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JCC Maccabi Games & ArtsFest return to Detroit Aug. 17.

CoverIn Detroit in 2008, these Maccabi athletes from Brooklyn displayed the enthusiasm that permeates the Games, once again coming to Detroit Aug. 17-22

It’s no small thing to play host to a thousand teens.

But come Aug. 17, some 650 athletes and artists will stream into Detroit for a week of intense play, performance and instruction. Along with Detroit’s delegation, there will be 1,000 teens in our neighborhood. That’s a lot of energy and a bit of pressure to shine.

No problem.

“We’ve been working for over two years on this program, showcasing the Detroit Jewish community, the city, all the talent we have here,” said Ariella Monson, 2014 JCC Maccabi & ArtsFest director.

“We’re excited to see kids from all over the world working at their crafts, competing. We can’t wait till it’s finally here.”

The Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit has hosted the games four times. This year, ArtsFest is part of the mix. But practice makes perfect and, anyway, this is the D where we know how to show guests a good time. The city will be featured, with opening ceremonies scheduled at the Fox Theatre Downtown and a tzedakah project to be held at the previous JCC in Detroit (now the Northwest Activities Center) and other venues around town.

For those involved in the past — and those experiencing it for the first time — Detroit’s JCC Maccabi Games & ArtsFest, Aug. 17-22, will be a time to broaden our sense of identity, deepen our understanding of each other and kick the other team’s tushy.

Here’s a look at some of the people participating as hosts, athletes and artists.

Out Of Retirement

Lily and David Broner weren’t planning on housing Maccabi athletes this year; they did it in 2008 because their grandson in New York had a friend coming to town and asked. It turned out to be a great experience, but the Broners didn’t think about raising their hand this year.

It seems, though, that one good deed leads to another.

A few months ago, the father of Sam Ravetz, one of the three boys who stayed with the Broners during the 2008 Maccabi Games, sent an email: His younger son is competing in the JCC 2014 Maccabi Games & ArtsFest; could they give him as good of an experience as they did his older brother?

The West Bloomfield couple gave it some thought — it’s no small thing to house teenagers for five days. You’ve got to get up early, feed them breakfast and get them to the JCC, pick them up at night and entertain them one or two evenings during the week.

“We’re ready,” Lily Broner said. “I’ve cleared that whole week on my calendar.” She loved the Maccabi vibe and the youthful energy evident throughout the community in 2008. “That’s why we’re doing it again.”

2006_MaccabiGames_350Lily and David Broner hosted Maccabi athletes Sam Ravetz, Jake Horowitz and Zach Freedman in 2008.

David Broner, who is retired, recalls huge grocery bills in 2008 — with some amount of pride.

“I have to rob a bank before they come,” he joked, adding that he also cleared the week to devote himself to hosting.

They told Jeff Ravetz they’d be happy to have Gabe, 14, who will be in town to play basketball. He lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Jeff Ravetz plans to be in town all week to watch his son play. He is devoted to Maccabi as a former athlete and as a father of two pretty good athletes. Sam, Ravetz says, has played in Maccabi here and in Israel, and participated in other international games, including the Pan-American Games in Brazil.

“Out of all those experiences, Sam always felt his best host family experience was the Broners,” Ravetz said. “He had a warm place in his heart for them, so we stayed in touch. When I found out these Games were going to be in Detroit, I thought, ‘How cool would it be if Gabe stayed with the Broners.”‘

Midnight Feeding

Nancy Kleinfeldt of Huntington Woods recalls collapsing in bed after midnight every night during the 2008 Maccabi Games in Detroit.

The athletes staying with her — three boys from San Francisco — would return at 10 p.m., famished after a day of competition, and she’d go to work, whipping up dishes that complied with their respective dietary mandates (no gluten, no meat and another food allergy that started on the West Coast). She also washed one of the teen’s baseball uniforms every night because he only had one with him.

maccabi-boys-3

“It was a big party until midnight cooking for them — and everybody eating. It was fun but crazy,” Kleinfeldt said.

In 2008, Kleinfeldt’s children were too young to compete in the Games, but she offered to host because she heard that kosher homes were needed.

“It was good for my kids to see we should open our homes to other people. Hopefully, people will do it for them one day,’’ she said.

Her two boys, who were 6 and 4 at the time, talked about the three teens for a year. At the time, Kleinfeldt and her husband, Nossonal, had a 1-year-old daughter, too. In a few weeks, Kleinfeldt will host again — and this time one of her children, Adin, now 12, will participate in Maccabi on the swim team.

Here are a few tips from Kleinfeldt for hosting athletes:

  • Show them how to use the washing machine.
  • Have food ready in case they’re hungry.
  • Find out before they arrive what they can and cannot eat.

If you’re inclined, make a welcome basket for your charges that includes snacks and bottled water, along with a few Detroit souvenirs. They may be too shy to ask (at first) for what they want.

Coney Dogs, Curtain Calls

For the second year, Miles Eichenhorn of West Bloomfield is doing ArtsFest, a celebration of performance (and culinary) arts. Last year, he loved the collegiality of the week, including his host family in Orange County, Calif. This year, he can’t wait for this year’s ArtsFest — and to play host to kids who’ll stay with his family.

