What does the largest sporting event of the year have to do Nelson Mandela?
Mandela’s birthday, on July 18, coincides with the opening of the 19th Maccabiah
Games in Israel. During the opening ceremony the South African team of over 350
athletes will proudly fly the South African flag. They will also be taking with
them a large banner reading: “Celebrating our legacy – Mandela Day” to reaffirm
the values of individual freedom, reconciliation and racial tolerance which
Leading the delegation will be Des Hyman, the deputy
head will be Cliff Garrun and the group will also include medical officers,
coaches, physiotherapists, media and logistics professionals. The team is fully
representative of all the provinces of South Africa, with about 70 athletes from
Cape Town, and smaller numbers from Durban, Port Elizabeth and East London.
Accompanying the athletes will be over a thousand family members and supporters
from South Africa and these will be complemented by hundreds of expatriate South
Africans, largely from Ra’anana, a town with a distinctly South African
character, nicknamed “Ra’ananafontein.”
The Maccabiah 2013 Opening
Ceremony will take place at the Teddy Stadium (named after Teddy Kollek,
Jerusalem’s most famous former mayor) in Jerusalem. A capacity crowd of about
32,000 spectators are expected to attend this impressive event, including
President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, as well as
numerous foreign and local dignitaries.
The Maccabiah 2013 will be the
largest in history, with over 9,000 overseas athletes representing 71 countries,
two more than the previous record. Team Israel will be by far the largest,
comprising about 3,000 athletes, bringing the total to over 12,000 competitors.
Israeli athletes qualify regardless of religion and Arab Israelis have also
The emotive ceremony will include the athletes’ march, the
lighting of the Maccabiah torch, and live performances by local and
internationally renowned artists such as Rami Kleinstein, Grammy Award-winning
violinist Miri Ben-Ari, X-Factor USA finalist Carly Rose-Sonenclar,
Canadian-born singer and winner of Israel’s The Voice Kathleen Reiter, and
Israeli star Harel Skaat.
Teams will be competing in 35 sports and for
the first time Junior Rugby, Girls Football and basketball will be included.
Archery, Equestrian, Handball and Ice Hockey are debuting in the open category
at these games.
The undoubted star of team USA will be Aly Raisman, the
Hava Nagila gold medalist gymnast at the London Olympics, and she will perform a
special gymnastics exhibition. Backing her up are some other serious Jewish
sportspeople, such as swimmer Garrett Weber-Gale, basketball coaches Danny
Schayes and Brad Greenberg, and softball coach Erez Borowsky.
Maccabiah Games are quadrennial Jewish Olympics, held in Israel the year
following the Olympic Games. Every four years, the best Jewish athletes from
throughout the world compete in Open, Masters, Juniors, and Disabled
The games in its modern guise was conceived by Yosef
Yekutieli, a 15-year-old Russian boy inspired by the 1912 Stockholm Olympic
Games, who dreamed of a worldwide Olympics for Jewish athletes in Palestine. The
Maccabiah Games were first held in 1932, to commemorate the 1,800th anniversary
of the Bar Kochba revolt.
The Bar Kochba revolt (132–136 CE), was the
third major rebellion by the Jews of Judea Province against the Roman Empire and
the last of the Jewish-Roman Wars.
Simon bar Kochba, the commander of the
revolt, was acclaimed as a Messiah, a heroic figure who could restore Israel.
The Maccabees, after whom the games are named, are traced back to an even
earlier period of Jewish history, when the land of Israel was under the
influence of Hellenism, and a client state of the Seleucid (Syrian)
The Maccabees rose up in revolt against Antiochus who issued
decrees forbidding Jewish religious practice, to found the Hasmonean dynasty,
which ruled from 164 BCE to 63 BCE. They reduced the influence of Hellenism and
Hellenistic Judaism and reasserted the Jewish religion, expanding the boundaries
of the Land of Israel by conquest. The Maccabees destroyed pagan altars in the
villages, circumcised boys and forced Jews into outlawry.
Maccabees as used to describe the Jewish army is taken from the Hebrew word for
For each participant, and for those fortunate enough to attend
as spectators, the Maccabiah Games are “two weeks to experience and a lifetime
to remember.” For many, the Maccabiah is the athlete’s most significant
connection to the State of Israel and for some, to Judaism itself. The
interaction and camaraderie with Jewish contemporaries from the far reaches of
the world, in the land of Jewish roots, inspires pride in and an awakening of a
rich heritage and reinforces the connection with the land of Israel. The
personal “struggle” of each athlete to achieve victory against all odds, echoes
the meaning of “Israel” which speaks of Jacob’s “struggle” with the
The closing ceremony, on July 30, will also take place at the
Teddy Stadium and be directed by Ronen Peled and produced by Ilan Faktor. It
will conclude with performances by internationally recognized DJs and select
Israeli artists, among them Infected Mushroom, Balkan Beat Box, Offer Nissim,
TYP, Riff Cohen and Orphaned Land.
The author is the chairman of the
South African Zionist Federation (Cape Council).