opponents, meeting them with hugs and laughter. For the next hour, the girls celebrated, swapping shirts and taking photos together. Jeanie’s daughter still keeps in touch with the Brazilian teammates — and she still wears her Brazilian friend’s uniform with pride.
“Sports creates camaraderie, and Maccabi creates Jewish pride through sports,” said Jeanie. “For some people, the Maccabi Games are their first connection to their Jewish heritage. The games spark a lifelong passion for Judaism.”
Since 1932, the Maccabiah Games, which are held in Israel every four years, have brought thousands of top Jewish athletes together to compete in the third largest athletic competition in the world. The Pan American Maccabi Games were created in 1964 and take place after each Maccabiah. This summer, the 14th Games in Mexico City will bring together over 2,500 Jewish athletes from more than 20 countries.
At the Pan American Maccabi Games’ opening ceremony, athletes from all over the world march into the stadium, proudly representing their country and celebrating their common heritage. It’s an emotional moment for the competitors, their parents, and their friends.
“When Jews from dozens of countries come together to be part of something that’s positive and healthy, the sense of community is overwhelming,” said Jeanie. “We met amazing people at Shabbat dinners in Chile, on day tours in Santiago, and on the sideline during games. We bonded, shared great moments, and to this day, we continue to stay in touch with Jewish families from the US and around the world.”
Jeanie saw the impact that Maccabi had on her children’s sense of Jewish pride, and she volunteered to manage the Maccabi USA’s Open Women’s Soccer Team for women ages 18-35, which will compete at the Maccabi Pan American Games in Mexico City this summer.
“As a family, we’ve traveled to incredible places, but traveling for the Maccabi Games is different. When my family sings Hatikvah at the opening ceremonies, I know that my kids feel a sense of belonging deep in their bones. And when they interact with athletes from across the globe, who have different backgrounds but share a common history and heritage, it’s so powerful,” said Jeanie. “Best of all, no matter who wins, Jews win — and that’s incredible.”
If you’re interested in competing in the Maccabi Pan American Games, apply here.