The Maccabiah Games 2021 have officially begun!
The coronavirus pandemic, having pushed the event off to this year, makes the Games feel a little more special because of the postponement. Once more, Jewish athletes from across the globe are reuniting in the “Jewish Olympics” in Israel – and that message of unity is needed now more than ever. Making the event even better and more meaningful is the fact that this year’s Maccabiah Games are expected to be the largest sporting event of 2022.
For years now, there has been concern from both sides about weakened ties between Israel and the Diaspora, and its impact on Jewish peoplehood. While Israeli Jews believe the difficulties of living in the region are often unseen from the Diaspora, Jews living abroad feel similarly. Their struggle does not involve being targeted by rockets from Gaza, but rather centers on a war of narratives they face every day from modern antisemites.
The Maccabiah Games represent the connection that is still there. The chain might have loosened, but it has not severed. For just that reason, Israel is welcoming athletes, coaches, entrepreneurs and tourists who have come for the celebration. While each community’s experience is different, they all come together for this event, which shows that the Jewish people are still united, and that each community supports the other. Take that, boycotters.
The Games kicked off last Thursday at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem with US President Joe Biden in attendance.
This year, those participating in the event are not only faced with the difficulties of their individual sports, but also the subject of immigration, which Israel is trying to get on peoples’ minds. The Aliyah and Integration Ministry on Wednesday announced that it is offering a special absorption benefits package for Maccabiah athletes who choose to immigrate to Israel following the Games, according to The Jerusalem Post’s Zvika Klein.
Making aliyah more appealing
The goal is to make aliyah more appealing. About 5% of Maccabiah athletes choose to immigrate to Israel in the months after the Games. Among the benefits being offered in the package are assistance with scholarships for university studies, a special 150-hour course for learning professional Hebrew on top of the regular Ulpan language courses for immigrants, and assistance in promoting placement of athletes and coaches.
It is not just athletes who are being enticed to move to Israel; entrepreneurs will also be offered special assistance if they choose to immigrate following the Maccabiah Games in order to encourage them to establish businesses in the country – another part of the Start-Up Nation machine.
The thought of immigrating is surely made more appealing by the kind treatment athletes face upon their arrival. Despite airports worldwide leaving passengers waiting in line for hours, Maccabiah athletes were often quite comfortable and notably excited ahead of the Games.
For example, about 1,300 members of the American delegation were hosted in Kfar Maccabiah, where they enjoyed facilities and sports fields for training as well as customized menus and interactive briefing rooms. Not bad, compared to the cardboard beds of the Olympics.
Events in the Maccabiah Games are taking place all over the country. Beginning last week and continuing until July 26, approximately 10,000 Jewish athletes from 61 countries are competing in 42 events from Jerusalem to Haifa. Since 1932, Israel has been hosting Jewish athletes from all over the world to unite with the common intention to compete and earn some medals for their home country, representing not only their states, but their individual Jewish communities as well.
We welcome these athletes and invite them to enjoy all that Israel has to offer. Show the world a united front in the name of the Jewish people, both in Israel and around the world.