Maccabiah logo 370.
(photo credit: Hana Ben Ano and Tal Huber)
There is something quintessentially Jewish – and Israeli – about holding the
opening of the 19th Maccabiah in Jerusalem tonight, so soon after Tisha Be’av,
the day that marks the historical disasters that struck the Jewish
The Maccabiah is named for the victorious rebellion led by Judah
Maccabee against the Seleucid Empire nearly 2,200 years ago. It represents the
remarkable survival of the Jewish people and their triumph over
The Maccabi movement grew together with the rebirth of Zionism
in the 20th century, and by 1914, it had more than 100 clubs across Europe. The
man credited for initiating the Maccabiah was Yosef Yekutieli, the only delegate
from Mandate Palestine at the 1929 World Maccabi Congress, whose proposal for
what he called the “Maccabiah Games” – based on his dream as a 15-year-old – was
Almost 500 athletes from 23 countries attended the
First Maccabiah in Tel Aviv in 1932, the 1,800th anniversary of the Bar Kochba
revolt against the Romans.
Today, 65 years after the establishment of the
State of Israel, a record 9,000 athletes from some 75 countries are here for the
Maccabiah. This is a time for celebration. But it is also a time to pause and
reflect. We must remember the Munich massacre, in which 11 members of the
Israeli team were murdered at the Summer Olympics in 1972.
We should also
recall the Maccabiah disaster in 1997, when the collapse of the bridge over the
Yarkon River leading to the Ramat Gan stadium resulted in the deaths of four
members of the Australian team.
Some 500 participants from the Australian
delegation attended a memorial for Yetty Bennett, Elizabeth Sawicki, Warren
Zines and Greg Small at the site on Monday, the eve of Tisha Be’av. Small’s
23-year-old son, Josh, who is taking part in the Maccabiah this year, spoke
poignantly at the ceremony.
“This is my second Maccabiah Games in 10-pin
bowling, just like my dad, Greg,” he said. “In fact, I’m wearing my dad’s
Maccabi Australia president Lisa Borowick noted how her
involvement in the 1997 tragedy led her to dedicate herself to the Maccabi
“We have two choices to make: to dwell in the past with a
shadow over your head... [or] continue to write the chapters of your life but
never forget to honor and remember what happened,” she said.
sportswoman who has captured the hearts of the nation with her fighting spirit
is rowing champion Yasmin Feingold. After her rowing boat overturned and trapped
her for four minutes under the Yarkon River in 2009, Feingold, 20, was pulled
out of the polluted water by a heroic onlooker, Avi Toibin, 62.
from a coma and memory loss, she underwent a lengthy rehabilitation process and
overcame huge challenges to be crowned Israeli rowing champion once
Another inspiring sportswoman is Aly Raisman, 19, the artistic
gymnast who is here with her parents and the 1,100-member Team USA. Raisman made
us all proud at the Summer Olympics last year when she won a gold medal for her
floor routine to the tune of Hava Nagila.
Raisman, who spoke out in
support of a minute’s silence at the London Olympics to remember the Munich 11,
will be honored by leading the parade at tonight’s opening ceremony at Teddy
The Jerusalem Post, which like the Maccabiah was established in
1932, has published a commemorative magazine that will be distributed at the
ceremony and with Friday’s newspaper.
“The Maccabiah is that rare event
with transcendent power to connect,” Sports Editor Uriel Sturm writes in the
foreword. “It connects fellow Jews throughout the world to our homeland through
our shared passion, sport.”
“As in all generations since the First
Maccabiah in 1932, this spectacular enterprise is created by mighty forces of
volunteers from every walk of life in our nation in Israel and the Diaspora,
expressing the vitality, values, unity and solidarity of the Jewish people – and
this year, in Jerusalem – the eternal capital of Israel,” declares Amir Peled,
the chairman of the 19th Maccabiah.
We warmly welcome all those
participating in this year’s Games, echoing the words of President Shimon Peres:
“Israel is a story of human achievement and you are now part of that story.” At
the same time, while we celebrate the 19th Maccabiah and look forward to a
bright sporting future, let us not forget our nation’s past.