Five years ago the JCCs of North America, the umbrella organization for Jewish Community Centers, added a new component to its summertime athletic competition, the JCC Maccabi Games. Called ArtsFest, it provides a way for artistically talented teens to have shared experiences like the ones enjoyed by their sports-minded friends. This year the Games took place in Israel for the first time since their founding in 1982, and ArtsFest was more prominent than ever.
For its participants it was not only a chance to create and collaborate, it was a true encounter with Israel. ArtsFest seamlessly integrated Israeli themes, music, and cuisine into its workshops. The Artists-in-Residence—the teachers—were Israeli. And it all took place amid the beautiful landscape of the Upper Galilee region.
From the beginning ArtsFest has held to a very high standard. Participants are selected through competitive auditions, and they work with a cadre of top-notch teachers. Whether in rock bands or a cappella singing, dance or acting, photography or visual arts, cooking or journalism, they not only learn—they create something together. ArtsFest’s closing ceremony Sunday night in Jerusalem showcased some of their work. Here’s a short highlights video:
Remarkably, the ArtsFest kids weren’t cast in the shadow of the more numerous athletes. All the teenagers ate their meals together, relaxed with one another between events, and were equally recognized for their achievements. In fact the central location for the participants in both the Games and ArtsFest, a high school in the north of Israel called Har v’Gay (Mountain and Valley), was chosen because it specializes in the arts. It’s a reflection of the importance of the arts component in the Maccabi events.
Local Jewish Community Centers have played a big role in sustaining Jewish culture in the US and Canada for decades. Now, thanks to JCCs of North America and their commitment to ArtsFest, another generation is discovering how the arts can help them learn more about being Jewish, and about themselves.
Bob Goldfarb, the president of the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity in Los Angeles and Jerusalem, also blogs regularly for eJewishPhilanthropy.com.
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