Interview with Mara Berde

This summer, JCC Maccabi Sports Camp joins the list of JCC Maccabi programs for teens and youth with the opening of their Jewish sports summer camp located just outside of San Francisco, California. We had the opportunity to hear about the camp’s opening from the new Assistant Director Mara Berde, who is also an alum of the JCC Maccabi Games.


What is JCC Maccabi Sports Camp all about?
JCC Maccabi Sports Camp is the newest addition to the JCC Movement’s immensely successful programs for teens and youth—JCC Maccabi Games®, JCC Maccabi ArtsFest®, and JCC Maccabi Israel®. Young athletes can now enjoy all the excitement, community, and character building of the Games in a two-week summer camp where they get serious, individual instruction in their core sport plus all the fun and friendship they love finding in overnight camp.

JCC Maccabi Sports Camp is an overnight Jewish sports summer camp located just outside of San Francisco in Atherton, California. Our camp welcomes boys and girls in grades 4 through 10 from around the world.

During our two-week camp sessions, campers learn more about their favorite sport of choice – baseball, basketball, soccer, or tennis. Through intensive clinics and creative programming, JCC Maccabi Sports Camp is a transformative experience for young Jewish athletes who are passionate about sports and want to advance their skill levels. There are also plenty of other sports and camp activities mixed in with the core values of a Jewish summer camp experience.

How are the JCC Maccabi Games and JCC Maccabi Sports Camp related?
JCC Maccabi Sports Camp will provide young athletes with a foundation of skills that they can bring to the JCC Maccabi Games. They will also begin to understand the core values of the JCC Maccabi Games. Many of our counselors are former JCC Maccabi Games athletes so our campers will begin to look forward to participating in the Games by getting to know their counselors and hearing about their experiences at the Games. In addition to increasing their skills in a particular sport, camp will also make them excited to travel to the Games and meet other young Jewish athletes.

How did you become involved in JCC Maccabi Sports Camp?
I was a camper and staff member at Camp Solomon Schechter in Olympia, Washington and then a senior staff member at Camp Wise in Cleveland for six summers. I had always wanted to work at a camp year-round and when this job became available, a few friends and mentors suggested that I apply. From a young age I was very active in sports, and I attended many sports day camps each summer, along with (non-sports) overnight camps. The list of competitive sports that I’ve done includes: tennis, ski racing, swimming, and ultimate Frisbee. Recreationally, I’m a cyclist and triathlete and I love playing squash and basketball.

You are a JCC Maccabi Games alum. What were the highlights of the Games for you?
In 1997, Seattle was one of the host communities for the JCC Maccabi Games. I was born and raised in Spokane, a city that only had one synagogue at the time and no JCC or day school. Somehow I ended up joining the Seattle delegation and competing in swimming. I was only 13 and remember looking up to the older athletes from all over the country. My freestyle relay team got second place, which was pretty much the most exciting thing up to that point in my life. The most memorable thing about the JCC Maccabi Games, though, was not simply the competition — it was meeting Jewish athletes (and coaches!) from all across the US. I remember trading my Seattle warm-up jacket for a Los Angeles team jacket. I also ended up with T-shirts and pins from all over, mostly from JCCs that I didn’t know where they were located (like the Suffolk Y, which I later learned is on Long Island.)

What is it about working for JCC Maccabi Sports Camp that most excites you?
One of the most exciting things is when I’m talking to people who have never heard of our camp before and they say something like “What an amazing idea — I wish this camp existed when I was a kid!”

Also, it’s incredible to know that I’m part of starting something that’s brand new. The staff and campers this summer will get to create the traditions that will continue on to next summer and many years in the future. Not many people can look back on something a year from now and say “We created that.” It’s a unique and exciting responsibility and opportunity.

What are you looking forward to most this summer, as the camp opens for the first time?
I’m looking forward to seeing how much our kids learn and grow throughout each session. Not only will they improve their skills in a particular sport, but they’ll also leave with a greater sense of pride about being a Jewish athlete, and of course with friends from camp.

I’m also looking forward to working with our staff, many former JCC Maccabi Games athletes, who will be great role models for our campers.