The Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington has marshaled help from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to protect more than 2,000 athletes and supporters attending this week's Maccabi Games in Montgomery County.
County police are visible at various game sites across the county. The FBI is working behind the scenes. Maryland state troopers and flak-jacketed county SWAT team members walk through the center's lobby in Rockville. The fear -- heightened by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- is that Jewish facilities in the United States could be targets of a terrorist strike.
The forces on display do not impress Regina Braverman, 16, the captain of a girls' volleyball team from Israel. She lives in Ariel, a city-size settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and heavy security to her means tanks and armored personnel carriers.
"Maybe it doesn't seem heavy," she said yesterday of the protection, "because I see it all the time." Her community is shielded by the security barrier Israel is constructing to separate itself from the Palestinians and is protected by the Israeli military.
Arnie Sohinki, the center's chief executive, said months of planning, beginning well before the recent heightened, orange alert in Washington, have gone into protecting the games, which have drawn 1,900 young athletes and hundreds of coaches and other supporters to the county for a week of Olympic-style competition that began Sunday and will end Friday.
"We're trying to find the comfortable level where there's a presence of security . . . and at the same time you don't feel like you're in a prison," Sohinki said. He said that the security arrangements would cost $50,000 to $125,000 and that a community grant of $25,000 from the Montgomery County Council will be applied toward those costs.
Yesterday, during the first full day of competition, many attendees seemed far more interested in meeting each other, trading logo-emblazoned pins and participating in the sports at hand than in contemplating the risk of a terrorist attack. Doughnut consumption was also popular.
As the Israeli volleyball team pummeled a combined squad from Virginia Beach and New Orleans -- whose members had met for the first time that morning -- Jack Abady, 16, a basketball player from Deal, N.J., marveled at the skills of an opponent.
"Did you see that girl jump?" he asked his friends. "She's like the LeBron [James] of volleyball." He detected what he deemed was the source of the Israelis' advantage: "They've just got the mental edge over everyone, because God's on their side."
Abady seemed unfazed by the possibility of an attack. "I'm not worried that we're a target," he said, strolling in the sunshine as he headed toward a game. "I feel safe."
Jews in Constantinople organized the Israel Gymnastic Club in 1895, the informal beginning of the Maccabi movement, which promotes Jewish athleticism. More than a century later, Israel regularly hosts the Maccabiah Games, a quadrennial event that draws Jewish athletes from around the world. Olympic champion Mark Spitz was once a Maccabian.
In the United States, Jewish organizations put on games for young athletes every year. This summer, JCC Maccabi Games are being held in Austin; Boston; Columbus, Ohio; and Montgomery County. The games are open to athletes ages 13 to 16, who compete in events that include basketball, in-line hockey and modern dance.
Athleticism is not the only item on the Maccabi agenda. At the "HangTime Israel" lounge, as teenagers played Twister on a floor-size map of Israel, an Orthodox Jewish canvasser from South Africa reached out to U.S. Jews interested in becoming more religious. A young child asked anyone who would accept one to wear a sticker saying "Israel: my home base."
Sitting in the lounge, Dan Rosen, 16, a swimmer from Philadelphia, said he loved the four Maccabi Games he'd attended. "You see people from all over the world and interact -- it's really social." His friend and fellow swimmer Craig Sherin, 15, also from Philadelphia, added that they were trading a lot of pins and shirts. "It's been really fun."
The security measures did not meet Israeli standards -- bags were not searched and metal detectors were not in place -- but the center's lobby did feature a pair of signs that captured the mixture of sport and anxiety. Designed to teach Hebrew phrases, one read "Yoter Hazak," which means "Stronger! Harder!"
The sign next to it offered the phrase "Eifo Ish Habitahon" -- "Where is the security officer?"