JCC Games diary

By Danny Caro, August 26, 2008

Laurence Thorne, head of the Team GB delegation, gives his account of the Detroit JCC North American Youth Games.

I have just returned from the 2008 JCC Maccabi Games in Detroit Michigan and as we walked through the arrival hall doors at Heathrow, there was a rapturous welcoming party made up of parents, brothers and sisters, carrying balloons and banners cheering as Team GB walked out.

These games hosted the largest amount of athletes at a JCC week, 3,000 in total, and included 45 USA state teams, Great Britain, Venezuela, Mexico, Hungary, Canada and Israel.

It all started 10 days earlier when bleary eyed Team GB arrived at the airport at 5am, checked in and jetted off to Detroit, Michigan, home of Motown and some truly enormous palatial homes.

On arrival at the JCC, the host families eagerly awaited the Team GB athletes whilst the team picture was taken and they soon went off to spend their first weekend in the host families, whilst my managers and I were bussed to our hotel. Great Britain are always the first arriving delegation, closely followed by Venezuela and Mexico later that evening.

The evening opening ceremony took place at The Palace of Aubern Hills, home of the Detroit Pistons and after queuing in line and singing in the holding area, TeamGB proudly marched into the arena to rapturous applause from the 8,000 guests present with the honour of the flag bearing awarded to Gabriella Soffer/Emma Altman Richer and Philip Benson/Esther Wright, whilst Mandy Thorne carried the Great Britain name plate.

The ceremony followed its annual remembrance of the 1972 Munich Olympic Israeli Team massacre and one of the children of a murdered athlete spoke. Then with him having only the day before lost his unbeaten seven gold medals tally in one Olympic Games to Michael Phelps, Mark Spitz spoke to a thunderous welcoming cheer, where he told the athletes, "to become winners, goes beyond medals and records". Mark then spent the rest of the week at the Basketball Arena cheering on his son and was available to speak to all who stopped to ask him questions.

On Monday morning, the games began and taking seven different sports and trying to get round to see them all was made easier for me by having Sam Cohen and Mandy Thorne as Assistant Delegation Heads, enabling us to visit different venues at the same time. All seven sports participated in the early rounds stages and the sports were: Girls 13/14 football, Boys 13/14 football, Tennis, Golf, Table Tennis, Swimming and Track and Field.

Throughout the four days competition the weather remained hot, sultry and humid and varied between 85F to 92F, bright sunshine and also the occasional clouded sky, allowing swimming and sunbathing to take place at the JCC when the athletes returned after their competitions. Talking about the JCC centre, it is the largest centre in the USA, offering numerous amenities for the local community and allowing the JCC Games athletes to use their four indoor basketball courts, hockey rink, indoor and outdoor swimming pool, keep fit and exercise room, kindergarten and junior schools.

Tuesday and Wednesday evenings saw the JCC host the evening parties, with Tuesday being a "tie and dye" night, where live local bands played on a stage set up outside, at the rear of the JCC, with huge inflatables to go on, whilst inside, a disco on the hockey arena played all kinds of music, where more than a thousand athletes danced for hours and Wednesday was a "glow" party, where the indoor disco was replaced with rappers and MC`s and outdoors hosted a merry go round, bucking bronco and the inflatables.

Thursday afternoon was the lead up to the end of the competitions and then it was off to the closing ceremony and TeamGB boarded one of the 50 yellow school buses to the event. This took place at the Michigan State Fair, which was turned into a celebration to mark Israel's 60th birthday for the local community, 3000 athletes, host families and friends and with unprecedented security the evening went off without a hitch. There were some rides which needed pluck to go on and the athletes rode them all, together with fairground side stalls and shows everything without cost to any of the athletes. This was followed at 9.30pm with a brief closing ceremony which took place right next to where TeamGB were awaiting their host family pick up and we saw the torch being handed to San Francisco, in readiness for next years games. Immediately after this, there were fireworks and the athletes departed to their host families exhausted, but happy.

Whilst at the departure point at the fair, many tears were shed, numbers exchanged and facebook contacts made, as some of the other delegations athletes were either travelling directly back home or staying at the JCC until time to catch their flights during the night. Friends for life were created in just 4 days.

Friday and Saturday saw TeamGB as the only delegation in town, all the others having returned home and the host families had planned events for the GB athletes. Some had BBQs with several families getting together, others were taken out to see the sights and sounds of Detroit and I know of one family who took our athletes staying with them on their boat on one of the Michigan Lakes (why wasn't I invited).

