Shane Carr, head of programming for Maccabi USA, often receives requests to include various sports in the organization’s Jewish sports tournaments worldwide. However, one sport, in particular, has been consistently suggested since 2019: pickleball.
Demand For Pickleball Skyrocketing
These requests are nothing new; pickleball has gained widespread popularity in Jewish community centers and camps nationwide, attracting players of all ages.
During the pandemic, the demand to add pickleball to Maccabi events skyrocketed, and Carr found himself inundated with pickleball inquiries. After years of discussing the sport’s attraction and potential inclusion, coupled with the appeals finally wearing Carr down, pickleball will finally make its official debut at the Pan American Maccabi Games in Buenos Aires this December.
Carr said in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “The great part about pickleball is it’s so approachable, and people can pick it up so quickly. It’s a great opportunity to build community, especially Jewish community.”
Adding pickleball to the Maccabi tournament has been complex, especially when it came to convincing the global Maccabiah body. Fortunately, the popularity of racket sports in Argentina worked in their favor, and the Hacoaj Sports Club in Buenos Aires, where Jewish-Argentine tennis star Diego Schwartzman started his journey, played a role by hosting a pickleball open house to generate interest.
Pickleball will feature in the Pan American Maccabi Games with delegations from the United States, Canada, and Argentina competing, and there is potential for Israel to join as well. The tournament will include the traditional men’s and women’s singles and doubles events, along with a team event and a fun “Pickle Palooza” open to anyone who wants to play.
Maccabi USA plans to include pickleball in the full 2025 Maccabiah Games in Israel, reflecting the sport’s increasing demand across the Jewish community.
Jewish Summer Camps
The surge in pickleball’s popularity is also evident in Jewish summer camps across the United States. For example, at Camp Avoda, a Jewish sports camp located about 50 miles south of Boston, Director Ronni Guttin estimated that roughly 40 out of 140 campers actively participate in pickleball.
The sport is offered as an elective alongside tennis, and campers can also play during their free time. Guttin praised pickleball for its accessibility, especially for kids who may find tennis too challenging.
For the first time ever, Pickleball will be played at a Maccabi event! Watch our recorded information session to find out how you can get involved! https://t.co/PyOeuOXMBI #maccabiusa #pickleball #jewishsports pic.twitter.com/sneKk4eSYw— MaccabiUSA (@MaccabiUSA) July 28, 2023
Camp Avoda hired a group of pickleball players and ran a clinic for the first time last summer, which Guttin says “took off like crazy.” The instructors have been invited back this summer too.
Although the camp features two courts, Guttin said even five would not be enough. She adds: “People are clamoring for it.”
Camp Bauercrest, a Jewish sports camp located 40 miles north of Boston in Amesbury, Massachusetts, responded to the growing demand for pickleball by making significant additions for this summer.
Director Ken Cotton shared that last year, they invited an alum to host pickleball clinics, and the response from the campers was fantastic. Consequently, when it came time to renovate the camp’s tennis courts before this summer, they decided to install four outdoor pickleball courts in addition to their existing two indoor courts.
The popularity of pickleball is not limited to Camp Bauercrest; it has become a common and well-loved sport at various camps run by the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) and the Conservative Ramah movement.
Pickleball Offered At Multiple Locations
Ruben Arquilevich, the URJ’s vice president in charge of overseeing its 14 camps, mentioned that pickleball is now offered at multiple locations and has gained significant popularity among campers.
For instance, at Eisner Camp in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, one of the tennis instructors has started teaching pickleball. Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, California, includes pickleball among its many activities, while URJ’s 6 Points Sports Academy in Asheville, North Carolina, offers it as an elective.
The Ramah movement has also embraced pickleball, incorporating it into their programs at various locations. Their day camp in Nyack, New York, and their overnight camp in Wisconsin now offer pickleball, according to Ramah’s national director, Amy Skopp Cooper.
In particular, at the Ramah camp in Ojai, California, located about 80 miles northwest of Los Angeles, pickleball has taken center stage and become “the sport of the summer,” according to Molly Auerbach, the camp’s program director.
The camp provides pickleball coaching during its sports period and even holds a weekly Shabbat pickleball tournament, offering campers ample opportunities to enjoy the sport.
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