The sun was shining down on the black chairs burning the bottom of our thighs. It didn’t affect us much as the electric excitement of being at the Maccabiah opening ceremony: our minds were more preoccupied with being in the presence of three impressive figures: Joe Biden, Isaac Herzog and Yair Lapid.
We had waited patiently – even during a tense but temporary electricity blackout – for the three men to arrive. They finally did, and the stadium lit up.
“You have come to us from dozens of nations but represent a single nation – the Jewish nation, the nation of Israel,” Herzog said in his opening address. “This is the power of sports, to change the individual, the team, the country, to be better, to be healthier, to be stronger.”
“This is the power of sports, to change the individual, the team, the country, to be better, to be healthier, to be stronger.”Isaac Herzog
As the American athletes entered the arena, Biden held up his USA hat, waving to the delegation. He later met with members of the team, telling them how proud he was of them.
Supporting the Maccabiah
We watched thousands of people ranging from babies to the elderly enter Teddy Stadium to support the opening of the Games and root for their loved ones and friends participating in the various competitions. The stadium held 30,000 people, and it was packed for the spectacular, star-studded ceremony, which included performances from some of Israel’s top musicians: Hanan Ben-Ari, Static and Ben El, Eden Ben Zaken and Tamir Greenberg.
The more than 70 national teams competing in 42 sports ranged from hundreds of members, such as Israel, the US and Canada, to single members for Kazakhstan, Dominican Republic and Zimbabwe. Each country came out cheering in good spirits. “USA, Argentina, Israel, Mexico!” The participants from all over the world exhibited a great deal of excitement to be representing their countries at the Maccabiah.
Outsiders like us also cheered them on, standing on our feet for hours, not knowing what was going to happen next. Every country came with their own gear, from hats to pins, sweatshirts and shorts, sporting the Maccabiah symbol on them with the name of their country and the colors of their flag.
After the delegates all entered, you could see teens and adults alike running through the stadium asking athletes from other countries to trade. Athletes were removing their shirts, pulling down their pants and doing full costume changes amid the trading. Kids from Mexico would trade their red Adidas pants for a hat that said Australia, and others would trade their Panama shirts for Colombia themed bags.
People hoisted flags all over the place, sometimes with two to three flags in their hands at a time. It was so beautiful how unified the stadium became, and how loud the crowds got when a new delegation came out from behind the stage.
Children and parents who may have spoken a different language were able to communicate through hand gestures and dancing as the music was nonstop all night. Most importantly, they are able to express themselves and talk to one another through the next few weeks during sporting events until the Maccabiah closes on July 26.
Living halfway across the world, Maccabiah has provided us, two Jewish women, pride and recognition in the Jewish athletes from our countries – in our case, the US and Canada – with everyone here to cheer them on!