On Sunday, December 2nd, 1:15 PM at the JCC on 5870 West Olympic Blvd. in Los Angeles, organizer Jeff Liss, his coaches and Jewish Men and Women ages 10-60, will begin the 7th year of their Special Macabees Basketball Program.
It all began when Jeff and his wife Liz saw a group of developmentally challenged boys wearing kippot at the Third Street Promenade. It gave Jeff an idea.
Liss, a coach with the Westside Special Olympics, has trained and worked with mentally and physically challenged children for almost twenty years. When he stopped to talk with these Orthodox boys, he thought…why not a Special Olympics-type program for Jewish Children and Adults.
So it was stated and so it began. Athletes ranging in age from 10-60 and their disabilities including Autism, Down Syndrome, seizures and other mentally and physically challenging disabilities, both Male and Female, have been meeting at the JCC for the past 6 years.
Each Sunday’s practice is divided into two sessions…one hour of skill development, followed by a half hour of practice games where the athletes begin to hone their skills in an actual basketball game. During the skill development session, athletes are divided into small groups based on their level of ability. Each group has a volunteer coach, assigned by Liss, to focus on learning and practicing the various basketball skills….passing, catching, dribbling, shooting and playing defense. As Liss stated,” everything is about the athlete, his or her development and having fun.”
The 12-14 week season culminates in a “Finale”, a game between athletes from the Special Olympics playing against the Special Macabees Athletes. Parents, family and friends of all the athletes are invited to the game and last year’s game attracted over 200 in attendance. For most of the parents, it was the first time they ever saw their son or daughter, in full uniform, playing in an organized “real Basketball game”. The thrill of seeing their child/adult shoot and score brought tears and twinkles to many an eye that afternoon. And as Jeff Liss and his coaching staff stated…”it was the most rewarding feeling we’ve ever had.”
Rob Green, one of the coaches stated after the game, “I have seen such improvement and growth from one season to another. Their growth in self esteem and feeling of self worth, as a result of this program, is amazing. They feel part of a group a team, a feeling of being wanted and needed.”
One of our female athletes mentioned how…”I like being treated with respect and how I have learned to dribble properly and now have the skills I need to play basketball…I am so happy to be a part of this program.”
The mother of one of our male athletes, recently said, “my son looks forward to going on Sundays and being a part of the Special Macabees. He doesn’t feel he’s being treated differently because of his special needs”.
Now entering its 7th year, Jeff and his staff of dedicated coaches, Rob Green, Jay Davies, Yossie Bock and others, will be meeting and greeting old and new participants at the JCC on Sunday, December 2nd, from 1:15 – 2:30 PM.
To sign up for this year’s Special Macabees program or for further information on how to get involved contact Jay Davies, at 818-414-5857 or email
Written by Morris Liss

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