For 27-year-old Australian soccer player Dara Podjarski the end of the Games on Thursday marked the start of her new life in the Jewish state.
By ABI GOODMAN
With the Maccabiah Games over for another four years most of the 5,000 international athletes have left or will soon be heading home.
For 27-year-old Australian Dara Podjarski, however, the end of the Games on Thursday marked the start of her new life in the Jewish state.
The women's soccer team player will be making aliya and heading to study Hebrew in a Jerusalem ulpan straight from the Maccabiah.
The move to come and live in Israel was motivated by wide ranging factors for Podjarski.
"On the one hand, it has been a complex mixture of ideological and emotional foundations... On the other hand, it simply felt right. I'm simply doing this at the right time in my life. It's a natural progression and it's extremely exciting," she told The Jerusalem Post.
Podjarski will be following in the footsteps of a number of former Maccabiah participants including 1970s US basketball star Tal Brody and American soccer player Leo Krupnik who moved here four years ago.
As is the norm, prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu used his speech at the July 13 opening ceremony of the Games to try and encourage the participants to move to Israel.
"I thank you for participating, but I ask you to do one more thing. I ask that you make aliya, not just for the Maccabiah - come and be one of us, every day of the year," said Netanyahu.
Podjarski admitted she was excited to hear the country's leader utter those words only moments after she entered the Ramat Gan stadium alongside more than 400 members of the Australian delegation.
There have been discussions surrounding an announcement by the Absorption Ministry that a program to encourage participants of this years Maccabiah Games to make aliya is to be launched.
Under the program the athletes would be offered scholarships to study here and money to buy sports equipment, amongst other benefits.
Although some may be convinced by this, Podjarski said she has not been looking for such incentives. "Recruiting people to make aliya or even 'to Judaism' is always uncomfortable to me," she noted.
"Living in Israel can be a reality for more people if it connects to their
reality," she added.
"I feel like I'm moving into a place full of opportunity, of innovation, of dynamism - of course in terms of Judaism but also academically, professionally and culturally. Those aspects don't seem to be out there as much."
After completing ulpan she plans to take a masters in community leadership and philanthropy studies at the Hebrew University.
And what about the Australian women's soccer team? Well, it didn't have the best tournament, starting well with a 1-0 victory over Great Britain before falling 7-0 to the US, 5-0 to Israel and 3-0 to Canada.
At least the young ladies finished well with a respectable 1-1 draw with the mighty Brazilians.
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