During Hanukkah we tell the story of a military victory, that of Judah (also known as Judah the Maccabee) leading the Maccabee army against King Antiochus (who was demanding that the Jews pray to the Greek gods.) Judah and the Maccabees were strong fighters against the King’s army and were victorious, driving them all the way out of Jerusalem. After their victory, the Maccabees cleaned the Temple and found enough oil to light the menorah for only one day, but miraculously it lasted for 8 days.
Now, you might ask, is JCC Maccabi Sports Camp named after Judah Maccabee? Well, sort of, but it’s more complicated than that. Judah and the Maccabees didn’t compete in sports like soccer, baseball, basketball, or tennis, but they were an example of a group of Jews who were physically strong, successful, and stood by their values.
The connection with the term “Maccabee” and sports came later in history with a man named Max Nordau, who coined the term “muscular Judaism” in 1898 at the Second Zionist Congress; Nordau believed that Jews should be strong and physically fit instead of relying solely on our brains. Shortly after that time, sports clubs for Jews in Germany, Russia, and Eastern Europe became popular and were often named Maccabee to show Jews as strong and successful in competition. The name “Maccabee” or “Maccabi” (the Hebrew pronunciation) stuck and has now become very common amongst Jewish sports groups from around the world, such as Israeli basketball and soccer teams, the U.S.-based JCC Maccabi Games for teens, and the Maccabiah held every 4 years in Israel for Jewish athletes from around the world.
JCC Maccabi Sports Camp is proud to have Maccabi in our title as it signifies not only strength but also commitment to ones ideals, just like Judah Maccabee.
For a more thorough historical account, read this article from the 2012 Chanukah edition of the Jweekly: How the Maccabee Moniker Moved into the Sports Arena.