The 19th Maccabiah Games came to a close on Tuesday night at Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium, as an audience of about 20,000 – including the record of over 9,000 athletes, coaches and staff members – were treated to musical performances by some of Israel’s top artists.
The accomplishments of all participants were celebrated throughout the evening with a lively concert accompanied by fireworks and light shows, all on a brightly lit, ornate 70-meter stage.
The groups performing included some of Israel’s biggest names, such as Infected Mushroom, Balkan Beat Box, The Young Professionals and Orphaned Land, in addition to DJ Offer Nissim and singer Riff Cohen.
Prior to the music, many speakers urged the departing athletes to remember Israel as their true homeland.
“I want you to all take a moment… and imagine where we are now, but in a time machine 2,000 years ago,” said Israel Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett.
“There’s no stadium, no lights. We see thousands of brothers and sisters that were Jews like us, speaking Hebrew like us, believing in the same Almighty with the same blood in our veins. That’s Israel. Sisters and brothers, we love you. We want you back.”
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz said that upon returning home, each participant should think of what they will say when their families ask what they saw in Israel.
“Tell them that you were actually at home, because you may have grown up in Argentina, or Croatia or the United States or any other place but your home is here,” Gantz said.
“Israel is the stronghold for the Jews from across the four corners of the world, and it will stay so forever.”
During the ceremony, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, along with Omri Casspi – the first Israeli NBA player – presented the most outstanding athlete award to American swimmers Andrea Murez, who won five gold medals and two silvers, and former Olympian Garrett Weber- Gale, who picked up two golds.
Athletes competed from more than 75 delegations, the most in Maccabiah history, 21 of them for the first time.
“Jerusalem is returning to the central role it played 2,000-3,000 years ago, and for us, having the Maccabiah Games here in Jerusalem is a dream turning to reality,” Barkat said.
Chairman of Maccabi World Union Yair Hamburger agreed.
“We are 100 percent sure that we were right in doing this Maccabiah in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel forever and ever,” Hamburger said. “We hope that we were successful in planting a seed in your hearts that you will be more connected to our country, because we need you.”
Athletes competed in 38 different sports in the latest edition of the Games, which included 35 men’s and 34 women’s competitions, and eight mixed events.
Israel’s delegation, consisting of about 3,000 participants, led the podium with 411 medals heading into the final day of competition, consisting of 153 golds, 135 silvers and 123 bronzes.
The United States, which had approximately 1,200 participants, was second with 196, taking home a minimum of 77 golds, 60 silvers and 59 bronzes. By the end of the Maccabiah, there were a combined 4,431 total matches and events across all stages and categories of competition.