PARIS – Shlepping their team tote bags up the aisle of Air France flight 1534 on Monday, and wearing red team t-shirts, France’s Maccabi delegation could hardly be missed.
Just in case, the pilot offered welcoming words before the Airbus departed Paris en route to Berlin for the European Maccabi Games that open on Tuesday night.
“We have on board France’s Maccabi team,” the pilot announced. “In a way, they are representing our country in the Olympics.”
The 80 or so athletes-passengers clapped as they found their seats. The sentiment was weighty, given the physical attacks endured recently by the Jews of France, particularly in Paris – notably, the January 9 terrorist assault on a kosher supermarket
, Hyper Cacher, that killed four Jews.
“We do represent the country,” said Sam Zarka, a soccer player. “It says France on our jerseys. That’s who we play for.”
Competing in Berlin will “mean a lot,” said Zarka.
For him, the German capital is plenty symbolic and personal: French relatives of Zarka’s grandmother, Ketty Arousse, were killed in the Holocaust.
Approximately 2,300 Jewish athletes from 36 countries – including 120 from Israel – will take part in the 14th edition of the European Maccabi Games, cheered on by fans bused in from across the country by the Central Council of Jews in Germany.
Athletes will compete in 19 sports until the closing ceremony on August 4, as well as a few exhibition games pitting Jewish athletes against German soccer and basketball stars.
The sports venues – many of which were built by the Nazis, including Berlin’s Olympiastadion –will be open to all, free of charge and under heavy security.
For the first time ever, the European Maccabi Games will take place in Germany – 70 years after the end of the Holocaust and 50 years after the establishment of the German–Israeli relations.