History of Maccabi USA
In 1948, mere weeks after the establishment of the Jewish Homeland, four men – Harry Henshel, Charles Orenstein, Edward Rosenblum and Harold O. Zimman – embarked on a dual mission to help Israel develop as a nation through sports, and to promote fitness and athleticism for Jewish youth. With that goal in mind, the United States Committee Sports for Israel (USCSFI) was formed.
The organization quickly realized its goals as Israel was officially recognized by the International Olympic Committee and became eligible to compete in the 1952 Olympic Games. From there the organization developed projects that would increase Jewish identity, strengthen Jewish bonds and create a heightened awareness of Israel. USCSFI was named the official United States representative of Maccabi World Union, the official governing body of the World Maccabiah Games and Maccabi activities worldwide.
Evolving Over Time
In 1994, USCSFI changed its name to Maccabi USA/Sports for Israel to demonstrate its commitment to the Maccabi ideals. The Maccabi Movement grew to include more than 60 Maccabi Clubs around the globe. Seventy years after its inception, Maccabi USA/Sports for Israel remains dedicated to enriching the lives of Jews through athletic, cultural and educational programs. Over 8,200 Americans have participated in the Maccabiah Games in Israel including almost 100 US Olympians.
USCSFI brought to the young State of Israel renowned athletes and coaches to conduct clinics in an effort to promote the level of sports in the Holy Land. Basketball coaching legend John Wooden, NFL great/Senator Jack Kemp, and Olympic World Record Holders in Track Rafer Johnson and Harrison Dillard were among those who were sent by the organization to Israel.
Our Impact on the World
Through the years, USCSFI has provided support for important institutions in Israel such as the Israel Sport Center for the Disabled (ISCD) in Ramat Gan, Wingate Institute in Netanya, the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and the Israel Olympic Committee, to name a few. As part of the Maccabiah experience, Team USA participates in a project of Tzedakah when they bring a gift for a youngster at a facility such as the ISCD followed by a sport demonstration.
As part of the Maccabi World Union menu of opportunities, beyond the Maccabiah Games in Israel, competitions have been held in Australia, Latin America and Europe. These games provide the chance for more athletes to compete and meet while continuing to provide even more positive Jewish Memories.
Maccabi USA Leadership Over the Years
In 1981, Bob Spivak became President of USCSFI, a position he held for twenty years. In 1985, under his leadership the concept of the Pre-Camp was introduced to promote the educational and cultural aspect of the Maccabiah experience. In 1989, the Pre-Camp was moved from Rutgers University in New Jersey to Israel to take advantage of the “living laboratory of learning” in the Holy Land. This program was so important that the position of USA Team Rabbi was initiated. In addition, during Bob’s tenure, USCSFI joined forces with Maccabi World Union and the JCC Association to organize what has become the JCC Maccabi Games for teens held every year. In 2012, the JCC Maccabi Games were held in Israel with over 1000 Jewish Teens participating.
Bob was succeeded by Toni Wortman the organization’s first female President, who held the office for eight years (2002-2009). This was a tumultuous time following 9/11 and a very difficult worldwide economic environment. Yet under Toni’s leadership participation in all the projects grew to new heights. Ron Carner became President of Maccabi USA in 2010 and Maccabi USA has continued to grow. Under his leadership the Pre-Camp became “Israel Connect” a mandatory program for all American Juniors and Open athletes at the Maccabiah and has been expanded to seven days in Israel. During Ron’s tenure, Maccabi USA was recognized as a “Multi-Sports Organization” of the USOC- the US Olympic Committee and by Charity Navigator as a Four-Star Charity- its highest designation.
Jeff Bukantz became President of Maccabi USA in December 2017.
How We Make It Happen
Hundreds of volunteers work tirelessly to promote a wide variety of Maccabi USA programs to assure that the Organization remains relevant to Jews in the United States, Israel and throughout the Diaspora. Maccabi USA has a board of over 300 people, a Junior Board for those under 30 with and Executive Committee of about 30 individuals. Supported by a small staff in Philadelphia, the bulk of each project is organized by our dedicated corps of volunteers.
Maccabi USA/Sports for Israel is the sponsor of the American participation to the World Maccabiah Games, the European Maccabi Games and the Pan American Maccabi Games, and is one of the founding partners of the JCC Maccabi Games. In 2018, Maccabi USA is sponsoring a delegation of Juniors who will participate in Team Sports in Israel.
Maccabi USA/Sports for Israel is an adjunct member of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organization and remains one of the 60 territorial representatives of Maccabi World Union, the largest Jewish membership organization in the world.