They began in 1982 as a way of enriching a child's Jewish identity and encouraging harmony through sports. This week, 4,400 children from around the world are participating in the Jewish Community Centers Maccabi Youth Games, an annual showcase of amateur athletes.
The final round of athletic competition will take place today at venues throughout the San Fernando Valley with the closing ceremonies to follow this evening at Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley. Competitions are also taking place in Columbus, Ohio, Orlando, Fla., Houston, and Long Island, N.Y.
The games bring together participants from the United States, Canada, Israel and Costa Rica in sports such as baseball, basketball, soccer, track and field. Like the Olympic Games, Maccabi winners receive gold, silver and bronze medals.
On Tuesday at Taft High School in Woodland Hills, one of several Los Angeles boys basketball teams faced off against a Portland, Ore., squad in a preliminary match with proud parents watching from the stands.
"There it is! Yeah!" shouted Mitch Bohn after his son Adam scored. "Oh man, are we hot or what?"
Bohn, whose wife, parents and in-laws all came out to watch Adam play, said that the games provide a unique opportunity for children of a shared heritage to make new friends.
"It's a Jewish experience," explained another parent, Roberta Klein, "uniting Jewish children from all over the country."
Klein, who brought her sister from Boston to watch son Seth play, said that the games are rewarding for the families as well, since Los Angeles parents are required to host players from other teams.
"I'm just proud to be part of this," she said.
Flushed from his team's 81-49 win, 14-year-old Seth Klein said he had no trouble identifying the Maccabi Games' best reward.
"The \o7 gold, \f7 baby!"