Maccabi SA News

Going barmy while on Maccabi

1 September 2017
Jeppe High School pupil, Cameron Smook, got more than just a gold medal for cricket at this year’s Maccabi Games.
by Nicola Miltz, Jewish Report August 31, 2017

The 17-year-old grade 11 pupil went to Israel a boy in the eyes of Jewish law and came back a man after his team-mates encouraged him to do his barmitzvah at the Kotel.

After an inspiring tour of the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on July 9, members of the SA under-18 cricket team learnt that fellow team-mate, Cameron, had never had his barmitzvah at the age of 13. They decided there and then to persuade him to undergo this spiritual rite of passage.

Said team manager, Joanne Tankel, of Johannesburg: “The boys were very moved by their visit to the Kotel. Many of them laid tefillin. Afterwards they got a bee in their bonnets that Cameron had to have his barmitzvah and they planted the seed in his head. Once he agreed, the excitement started to mount.”

The unassuming all-rounder never expected to read from the Torah among all of his team-mates, dressed in green and gold.

“I was going to Israel to have fun and play cricket for my country. This was unexpected and made it more special,” he said.

“The boys really wanted this. You’d expect boys of this age to only be interested in the jol in Israel. But I think being in the Holy Land brought them closer to their connection with Hashem and it was their coaxing that eventually got Cameron to agree to it,” said Tankel.

During the Games, Maccabi offers athletes who have not yet had the opportunity to have a bar/batmitzvah to have one. This event is a fairly new Maccabiah tradition allowing sportsmen and women the opportunity to explore their Jewish roots.

On two separate days during the sporting event, a special ceremony is conducted at the Western Wall.

According to Cameron’s mother, Leyla, who is Jewish but not observant, this ceremony was “very meaningful and special”

She said her husband, Kobie, who is not Jewish, was always keen for Cameron to have his barmitzvah when he was 13.

“He wanted him to have it then and told him that he needed to start cheder and not eat treif. He encouraged Cameron to have a barmitzvah for the right reasons and not just for the party.”

He was originally going to have it in Israel where most of Leyla’s very religious family live. Plans got scuppered for various reasons and it never happened.

So, when the opportunity arose during this year’s Maccabi Games, Kobie was “all in favour and excited” that his son was finally going to do what he should have done years ago.

“He actually insisted”, said Leyla, whose Israeli-based family is very observant.

“The whole Maccabi experience has changed Cameron’s life. He has met so many people and it’s opened up his social life,” said Leyla.

The team consisting of 15 players between the ages of 14 and 17, drove the mission.

Said team captain, Greg Ber of King David Victory Park High School: “Cameron’s barmitzvah was a special moment for us. It brought us closer together as a team and made us one big family.

“I could really see the passion and unity every single boy had for the team and for each other. It was truly an honour to be at this barmitzvah at the Kotel.”

It was a simple, no fuss affair and team-mates were called up to read from the Torah. Afterwards the team and the rabbi surrounded Cameron in song and dance. “It was very special,” said Cameron who usually shies away from the limelight. The team then continued the celebrations at Moshikos on Ben Yehuda Street for falafels and shawarmas.

“Cameron’s barmy was the highlight of the Maccabi Games for all of us. It was not only about competitive sport, but also about connecting spiritually. It is the one thing we will all remember forever,” said Tankel.

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