Among those representing the Toledo area at the Maccabi Games were, from left, front row, coach Emily Cohen, Gabi Cohen of Sylvania, Kyle Shulak of Ottawa Hills, and delegaton head Sandy Cohen, and back row, Sean Stein of Ottawa Hills, Griffin Lahre of Sylvania, and Aaron Liebenthal of Sylvania.
Griffin Lahre got his first taste of international competition this month at the Jewish Community Center Maccabi Games in Houston.
The 14-year-old swimmer won a gold medal in the 200 freestyle relay.
Yet to hear young Lahre talk about the JCC Maccabi Games, he barely mentions his athletic feats. That's because the trip had a deeper meaning for him.
The Lahre youth was one of five area athletes who competed in the JCC Maccabi Games, an Olympic-style event for Jewish teens across the world.
He was joined by Sylvania natives Gabi Cohen and Aaron Liebenthal, and Ottawa Hills natives Kyle Shulak and Sean Stein.
Gabi Cohen's father, Sandy, served as the delegation head, and her older sister, Emily, was the team coach.
"Everyone told me I'd make a lot of friends and have a terrific time down there, and it was," said young Lahre, who attends Southview High School.
"I met people from all over, from California to New Jersey to Israel. I'm definitely planning on going again next year," he said.
This year was the 25th anniversary of the JCC Maccabi Games.
Sixty delegations and 1,700 Jewish teens aged 12 to 16 attended the event. They came from the United States, Australia, Mexico, and Israel.
Jewish values are a fundamental element of the Games and are highlighted throughout the five-day event.
During opening ceremonies, the teens pay remembrance to the Israeli team members who were killed in the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.
During their stay, the teens perform a half-day community service project called the Day of Sharing and Caring.
This year, athletes volunteered at the Greater Houston YMCA for an "I Read" program to fight illiteracy.
"The Day of Caring and Sharing really made an impact on me," said Gabi Cohen, who attends Southview High School. "It was eye-opening to realize you could have an impact on some kid's life just by reading to them."
The Northwest Ohio delegation didn't go home empty-handed in the medals department, either.
In addition to young Lahre's gold, Gabi Cohen and young Stein picked up a total of three silver medals in the dance competition, while young Liebenthal and young Shulak together won three medals in golf.
"The Games itself are really Olympic-style," Gabi Cohen said.
"But it's not really about the medals. It's about the friends you make and knowing you're going to have these people as friends for a long time."
Emily Cohen competed in the JCC Maccabi Games for four years before becoming a coach. Next year, she plans to take over for her father as the group's delegation head, she said.
"Coaching was so much more rewarding," said Emily, a freshman at Bowling Green State University.
"It's great to watch how many Jewish teens from around the world unify together and have a commonality with all these sports."