The 19th Maccabiah

We celebrate the 19th Maccabiah and look forward to a bright sporting future, let us not forget our nation’s past.

Maccabiah logo 370 (photo credit: Hana Ben Ano and Tal Huber)
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 people.
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 tragedy.
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 unanimously approved.
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 bowling shirt.”
Maccabi Australia president Lisa Borowick noted how her involvement in the 1997 tragedy led her to dedicate herself to the Maccabi movement.
“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.
An Israeli 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.
Emerging from a coma and memory loss, she underwent a lengthy rehabilitation process and overcame huge challenges to be crowned Israeli rowing champion once again.
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 Stadium.
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.