Miles-as-Brundibar-at-Michigan-Opera-Theater“You get to work as a team and learn new techniques with people as enthusiastic as you. It’s really great,” he said.

Eichenhorn, 15, who will be a sophomore at Bloomfield Hills High School, has been acting since he was 5. He performs in school plays, local theater productions and has had roles as a member of the Children’s Chorus of the Michigan Opera Theatre.

He also is excited about showing off his hometown. He’s thinking of coney islands as an introduction to local cuisine.

“A lot of people have misconceptions about the inner city, so I want them to see the city,” he said. “We have museums, and here’s where cars are made. I’m excited to show all the cool activities and places you can explore.”

Miles’ mom, Emily Eichenhorn, is preparing to host for a second time. Her family hosted in 2008, before Miles was old enough to participate. Four kids from Philadelphia flopped at her house.

“My children thought it was neat to have these ‘big kids’ staying in our house,” she said. “It opened our eyes to the Maccabi program generally, and I enjoyed being part of the process, welcoming people to town.”

Trying New Things

Charlie Gertner, 15, is used to celluloid, but he’s got the stage chops, too. Last year, he did musical theater at ArtsFest with Eichenhorn.

And while he loves acting and had considered culinary arts in this year’s ArtsFest, Charlie decided to go out for baseball.

“I wanted to try something new; that’s what Maccabi is, trying to do something you wouldn’t do on a typical day and do it with people with the same passion,’’ Charlie said.

The West Bloomfield sophomore, who will attend Oakland Early College next fall, has been working as an extra in local film productions, including It Follows and Homerun Showdown, in which he played a baseball player.

Gertner remembered his host family in California last summer: “They brought us in like we were their own family” and showed off a bit of Southern California — enough to instill Gertner with a desire to move there.

“I’m hoping to give people the same experience I was given in California last year,” he said.

Charlie’s mom, Susan Gertner, says the California host family called before the Games to introduce themselves, sent her photos throughout the week and, in general, were wonderful.

Gertner, executive director of National Council of Jewish Women-Greater Detroit Section, is hosting for the first time with her husband, Joel. Hosting is required of families of participants.

Breakfast And Basketball

Dylan Backalar is playing basketball as a Maccabi Games athlete for a second time. Last year, the sophomore went to Austin with Detroit’s basketball contingent. He loved it.

“I went into Maccabi knowing nobody and ended up making a ton of friends from our delegation and from other states,” he said. “It was fun getting to play people from around the country and from other parts of the world.”

Backalar of Farmington Hills is still in touch with his host family in Texas. The mom, he says, was awesome.

“I loved waking up in the morning because my host mom gave us so many choices for breakfast,” he says. “She went above and beyond.”

Before the Games, the host mom made sure she knew what all her athletes liked to eat and then made sure they were well fed, especially before a day of play.

In 2008, the Backalars hosted tennis players in their home. It’s customary to show visitors around town, so they took them to Birmingham. This year, says Dylan, he plans to show his guests his hometown.

“I want to show how great Metro Detroit is, so I’m going to show them the JCC. We’ll probably take them out to dinner a couple of nights, too,” he said.

Backalar will enter the Frankel Jewish Academy next fall as a freshman.

Coach Sets, Meets Goal

Bryan Robbins started angling to be a Maccabi inline hockey coach as soon as he was too old to participate in the Games (16 is the cutoff age).

He loves the sport, but more than that, he loves the Games. He played hockey for three years, golf for one.

2013_MaccabiGames_400Maccabi hockey coach Bryan Robbins with some of his players in 2013 in California

“I actually emailed asking to coach Maccabi when I was 17, and I was told you had to be 21,” he said. “So every year I sent an email reminding them that I wanted to be involved. Finally, in 2008, they said a hockey coach position was open,” Robbins said. Detroit’s team won the gold medal that year.

For the last four years, Robbins, an attorney who lives in Farmington Hills, has coached. This time will be the first in his hometown. He’s coaching Team Black (ages 13-16) with assistant coach Ivan Glasser.

“Really exciting,” he said. “It will be great for the kids to be able to play in front of fans and family.” 

Hockey players tend not to get a lot of love during the Games because their venues are typically far from the where the action is, but Detroit’s JCC has an inline rink. Friends can come watch the play in between their games, and players can check out other games.

“I’m just excited they can have an audience cheering them on,” Robbins said. “It’s tough playing in front of nobody. But from an overall perspective, I’m excited the Games are coming back here and we can show off our city to everyone.”

As a veteran Maccabi athlete and a veteran coach, Robbins, 29, has viewed the Games from both sides. Whether you’re coaching, playing, volunteering at a venue or hosting kids in your house, it’s an amazing bonding experience. And it’s a great opportunity to do community service.

“This is a full 100 hours of nonstop bonding between Jewish people,” Robbins said. “The underlying motto is bringing all these Jewish kids together. Maybe they end up going to camp together or visiting each other. I’m sure it’s led to marriages, too.”
To volunteer for Maccabi — even for a few hours — go to 2014detroit.org and click on the Volunteer link, or call (248) 432-5500.

Julie Edgar | Special to the Jewish News

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