They were participating in the JCC Maccabi Games®. She was 13, a soccer player from the JCC of Greater Washington. He was a 15-year-old basketball star playing with the JCC of Northern Virginia.
They had arrived at the Mayerson JCC in Cincinnati for the games in 2000. It was his second time competing; for her, it was the first. The gym was teeming with teens. But as host families arrived to pick up their charges for the week, the gym emptied out, leaving Robin Levine and Jesse Dymond as the only two remaining athletes waiting.
They got to talking about the things they liked beyond sports. They made a connection before the host families arrived. Then, during the following days, they saw each other in the group activities and events during the games.
A spark ignited.
“This was before we had cell phones,” Robin recalls. “We would call each other every evening on our host families land lines and talk. I’m sure they were annoyed at us, we were on the phone so much.”
Jesse would cheer Robin on during her soccer games, and she made sure to catch him on the basketball court. At the end of the week, they knew they were going to continue seeing each other. She lived in Bethesda and he was only 20 minutes away, in North Potomac.
They were both competitive athletes, but neither had been involved at a JCC before competing at the JCC Maccabi Games. After that summer, however, the JCC—today known as the Bender JCC of Greater Washington, located in Rockville, Maryland—became their place.
“It was the hangout for us and all of our friends, playing sports, and working out,” says Robin.
They dated on and off throughout high school and college. Robin was recruited to play Division I lacrosse at American University in Washington, D.C. She played two seasons until tearing her ACL for the second time, which ultimately ended her lacrosse career. She decided to focus on her studies in public communication and marketing for the remaining two years of college.
Jesse was recruited to play Division III basketball at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York. He, too, decided to focus on his studies and, after a year at Clarkson, transferred to the University of Maryland College Park to get his degree in geographic information systems. He still loved basketball, but was playing only recreationally.
During the time they were apart, they would see each other off and on. But about four years ago, “we decided we didn’t want to be with anyone else but each other.” And on March 18 of this year, they were married at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C.
Each of them looks back at the JCC Maccabi Games with great fondness, beyond being the means for their meeting. “It was about the athletics, the competition and being away from home, exploring new cities,” says Jesse, who also attended the Games in Rochester, New York, and Miami, Florida, and took home gold medals in 1999 and 2001.
Beyond that, they offered a lot of fun and opportunity. “We were exploring new cities and meeting kids from other Jewish communities across the country. It was a great experience,” says Robin, who returned to the Games another three times. “The opening ceremonies were always huge events—it was fun walking in with your team, seeing all the other teams represented. It felt like the Olympics.”
Because JCC Maccabi® played matchmaker so well, Robin hopes teens today can also form lasting friendships. Or as in their case, form a bond beyond that—love. If it hadn’t been for some tardy host families, it all might not have been. And Jesse knew that, even then.
“When I saw Robin sitting on the gymnasium stage, wearing a yellow sundress, there was no one else in the room. The sun was shining through the window on her, exclusively. I said to myself, ‘One day, I’m going to marry this girl.’”