Sunday 2pm, was the time for TeamGB to gather their suitcases, have their families take them to the JCC and start off on their journey back to London (and in the case of Esther Wright, Manchester). More tears were shed by Detroit mothers not wanting their hosts to leave and more facebook names and addresses were exchanged. We boarded the 3 yellow school buses and headed off to Detroit Metro Airport in Wayne County for the direct flight to Heathrow, where we took off Sunday 6.35pm and landed Monday at 6.45am to be greeted by the cheering welcoming party.

I want to say how proud I was of the performances of every TeamGB athlete, whether a medal winner or not. The behaviour and attitude of every single GB athlete was exemplary throughout the trip and compliments were constantly passed to me and my management team on how TeamGB athletes applied themselves.

Can I take this opportunity of thanking Mandy Thorne and Sam Cohen for their assistance in all areas and Sam's experience in being the Assistant Games Director 12 months ago in the Orange County games certainly helped us cut corners and knew where to obtain exactly what TeamGB wanted well in advance of others receiving it.

My managers and coaches were chosen for their past experience and again they brought their wealth of talent with them to Detroit, attending to all their athletes' needs and demands, ensuring their safe arrival at all the venues, and arriving on time, well before their scheduled games.

As for my view of the games, having attended Orange County California last year and Phoenix Arizona in 2006, these games were amazing in their sheer sizes of athletes taking part. I recognised many other delegation heads and their coaches from past years and also there were many athletes who had taken part at 13/14 level who were now 15/16 and us having recognised each other, spoke for ages remembering previous games we had spoken.

The experience some of the "younger" athletes from TeamGB gained was to have become self confident being a long way from home and able to reside with a different family, enjoying their hospitality and learning to fend for themselves, whilst at the same time, able to mix with 3000 other like minded athletes from all points of the globe. Meanwhile, we took back some GB athletes from last years games and they soon struck up old relationships and disappeared off with them.

There was, as always, a Jewish feel and experience at the games, a 'Hangtime' area dedicated to all aspects of Israel, run by qualified Israeli leaders, allowing the athletes to find a space to chill or a space to learn and play games. Also, this area had 10 internet stations, free for all to use.

In closing, I can guarantee every GB athlete went away for a sports and cultural exchange experience and returned home with a whole lot more.

It was a pleasure taking this group to Detroit and despite some hospital visits with 3 TeamGB athletes, ended up with a virtual injury free squad, although they were exhausted during competition, gave a lot back to my management team and myself and was a pleasure taking such a close knit group away.

TeamGB, you have made me very proud and I know, from the comments I received from the majority of parents at the airport, have made them very proud too.

Girls U16 Football by Max Fieldgrass and Daniel Hodes:

After 3 months of training we finally arrived in Detroit to a warm welcome. Sunday night's opening ceremony aroused the senses of the week to come and in the blink of an eye it was Monday morning and the games began. With 4 games in 2 days the girls got to grips with tournament soccer quickly but the ease of our first game was a smokescreen for the tougher matches that followed. They battled through with a squad depleted by injury and fatigue to the play off round where they fought hard to go from 1 goal down to 2-1 up but tiredness set in and we eventually went out 2-4.

Our tournament soccer was over but we played a friendly against our friends from Rockland to raise the spirits the next day and then headed off to the closing party at the State Fair with the feeling of pride and togetherness. The JCC experience goes beyond sport and they breathed in the atmosphere for the last time as they said goodbye to the friends they had made. With a weekend to recover everyone relaxed, enjoyed and indulged in the hospitality the host families provided. Detroit airport beckoned again and we were on our way home.

Thinking back to the opening ceremony, Olympic legend Mark Spitz said something that rang true on many fronts. "To be winners goes beyond medals and records. It is about reaching goals for yourself at whatever level and inspiring others". The GB U16 girls team have set their own goals to achieve sporting wise in the future but have inspired us as coaches to continue to strive for improvement, togetherness and spirit through sport.

