The city of Jerusalem took center stage as Mayor Nir Barkat hosted a spectacular gala event on Wednesday night at the Tower of David, just 24 hours ahead of the Opening Ceremony for the 19th Maccabiah Games at Teddy Stadium.

A who’s-who of VIPs were in attendance at the intimate gathering just inside the walls of the capital’s Old City, including new Hapoel Jerusalem owner Ori Allon and National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman, who brought along many of his six team owners who stepped up to sponsor the Maccabiah ice hockey tournament.

As Barkat noted to Bettman, “I think Jerusalem has even more brand recognition than the NHL. Thank you for being so instrumental in making the Maccabiah’s return to Jerusalem such a success.”

Indeed, tributes to the Israeli capital were the menu du jour, as Barkat and others made sure the vibe was focused primarily on the sporting and cultural renaissance of one of the most holy cities in the world.

Chairman of Maccabi World Union Yair Hamburger was among those to welcome the guests, exclaiming that “each of the 77 flags to be flown at the Opening Ceremony represents a Jewish community in a different part of the world. It is the unity of all those communities coming together that makes these Games so special.”

Grammy-winning singer Miri Ben-Ari performed a beautiful violin rendition as a backdrop to a stirring video presentation projected onto the walls of the Old City that extolled the cultural and religious virtues of Jerusalem.

But it was Barkat, who summed it up best before David D’or led Hatikva.

“This Maccabiah is a testimony of the power of both Jerusalem and the Jewish people,” exclaimed the mayor.

“Now comes the real treat – the upcoming two weeks of Maccabiah action.”

On TV: 19th Maccabiah Games Opening Ceremony (live on ONE at 8:30 p.m.)

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