The 2022 Maccabiah officially kicked off Thursday night with Joe Biden, the President of the United States in attendance, Jewish athletes from around the world walked proudly through Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium holding their flags high in the air. While over 10,000 athletes from 80 countries will take center stage as they compete in 47 different sports between Haifa, Netanya and Israel’s capital, Jerusalem, there is one unique group of Maccabiah participants who have been in action for a couple of weeks on the ground in the Holy Land.
And that is the Maccabi Media Program chaired by Marc Zumoff, the recently retired voice of the Philadelphia 76ers.
The specialized program which also included a week long Israel Connect tour which focuses on building a connection to one’s Jewish identity, features 14 highly skilled students and aspiring sports media professionals. These young professionals will perform various broadcasting and video production roles and play a pivotal role in enhancing coverage of the Maccabiah back to America and beyond.
“First and foremost the inspiration for me being involved is Bob Spivak of blessed memory whose pin I am wearing throughout the games,” Zumoff told The Sports Rabbi about Maccabi Media. “Bob, who passed away just last month originally pitched me on the idea as it was inspirational and motivational. The Maccabiah combines three of the most cherished things in my life; Judaism, Israel and Sports.”
Spivak, Zumoff explained was critical in making the Maccabi USA into what it is now, “He rescued Maccabi USA in the 1970’s when it was called the United States Committee Sports for Israel. Had it not been for him, Maccabi USA might not be the vibrant organization it is today. He rescued it from a crisis and then provided a game plan for the next 30-40 years along with advice and support system for the organization.”
As for the Media Program itself, Zumoff stated that this was a prime chance to give the interns the ability to hone their skills while also learning new ones on site at arguably one of the world’s largest sporting tournaments in the world.
“This is our opportunity to attract Jewish, aspiring sports media professionals to have the opportunity to experience Israel along with developing their skills in their chosen field which is not unlike the athletes who are competing in the games today. It’s an unprecedented stage for young people, many of which are experiencing Israel for the very first time and can learn about their Judaism anew and get reps with the opportunity to do what needs to be done to help their careers by reporting, doing camera work and editing. We will be streaming live events that will be available on the website throughout the games.”
“The group will be split up between Netanya, Haifa and Jerusalem. Anyone from around the world can watch the streams and we can use that influence on social media to spread the word. I remember 15-20 years ago, that somewhere on demand I found coverage of the Maccabiah Games. I recall tuning into the coverage which was so bad that I couldn’t tell what the event was and I said that if I get the opportunity to change this that I would. As fate would have it, Maccabi USA was participant in the European Maccabiah Games and they embedded a high school student as a pilot program who blogged about the Experience.”
In fact, the high school student Zumoff referred to is Logan Schiciano from Goldens Bridge, New York and is also taking part in this year’s Maccabi Media program, “My family has been involved with Maccabi for decades. My mom and her father have both played tennis in multiple games – my mom is playing this year. I was in Budapest for the European Maccabi Games a few years back as the first student reporter for Maccabi USA. I wrote articles daily throughout the games, but it was just me and my camera and an editor back in Maccabi USA headquarters. When I heard about the opportunity to cover these games, I knew it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it has lived up to that 100%. I also was excited about working with other kids passionate about sports and journalism and new this would be a great way to meet new people.”
While Schiciano’s family has been a part of the Maccabiah family for years, for others on the inaugural program never even knew such a sporting event existed. Dylan Manfre who graduated from Rider University this past May and will pursue a Masters in Journalism at the University of Maryland this fall explained, “I had literally never heard of Maccabi USA but when I did some research I knew this could be huge. To cover some of the most incredible Jewish athletes in the world is an honor and privilege. We immediately see the impact of the work we’re all doing. I’ve already been able to learn so many storytelling elements from packaging videos and find stories that don’t appear immediately. We really have to dig for some of those human interest features – which is what I love the most. That’s what journalism is all about.”
Noam Watt who graduated from the University of Connecticut also chimed in, “Having the opportunity to cover sports in a country I love is an incredible opportunity. It is a unique program tailored to professional development and growth and I knew it was something I wanted to pursue.”
Of course one of the unique features of the Maccabiah is the fact that it takes place in Israel which is something that began back in 1932. This is an opportunity Zumoff said that will influence the Media Program members in more ways than they can imagine.
“The participants will have a fuller and deeper understanding of Israel whether it is ancient history or experiencing the current dilemmas. They can be much greater advocates than they could have been had they not been a part of the program. I can sense a real change in them, their spirituality and their appreciation for the need of a homeland for the Jewish people.”
For Manfre, being in Israel has been very emotional, “Being in the Holy Land provides us with unique religious, spiritual and cultural experiences we wouldn’t get anywhere else. We had multiple tours as part of the Israel Connect program. The most impactful of that was when we went to the Western Wall – I cried for 15 minutes. I finally understand what it means to be Jewish and to be proud of your heritage.”
“Israel is a special place and having the opportunity not only to visit but to report from so many well-known venues has been a dream come true.” Schiciano said. “Even though we are here for media coverage, our experience as Jewish adults comes first and I’ve been grateful for the chance to reconnect with this sacred land and interact with Israelis and all the Jewish athletes.”
Watt, who is from Lexington, Massachusetts concurred with his fellow interns, “While we are here to cover the games, we are also here to deepen our connection to the State of Israel and other Jewish people. We share a common bond of a passion for sports media, and also more importantly, being Jewish.”
The 3-week long experience will have a great impact on the participants and also help further their own careers once they get back to the United States. Watt for one, will be heading back to UCONN and will be working in a number of disciplines in the media world, “I will be able to get a lot of practical experience – reporting, broadcasting, shooting video, writing stories, and reporting. This program allows me to cover the world’s second largest sporting event in the world, add a wide variety of content to my portfolio and learn from world class mentors. I will grow so much personally and professionally from this experience, plus I will make friends for a lifetime.”
Manfre has a more specific goal in what he would like to do professionally, “My niche is in long form feature writing and I’d love to be a sports feature writer or beat writer for a team one day. Ultimately, I want to tell the stories that aren’t being told and share compelling stories. This program directly helps that because we get to work on features as well as follow the US athletes all around the games. It’s been the biggest honor.”
“There is so much I will take away from this program,” Schiciano commented. “I’ve gained so much experience reporting in the field in just the short time we have been here so far. This can be much more hectic and high stakes than reporting on a food drive at my college or a town art exhibit, for example. I’ve also gained valuable technical experience, from becoming more familiar with all our equipment to learning all the necessary components for a live broadcast operation to succeed. I could see myself as a White House correspondent for a major news network or a play-by-play announcer for a professional team.”
“This program has been different than most internships for rising college sophomores like me because here in Israel, we are doing so much and getting real reps to produce, edit and report. At a lot of internships available to people my age, would be doing a lot of office work and helping out higher-ups. But here, I’m getting the chance to put my own work out there for the world and right now, that’s the most important thing for me. However, above all I’ve made friendships that will last a lifetime and been fortunate enough to be under the guidance of some incredible mentors – all of whom I hope stay in touch with down the road.”
The major highlight of the Maccabiah, especially for the American participants will undoubtedly be the presence of President Joe Biden who is taking time out of his trip to Israel to meet and greet the athletes but also attend the opening ceremonies in Jerusalem.
Zumoff feels that this will leave an everlasting impression on absolutely everyone, “Think about it, you are a young person and you are delving into this experience and suddenly you realize that the president of your country is in the Holy Land at the same time that you are. This is a story you will be able to tell your friends, family and children and hopefully it will reinforce the importance of the Jewish homeland not only to these young people but to all those that come after them.”