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Jewish athletes gather in Irvine

About 2,100 teens from several countries compete in a variety of sports and make social, cultural connections at the Maccabi Games.

August 16, 2007|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

Lilli Weiner wants someday to marry what her friends refer to as "a nice Jewish boy."

"They're very hard to find around here," says Weiner, 15, of Newport Beach. "It's rare. There aren't a lot around and you have to meet a nice, intelligent one."

This week she's improving her chances by participating in an event drawing about 2,100 Jewish teens to Orange County from several continents. The annual Maccabi Games are a five-day event described as the world's largest sports competition for Jewish teenagers.

"We want them to walk away with an amazing experience," said Dan Berzansky, games director for the Mirage Jewish Community Center in Irvine which is playing host to one of three regional Maccabi Games in the United States. The other two are in Baltimore and Houston. "My goal is for these kids to understand that it's cool to be Jewish."

Held at various venues in and around Irvine through Friday, the games include baseball, basketball, in-line hockey, soccer, swimming, ping-pong, tennis, track and field, volleyball, bowling and dance.

Competitors hail from several states as well as Australia, Great Britain, Israel and Canada. "It's a chance for them to meet Jewish kids from around the world," Berzansky said.

The event is important, said Jake Meyer, a parent from Stamford, Conn., because "Jewish people are a minority in the country and the world. We have to make these connections to sustain the religion and the values."

That certainly seemed to be happening among participants in this year's dance competition at UC Irvine.

"I'm a Jew and I grew up in a non-Jewish community," said Raffie Rosenberg, 14, from Winnipeg, Canada, one of dozens of young dancers performing jazz, hip-hop and ballet solos in sequins, tights, black hats and boas. "It's great to be around all these people who share my beliefs."

Not everyone, of course, came just for the sport.

Lilly Esses, 16, from Brooklyn, N.Y., was here, in part, to see California. "The weather is amazing," she said. "It's nice and airy -- not like Brooklyn where everything's stuffy."

Weiner and her friends, meanwhile, were conducting their boy search. Early on they decided not to let the fact that they are dancers, the vast majority of whom are female, get in the way of their plans.

"We also go to soccer games and baseball games," said Ali Speyer, 15, of Newport Beach.

The after-hours field trips to such local attractions as Wild Rivers water park are helpful too, she said.

"We just get on the bus," Speyer said, "and look to see who's there."

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