Miami’s Hebraica Maccabi games celebrate Jewish and Latin American culture – the forward


Call it a field of Latin American Jewish dreams.

Last Sunday, hundreds of brightly colored children from the team swept across a sunny Miami sports field as their families in Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil cheered them on. .

They were there for the annual Hebraica Maccabi Games in Miami, which for four decades united Jewish immigrants from Latin America in a unique and interwoven celebration of community, culture, family, Judaism and, yes, of athleticism.

The Games, which draw some 2,000 participants and many more to watch and enjoy, take place over 10 days in late November at the Michael-Ann Russell Jewish Community Center, a JCC thriving in large part thanks to the Hispanic immigrants who have invigorated this Jewish quarter of the north of Miami. community.

In these Maccabi Games, they reconnect with their homeland and the tight-knit Jewish communities where generations have lived, attended school, worshiped, married, and raised families together. They unite with other Jews in Latin America. And they teach their US born children about their heritage.

“It’s like a melting pot,” said Monica Sichel, a passionate Games volunteer and fundraiser who leads the team from her native Venezuela. “We are a great community. But we each add our own beautiful flavor.

Marleny Rosenberg, another Venezuelan immigrant who has worked on the Games since arriving in Miami in 2000, leading them since 2009, said the event was right at home. “With the Games I could reconnect with Venezuela and for 10 days you would have everyone in one place,” she said. “I teach my children who were born in the United States but play for Venezuela. It is for them to remember where they come from, to remember their roots.

A handful of Colombian immigrants began the Games in 1982, continuing an annual tradition that brought together Jews from all over Colombia in a national version of the International Maccabi Games held in Israel every four years. “This is how we socialized and met other Jews,” said Diani Azout of Colombia, who now runs the Miami Games with Rosenberg. “Here, it was a way to relive what we had in Colombia. We were all over Miami and South Florida. We would never have seen each other without the Games.

From 200 people on a dilapidated pitch, the Games grew into a massive event with around 2,000 participants, from preschoolers to grandparents, competing in soccer, basketball, volleyball, flag football, tennis and more, as well as milder games like golf and dominoes, filling the expansive grounds of the JCC and the adjacent Scheck Hillel Community Day School.

Even more people come to watch, cheer on friends and family, or volunteer. The competitors are divided into national teams, for Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Israel and the United States; then by age groups.

The event is a big one for the Michael-Ann Russell JCC, with registration fees and sponsorships, most of them from businesses run by Hispanic Jewish families, expected to gross around $ 400,000 this year. The money not only supports the Games, but also grants and TCG programs.

At a reception last Saturday night, the founders celebrated years of friendship and the tradition they had created.

Daniel Halberstein, from Peru, hugged his founding colleague Michel Besso, from Colombia.

“This guy made the second Games,” Besso proclaimed. “His father from Capital Bank was our first sponsor.”

Halberstein smirked back. “He had four or five Colombians, I had me and my wife.

Halberstein and his family left their small, tight-knit Jewish community shortly after a military dictatorship took control of Peru in 1975. “Now, thanks to Hugo Chavez, we have all these orange shirts,” Besso added, referring to the color of the Venezuelan participants. carry. Now 71 years old, Besso’s eight grandchildren, aged 6 to 19, all take part in the Games.

“No other Jewish community has an event like this,” said Rully Moskowitz, Colombian-born Games co-chair. “It unites us all. It creates a connection which is really important.

People were doubly moved to be able to celebrate, not only the 40th anniversary, but the chance to come together after the pandemic kept the 2020 Games and other gatherings online.

“People can’t wait to be here,” said Alan Sataloff, general manager of Michael-Ann Russell JCC, at Saturday’s reception. “We are rebuilding the Jewish community after the pandemic. “

Outside, hundreds of people filled the square around an elaborate stage for a much-anticipated opening ceremony, which a rainstorm had delayed since Wednesday. Twice the rain caused people to take shelter, and twice they came back. They wildly cheered on a parade of national teams: screaming Argentines in blue and white soccer jerseys; Brazilians pounding on giant batucada drums; Mexicans in Day of the Dead style makeup.

Parents carried small children on their shoulders and older children waved national flags. The dance team rehearsed a number swirling those flags on “Carnival del Barrio” from “In the Heights”. Teenage girls sang the American and Israeli national anthems.

Miami-born Julia Jerusalmi, 12, was there in a green and yellow jersey for her parents’ native Brazil, dancing and competing in soccer, kickball and volleyball competitions. “I love it,” she said. ” I like people. I like to know everyone.

The next day, Sunday, was the most important day of the Games. Latin American accents echoed around football and basketball courts: Argentinian Spanish singing to Italian accents, jerky rhythms from Mexico, softer tones from Venezuela and Colombia, melodic Brazilian Portuguese.

Both adults and very young children spoke predominantly Spanish. Sweaty dads screamed furiously on the sidelines of a 7 and 8-year-old Mexico-Venezuela soccer game, shouting “Tiralo!” Llevalo! Mira la pelote_! ” as their kids ran and rushed for the ball.

But the countless groups of horny, leggy girls and gangly, awkward, arrogant boys, in a rainbow of colorful T-shirts for different countries, all spoke English.

The food stalls had standard American burgers and chicken fingers, but also Venezuelan arepas (salty corn cake with cheese filling), Argentinian choripane(bread and sausage with chimichurri), mango with lime and salt, and Mexican paletas (popsicles) in flavors like dulce de leche and passion fruit.

Generations of families were everywhere. A Colombia-Peru women’s volleyball match featured two mother-daughter pairs. From the stands, a woman in a red T-shirt from Peru led two little girls and two little boys, singing “Let’s go Mami!” Let’s go to Peru!

Monique Ohayon watched her son, 46, play soccer for Venezuela against Argentina. Born in Morocco and raised in Venezuela, she came to Miami to be with her three grandsons, now 19, 18 and 13, who have been playing for the Venezuelan team since they were very young.

“They’re Americans, but they’re playing for Venezuela,” she said. “But we’re all Americans now.”

This is certainly true for the younger generation, who increasingly want to play with their friends instead of a country they have never known. Some parents ignore this. Others are in conflict. “My daughter once said ‘I’m playing for Peru, because all my friends are,’” Azout said. “And I said ‘On my corpse.’ But now it’s more about sport and friends than about country.

Yet the Jews who created these Maccabi Games hope their children will remember their origins as they carry on this new Jewish tradition. “What makes you who you are?” Said Sichel. “I’m proud to be a Jew – it shapes who I am. I am proud to be Venezuelan. I’m American. We make sure our children remember it.


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