Grapevine: Maccabiah memories

The opening of the world's largest Jewish sporting event meant different thing to different people.

Team Isarel opening ceremony to the 19th Maccabiah Games 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Team Isarel opening ceremony to the 19th Maccabiah Games 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
THE OPENING of the Maccabiah Games meant different things to different people. For Jerusalem-based philanthropist Della Worms and her family, it was particularly poignant – because it coincided with the first anniversary of the death of her husband Fred Worms, a former president and later honorary president of the Maccabi World Union. Together with other MWU personalities, Fred Worms had fought hard and long for the opening of the Maccabiah Games to be held in his beloved Jerusalem, to which he had given so much.
Last Wednesday night his family held a memorial service for him; on Thursday morning they went to visit his grave; and on Thursday evening they went to the opening of the Maccabiah at Teddy Stadium.
There, Della Worms had nostalgic memories not only of her husband but of legendary Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek, at whose request the couple had brought the interior of the Cochin Synagogue to the Israel Museum. The Wormses, who remained closely involved with the institution, were named honorary fellows of the museum.
Although for more than half a century he lived in the capital for part of the year, before moving there permanently in 2009, he did not limit his philanthropy in this country to Jerusalem alone.
Worms saw sports as a means of promoting pride in Jewish identity – particularly in young people who had grown up in assimilated environments. The number of participants in this year’s Maccabiah Games, especially those from former Soviet Bloc countries, demonstrates to a great extent how correct he was in his philosophy.
THE OVERRIDING theme of Beit Avi Chai’s annual Tisha Be’av program was hatred, which tradition tells us was the reason for the destruction of the Second Temple.
However, the film that received the greatest applause and the most heartwarming response from the audience was based more on love than on hatred. The award-winning film Precious Life is about the eventually successful attempt to save the life of Muhammad Abu- Mustafa, a Palestinian child from Gaza who was born with a severe immune system deficiency, a genetic condition that had claimed the lives of two of his sisters. Muhammad, his siblings and his parents, Raida and Fauzi, are brought from Gaza to the Edmond and Lily Safra Children’s Hospital at Tel Hashomer’s Sheba Medical Center.
Fauzi returns to Gaza, but Raida remains in Israel for four months caring for her baby; she is an excellent mother.
The story is narrated by Channel 10 journalist Shlomi Eldar, who spent many years covering Gaza and has excellent contacts there. Eldar arranged for Muhammad to be treated by Dr. Raz Somech, the head of pediatric immunology at Sheba. The cost of treatment was paid for by an anonymous Israeli whose son was killed by Palestinians, and who had dedicated his life to stopping the bloodshed on both sides.
Raida has preconceived negative notions about Israelis. Initially, she believes that Eldar’s documentary is for Israeli propaganda purposes, but gradually realizes that he is essentially filming a human interest story. She is worried that people in Gaza will think that she is collaborating with the Jews, and thus says that Jerusalem does not belong to the Jews but to the Palestinians – and that Palestinians are willing to sacrifice their lives for Jerusalem. When Eldar asks her whether she would want Muhammad to become a shahid, or martyr, in the quest for the Holy City, she replies in the affirmative.
Eldar is shocked, and so upset that he calls his cameraman in Gaza and pours out his anger and frustration. The cameraman tells Fauzi, that Raida did not really mean what she said. It becomes clear to Eldar that Raida was speaking out of fear and that she wanted to redeem herself in the eyes of those of her own people who might see the film.
Eldar, who came to the screening at Beit Avi Chai, disclosed that after Muhammad’s operation and bone marrow transplant, which proved successful, Raida asked whether he had repeated their conversation to Dr. Somech. When he replied that he had, she said: “He’s not only a good doctor, he’s an angel.”
The film has been shown in different parts of the world, and reaction has been unfailingly positive – as attested to by some of the postings on Eldar’s Facebook page.