What started as a small sports program with just 300 participants has now grown to be a community of 2,000 Jewish kids and 300 adults playing recreational and competitive sports.
Founder Alex Voihanski, initially called the program Chai Life Sports, but after further work with his assistant director, Jeremy Bluestein, the organization partnered with the Jewish Community Centre (JCC) and changed their name to JCC Chai Sports in 2009.
“I always thought there was a major void in the community not having a viable Jewish-run sports program,” says Voihanski. “I felt compelled to create this program because I felt the community needed such a program to exist.”
Along with being the only organization that offers programming in a variety of sports, JCC Chai Sports is the sole Toronto delegation for the JCC Maccabi Games. The JCC Maccabi Games is an annual tournament for teens aged 1for teens aged 13-16 and provide a competitive arena for a variety of sports. The Games are hosted in a different city each summer.
Voihanski said when he and Bluestein took over the sports and recreational department of the JCC in 2009, the delegation for JCC Maccabi Games was “effectively dead.”
“I made a point along with several amazing volunteers and coaches, to rebuild the program in Toronto and make the Toronto delegation a major factor once again,” he says.
Today, close to 120 athletes participate in the games on behalf of Toronto each year, making them one of the largest delegations in the Games as well.
The JCC Maccabi Games have not been hosted in Toronto since 1986 but Voihanski says they are working on bringing them back to this city.
“There’s definitely an appetite because we haven’t done so in forever,” he says, adding that the Games are an important part in the Jewish community in North America. “It really is a game changer in terms of community engagement.”
This next JCC Maccabi Games will be hosted in Orange County, Calif. in August, with close to 2,500 athletes, 600-700 coaches and staff, and at least 1000 volunteers.
“It’s a massive Games and it’s one of the largest teen Games in the world, it’s huge,” says Voihanski.
Voihanski says hosting the JCC Maccabi Games in Toronto is an important way to continue to grow and connect the Jewish community and is looking to be able to host them in the city.
“The JCC Maccabi games is one of the best engagement tools for Jewish teens in our community,” he says. “It allows for competitive athletes and artists to be part of a spectacular week long Jewish communal event and experience that will last a lifetime.”