The 14th European Maccabi Games are in full swing in Berlin as thousands of Jewish athletes and their supporters have come together for a bit of friendly competition in the German capital. This year's game is special, however, because it's one of the largest gatherings of Jews in Germany since World War II. It's even more historic because the games take place at the Nazi-built Olympiastadion, location of the 1936 Olympics, from which Adolf Hitler tried to ban Jews from participating.
Taking in it all was the head of the Great Britain delegation, Daniel Collins. Speaking to The Jerusalem Post from Berlin, he said that the experience at the games is unique from both a historical and social perspective.
"It's the biggest gathering of Jews in Europe, in Germany, since the war," he noted. This year there are 2,300 participants from 36 countries around the world.
"...[L]ast night when we had the opening ceremony in front of 10,000 people, to hold it by the Olympic stadium where Hitler said his speeches in 1936, it was very special for most people there."
He spoke with pride about the British athletes and noted that with 254 competitors, it was the country's biggest showing ever at the European games.
"Whether it be football, tennis, badminton, table tennis, swimming -- that's just but a few -- squash, golf...literally all day long every day there are different sports going on," he said during a brief lunch break and said that members of his delegation are present in just about every sport offered.
Collins said that the Maccabi Games, not to be confused with the Maccabiah Games that take place in Israel every four years, is also exceptional for bringing together Jews from around the world and providing them with the chance to socialize.
Athletes at the European Maccabi Games will compete in 19 sports until the closing ceremony on August 4. The event will also feature a few exhibition games pitting Jewish athletes against German soccer and basketball stars. The sports venues – many of which were built by the Nazis will be open to all, free of charge and under heavy security.
Tuesday’s opening ceremony featured remarks by German President Joachim Gauck and a concert featuring Matisyahu, Dana International and others. The ceremony also recognized the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany.
The European Maccabi Games are held every four years, always two years after the Maccabiah in Israel. Prague hosted the first ever European games in 1929, followed by Antwerp a year later. After a 30-year hiatus, the Jewish games finally returned to European soil as Copenhagen hosted the 1959 competition.
The choice of the Vienna as the host city of 2011 was highly symbolic as it is the first time since World War II that Jewish athletes from all over Europe competed on the territory of the former German Reich.