The 19th quadrennial Maccabiah Games started in grand fashion at Teddy Kollek
Stadium Thursday night, bolstered by tens of thousands of enthusiastic
spectators, and more than 9,000 of the most talented Jewish athletes in the
Click here for the Post's special Maccabiah section
Also known as the “Jewish Olympics,” the Maccabiah Games is the
largest international Jewish athletic competition. This year’s event is
considered the biggest of all time, attracting some 30,000 spectators and
athletes from over 70 countries.
The opening ceremony – attended by Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and a number of
international dignitaries – included the traditional athletes’ march, the
lighting of the Maccabiah torch, the swearing-in ceremony led by Israeli athlete
Alex Shatilov and live performances by local and internationally renowned
“We have come from different places, but we belong to the same
family,” said Peres.
“A family whose face is always turned towards
Jerusalem, the eternal capital of our people, the capital of justice and
In a video message from the United States, President Barack Obama
hailed the “unbreakable bond” between the US and Israel. “In that spirit, I want
to wish my good friend President Shimon Peres a very happy 90th birthday,” Obama
said. “He’s an example of vitality and dedication to all of us, his legacy
embodies the essence of these games.”
In his opening remarks, Netanyahu
also welcomed the athletes to “Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Israel. “It’s
the first time that the Maccabiah is not only opening in Jerusalem, but many of
the games are also taking place in Jerusalem, our indivisible capital,” he said.
“Year after year, Jews from around the world say, ‘Next year in Jerusalem,’ but
today, all of those who came here for the 19th Maccabiah Games can say, ‘This
year in Jerusalem,’ Israel’s undivided capital.”
“We are all one nation.
We are all the nation of Israel,” Netanyahu added. “The Maccabiah represents the
spirit of unity of the Jewish people... Go out, visit Israel, this is your
country. I will be very happy if many of you decide to make aliya and become
part of the Zionist enterprise. Am Yisrael Hai [The nation of Israel
Musicians including Rami Kleinstein, one of Israel’s most
respected composers, Grammy Award-winning violinist Miri Ben Ari, X-Factor USA
finalist Carly Rose Sonenclar, and Canadian-born singer and winner of The
Voice-Israel Kathleen Reiter, were among the performers.
attendance for the 8:00 p.m. opening ceremony expressed pride over the thousands
of Jewish athletes from all corners of the globe – including Cuba and Australia
– who came to Jerusalem for the prestigious games.
“We feel very proud
because many Jewish athletes from around the world came to Jerusalem, the
capital of Israel,” said Moshe Mizrahi. “It makes me proud to be Jewish and born
Sherman and Melody Rosenfeld of Rehovot brought their son
Ashi and granddaughter Liora to attend the opening ceremony.
it’s a wonderful thing that Jerusalem is having such a significant sporting
event,” said Sherman. “We just came out of Tisha Be’av, which is a very sad
period, and this is a happy period, so that’s great.”
Melody said she had
great respect for the Maccabiah, dating back to the Holocaust, when Jewish
swimmers were able to flee Nazi Germany by participating in the games in Mandate
“It makes us feel very proud to be from Israel,” she
“We usually don’t think about sports in terms of Judaism, but this
shows we’re inclusive by including Jews of all degrees of observance. The common
denominator here is that all Jews are welcome.”
Shauli Daon – a Ph.D.
candidate in chemistry from Tel Aviv who came to the ceremony with his
girlfriend – described the games as important in terms of showing visitors who
have never been to Jerusalem the beauty of an often misunderstood
“It’s very important because people from all over the world are
coming to Jerusalem and they’re seeing that there’s not much danger here – that
it’s safe, that it’s okay,” said Daon.
To prepare for the opening
ceremony, Israeli Police implemented exhaustive security measures, including
several thousand police officers to secure the area in and around the stadium at
According to police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, a breadth of
specialized units – including undercover officers, patrol units and instant
response teams – will be on hand for the duration of the games.
said he drove two and- a-half hours from Karmiel to see the opening
“It’s exciting that all the Jews from around the world are
coming to Israel – that sport brought everyone together,” he said. “There is
pride because there’s nothing like this. In fact, I believe that people coming
here from other countries are even more excited than me.”
and Karen Weisz of Toronto, said they were elated to fly here with their two
youngest children to cheer on their 17-year-old son Matthew, who is
participating in the under 19 basketball team.
“It’s just great to be
here and be part of such an important event,” said Steve. “I’m especially happy
because my father, who survived the Holocaust, came as well to support Matthew,
and it’s only his second time ever coming to Israel.”
Jerusalem Mayor Nir
Barkat, who has successfully overseen a number of international sporting
competitions, including the European U-21 Soccer Championship and the Formula 1
“Peace Road Show,” as well as the addition of 12,000 seats to the stadium, said
he is delighted the capital continues to host major sporting
“Jerusalem is going through a big sports moment right now,” he
said. “From the beginning of my term as mayor, I have placed sports and culture
as a major priority.
It’s important for Jerusalem to be the center of
gravity in Israel – a city that represents the deep connection between Jews all
over the world.”
Numerous Olympic-gold medalists, world champions, and
world-record holders have competed in the Maccabiah Games, including, Mark
Spitz, Mitch Gaylord, Lenny Krayzelburg, Jason Lezak and Marilyn
Traditionally held in Tel Aviv, this year Jerusalem is
hosting all three of the game’s main events, including Thursday’s opening
ceremony, the Youth Event at the Sultan’s Pool on July 25 and the closing
celebration on July 30. The Maccabiah Games were last held in Jerusalem in 2001.