Boys U14 football by Motti and Josh Colman


Detroit White 5 V TeamGB 4
LA Milken 8 V TeamGB 4
TeamGB 7 V Baltimore 2
Rockland 4 V TeamGB 4
TeamGB 4 V Detroit Blue 0
TeamGB 0 V LA Milken 5

After a hot and tiring first day, a serious team talk early Tuesday lifted the team who came out with a top class performance looking like a team who had played together for months. In the afternoon, we were unlucky not to win and had we had done, we would have avoided playing LA Milken again who were arguably one of the best teams in the tournament. After comfortably beating Detroit Blue in the playoff game we had to face LA Milken again in the quarter finals. Unfortunately, Zac Skry missed the game through injury.

Although going down 5-0 to LA Milken does not look good on paper, the boys performed with a spirit rarely seen. Huge performances from Benson, Diamond and the skipper Goldstein kept LA Milken at bay for 20 minutes, but their class eventually shone through. The squad performed wonderfully throughout, but special mention must go to Russell Goldstein, who in many neutral eyes was the overall player of the tournament and the teams players player and Robert Benson, who despite his tiny frame performed with the heart and head of a grown man.

The boys did us proud ...........

Track and Field squad by Esther Collins

The GB track and field squad consisted of 6 athletes: James Levy, Phillip Benson, Avi Fogelman, Talytha Coutts, Lauren Good and Jemma Lawrence. Medals totals to be confirmed.

All athletes performed exceptionally throughout the 4 days of competition demonstrating Rachmunus and good sportsmanship at all times. For some of the athletes it was their first time competition at an International event and the standard of competition was extremely high. I am extremely proud of all of the athletes and their motivation throughout.

Golf by Kelly Binstock

Monday, played at Tom O`Shanter Club. Ben and James played really well scoring 89 and 90 respectively.

Tuesday, played at Knollwood Country Club. Beautiful and slightly more challenging wise. James won bronze for hitting the longest drive for his age group and finished in a fantastic 4th place position overall for the 2 days. Ben was the only player to receive a BRONZE medal for the Sportsmanship Award.

Thursday, played at Franklin Hills Country Club in the scramble competition. 16 Teams were selected and the competition was tightly fought with only 5 shots separating all the teams. Jamie's team played strongly but finished, just outside the medals. James did however win a second BRONZE winning the closest to the pin competition. Ben's team played amazingly well and finished strongly in second place with a round of 66.

Overall, TeamGB performed fantastically well and were given the opportunity to play on 3 beautiful golf courses.

Table Tennis by Robert Tomback

After the first day of competition the GB squad were ranked in the highest band of the competition.

Jonny Khedair took bronze in the boys15/16 age after losing only 1 match on his way to the semi finals, losing to the eventual winner.

Hannah Kingsley played fantastically throughout, against girls up to 2 years older than her pushing the top seeds close on her way to bronze in the girls 15/16

Hannah Kingsley and Jeremy Hassan paired up in the 13/14 mixed doubles to become the only mixed co-ed couple to take a medal winning bronze. In the team event it was no surprise that the winning team was the team with the most number of Brits in it with Benjamin Graff, Hannah Kingsley and Jeremy Hassan all helping their team to gold. Jonny Khedair helped his team to Silver whilst Yoni Smith played fantastically, beating many of the top seeds including the eventual silver medal winner to help his team to Bronze.

A special mention has to go to Adam Belchack who played superbly throughout and although he was unlucky missing out on the medals he prided himself as the most consistent player on the team.

Tennis by Mark Gibbor

Boaz played in the U14 competitive tournament where he did well in the seeding competition to come out as one of the top seeds in the second bracket. He played well in the knockout competition especially in a tough semi final where he came back from a set down to win eventually, winning silver.

Liron found it taxing in a very strong competitive tournament on Monday and Tuesday, but then played the recreational tournament on Wednesday and Thursday where he started playing a lot better and unfortunately lost in a tough 3 hour semi final but still came away with a bronze.

Swimming by Alexis Williams

Each of the 4 athletes swam very well in extremely competitive races. Josh Bekhor and Esther Wright both won bronze medals when participating in their relay races. Josh Gaventa beat his personal best in every race ranging from 2 to 12 seconds. Adam Klinger competed fairly and with great enthusiasm.


James Levy T&F High Jump
Lauren Good Relay
Benjamin Graf and Jeremy Hassan TT Doubles
Hannah Kingsley Team event

3 silvers T&F
Jonny Khedair Table Tennis
Boaz Goldwater Tennis
Ben Cherkas Golf Scramble

5 bronzes T&F
4 bronzes TT
Liron Vellerman Tennis
3 bronzes Golf
2 bronzes Swimming

Last updated: 12:47pm, August 26 2008