Yesterday evening, the 19th Maccabiah Games opened with a spectacular ceremony in Jerusalem’s “Teddy Stadium”. An International Olympic Committee-sanctioned event, the Maccabiah Games are the third largest international sporting event in the world.
Often called “the Jewish Olympics”, the Maccabiah brings together in Israel, young Jewish sportsmen and women from all over the world. Many of them have been – or will yet be – Olympic medallists. Maccabeans who have shone in the Olympics include swimmers Mark Spitz and Lenny Krayselburg, gymnasts Kerri Strug and Mitch Gaylord, discus thrower Lillian Copeland, and gymnast Aly Raisman, who lit the Maccabiah beacon at last night’s opening ceremony.
Due to the fact that it provides an opportunity for large numbers of young Jews of marriageable age and with similar interests to meet, (over nine thousand Jewish athletes, from 77 countries, filled the stadium) the Maccabiah has also been affectionately called the biggest Jewish matchmaking club in the world ;-).
It cannot be denied that sports are just that bit more enjoyable when the spectator feels he or she has a stake in the result. I always support Israel, except when there is no Israeli competitor taking part. When that is the case, I support Great Britain, land of my birth. If there’s no British participant either, I try to “adopt” a favourite, but that isn’t nearly so much fun. This year, however, I may find my loyalties divided, as, for the first time, I have relatives competing in the Games. My father’s genealogical research has uncovered family “Down Under” – cousins of my late mother. I didn’t know, till quite recently, that I had cousins in Oz, but, when it comes to the events in which Sara, Samantha and Abbie are competing, I shall be rooting for Team Australia. Nationalism is all very well, but Family is Family 🙂 .
The thought has sometimes occurred to me that there is a certain irony in the fact that a Jewish sporting event, owing so much to the Olympic ideal – an ideal which has its roots in the Hellenistic culture – should be named after the Maccabees who so adamantly opposed that culture. Yet it is easy to put that thought aside at the sight of thousands of happy, healthy, strong and athletic young Jews thronging the Teddy Stadium in united Jerusalem, celebrating their love of sport, their commitment to Israel and their Jewish identity. The Hellenists sought to destroy us – but we have emerged strengthened and, as has so often happened throughout our history, we have rejected what was undesirable in an alien culture, adopted what was good – and made it our own.
I will leave you with some scenes from last night’s opening ceremony.