Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat welcomed an elite group of USA Maccabiah athletes to the Israeli capital on Sunday.

The mayor sat down at a table in his office and introduced himself to the largest delegation at this year’s games, including 2012/13 BSL-winning basketball coach Brad Greenberg, two-time Olympic gold-medalist swimmer Garrett Weber-Gale and President of Maccabi USA Ron Carner.

“For me the Maccabi games in Jerusalem is a really good excuse, if you like, to fulfill the role Jerusalem played two and three thousand years ago as the center of the Jewish people,” Barkat said.

Jerusalem will serve as the hub of activity at the games this year and hosts the Opening Ceremony in the newly remodeled Teddy Stadium, which the mayor said is part of a larger effort to promote the city’s culture as a whole.

The USA is sending over 1,000 athletes to the Games this year. Many athletes in attendance on Sunday said this was their first time in Israel.

“This is a totally different atmosphere for me, and getting connected to the culture of Judaism and the heritage of our people is fantastic,” Weber-Gale exclaimed. “It’s dramatic, it’s like I want to make aliya already.”

Zico Maccabiah-bound

In other news, Brazilian soccer legend Zico will attend the Maccabiah’s Opening Ceremony on Thursday as a guest of honor of the Brazilian delegation.

Zico, who played for Brazil in three World Cups and is regarded as one of the country’s greatest ever players, will spend four days in Israel.

“I’m happy to be coming to Israel. It will be very interesting to experience the Maccabiah,” said Zico. “I feel close to the Jews in Brazil and especially in Rio and I’m delighted to be part of the Maccabiah.”

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