The 21st Maccabiah Games came to a close with a ceremony at Live Park in Rishon Lezion on Monday night.
This year’s Games, which featured approximately 10,000 athletes from over 60 countries, were the largest ever, seeing athletes participate in 38 different branches of sports.
Five new sports were included this year, namely surfing, climbing, three-on-three basketball, padel and beach football. In addition, weightlifting was reintroduced.
From Pais Arena in Jerusalem to Poleg Beach in Netanya, events took place in facilities across Israel for over 12 days.Participants began to fill the grounds at Live Park over two hours before the closing festivities officially kicked off, the atmosphere was much more relaxed than it was during the opening ceremonies almost two weeks prior.
Athletes brought their uniforms to the grass field looking to trade with participants from other countries, some laid out a few shirts, while others amassed massive collections that could have filled a small store.
By the time the ceremony began, it was difficult to determine which country a specific athlete was from given the amount of trading that went on.
Brazilians sported Argentine jackets, Americans wore Colombian hats, and Canadians donned Australian track-pants among hundreds of other outfit combinations.
Needless to say, the competitive spirit present throughout the Games was replaced by one of complete camaraderie.
The scene reflected the perception that Aaron Morestky had of Israel during his first time in the country competing in Football for Team USA.
“Straight out of the gate everyone was so welcoming and friendly,” Moretsky said. “You can really be yourself here. They don’t really care. People won’t judge you.”
“Straight out of the gate everyone was so welcoming and friendly, you can really be yourself here. They don’t really care. People won’t judge you.”Aaron Morestky
Moretsky became more connected with both his home country as well as Israel during the Maccabiah, saying that “It felt fantastic to represent the colors. It awakened something. I didn’t have that much pride before, both as a Jew and as an American. I was representing something bigger than myself.”
The Maccabiah Games were marked by moments of mutual respect and brotherhood on the playing field as well, according to Tal Sidi, a lawn bowler from Great Britain who won a bronze medal.
“It’s amazing how everyone is getting along so well now,” he remarked, referring to the uniform trading happening all around the grounds.
“There’s a lot of love here. It’s one world we’re in and it's very supportive. I think the atmosphere is like this especially because everybody is Jewish. It’s shown mostly in sports when we’re playing. One of my teammates got injured and couldn’t fully participate, and the Australians made exceptions. In the end, we won the game and that helped a lot. If this were somewhere else, I don’t know if that would’ve happened.”
Shortly after participants took their seats for the ceremony, the thousands of Jews from around the world rose and sang Hatikvah in unison.
Regardless of their country of origin, all paid respect to the host country and the home of the Jewish people at large.
Exuberant performances then took over the ceremony, featuring prominent Israeli artists including Noa Kirel. Athletes, coaches, medical staff, members of the media and everyone else involved in the games danced together and mingled.
For many participants, the best part of the Maccabiah Games is opportunities like these.
“Socially, the Games were great,” Jacob Stotland of Canada’s Junior Track and Field team, said. “I got to meet people from all around the world and I’d like to come back, whether it’s in three years or 25 years from now.”
To conclude the ceremony, the torch was set aside until it will be called upon for the next Maccabiah Games. Just as the torch of the Maccabiah has remained lit for the past 101 years, the memories that this year’s participants made in Israel will never fade.