Like many other Jewish teenagers, 17-year-old Tiferet Milgram is gearing up to head to Israel this summer. However, she’s not taking your average trip to the Holy Land to tour ancient sites and hang out with family and friends; she’ll be joining 3,000 other Jewish teens from around the world to play soccer in the 2023 JCC Maccabi Games.
The games are an annual event where Jewish teens compete in a plethora of sports and then take an exclusive trip around Israel. This year, the games will be held in Haifa from July 6-13. Milgram, a Teaneck resident and soon-to-be SAR high school senior, will be playing as goalie for Team Palisades, a team that is a conglomeration of teens from the Tenafly JCC and from around the country. Once the Tenafly portion of Team Palisades arrives in Israel, they will meet the players from the other JCCs for the first time and will then compete together as one team. Team Palisades is expected to get a lot of time on the field, playing four games before the playoff round and the championships.
Milgram has been training alongside Team Palisades these past few weeks and says that her favorite part is “the discussions” she has with her fellow players. She enjoys learning about their schools, their history with soccer, their Jewish practices, and all about their lives. In addition to working out with her team, Milgram strength trains solo four to five times a week in the gym at the JCC. Her team has also been engaging in community services projects together in preparation for the competition. In addition to running in it herself, Milgram volunteered at the 2023 Rubin Run, a race that raises money for individuals with special needs. In addition, all of the Maccabi Games participants were told to bring a stuffed animal or a new pair of shoes with them to Israel in order to give to charity upon arrival.
Although this is Milgram’s first time playing in the games, she started playing soccer at age six. “I really enjoyed making new friends on all of the different teams that I’ve been on. I’d always meet new people. I loved being involved in more than one community.” Milgram said. “[The field is] also a place where I can clear my head. The sportsmanship that’s involved [is also] really important…Even when you lose, you’re still a team.”
Milgram described herself as a “very active person,” which is why she chose to compete this year. She said, “I didn’t want to go on a summer program that was just touring. [I wanted to] experience something that other people I know don’t usually do.” She was drawn to the program due to the uniqueness of its itinerary and the diversity of its participants. “There are people of all different denominations of Judaism. Some people are Modern Orthodox, some people are not religious at all, [and] I thought it was cool to go and experience this with other types of Jews.” Connecting to this idea, her main goal of competing is not to win but to “make friends from all over.” She’ll have ample opportunity to meet a wide array of people as she’ll be traveling with her team, expanding her team upon arrival, living with shomer Shabbat participants, and competing with teens from around the world.
The Maccabi Games have been occurring every year since 1982, taking place in cities all around the US as well as in Israel with the goal of connecting Jewish teens from varying backgrounds through their love of sports. Milgram said “I think it’s very important to see the different types of [Jewish] people. Before I started this, I didn’t fully understand the difference between being Jewish and religious because…the people I’m with [live very] similarly to how I live my life as a Jew, but then once I met my JCC team, [it was very interesting] to see how they live their lives [as Jews] and how they keep Shabbos.” She thinks that the games play a key role in creating inter-Jew solidarity. “It’s very important to see the other types of Jewish people in the world so that we can become more inclusive and understanding of how everyone else lives and not just how our little bubble is,” she said.
Milgram said that the Israel tour after the games is “an added bonus factor” to the experience. “I love going to Israel, and I feel very connected to it. I’m excited to explore…and see new places. We’re going to be doing cool activities like surfing and krav maga.” Although she has been to Israel a few times before, she is particularly looking forward to experiencing the country alongside her future peers who have not been there before. She said, “It’s going to feel different. I’m excited to experience [Israel] with those people.”
Tiferet left for Israel on July 5 and will be returning at the end of the month with new friends and new memories.
Dina Shlufman of Tenafly is a Jewish Link summer intern and is a rising freshman at Cornell University. She loves to read and write and is excited to learn the inner workings of a professional newspaper.