Maccabiah pre-party unites Jewish athletes

Athletes' village hosts Day 1 bash ahead of tonight's opening ceremony in Ramat Gan.

rowing 248.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
rowing 248.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Somebody should have informed the hosts at Kfar Maccabiah that Monday night is the opening spectacle to the Maccabiah games, because the soiree at Kfar Maccabiah on Sunday night certainly set the bar high for Monday's ceremony at Ramat Gan Stadium. It was a refreshing end to the first day of competition for participants in sports such as futsal and cricket, and a relaxing final night before many others begin play on Monday. The Maccabiah action started at 8:30 a.m. Sunday at Zisman Stadium in Tel Aviv, with Brazil defeating Argentina, 2-1, in futsal. The party, which was held in Kfar Maccabiah, where a majority of Maccabiah participants, friends and family are staying, entertained thousands with live music, drinks and foods from around the world. "It's very nice, and even more, it's important because it creates the atmosphere for all of us," said Ian Maplin, 61, of London, who is competing in table tennis. "It's a sporting event, but it's a total event as well. I find it amazing that we're here and everyone here is Jewish, and from all different countries." Maplin, who participated 16 years ago in Maccabiah, said the party venue is much larger and more suitable for the event than the last time he went. He said he particularly enjoys the Kfar Maccabiah because its spacious grounds allow for intermingling between players from all countries. And it is that united feeling about the global - yet intimate - Jewish community that makes Maccabiah a special event. "I think the overall feeling of camaraderie, togetherness, friendliness, people willing to meet and talk to each other - the togetherness as a family is probably the singular most wonderful thing about this event," said Jeremy Banks, 46, of Scotland, who also plays table tennis. "The sport is secondary." Jason Hillcoat, 21, of Montreal, was talking to teammates from the Canadian water polo team as people cloaked in the colors of their countries swirled around him. He said Sunday's party was a fitting representation of the communal sense Maccabiah brings to the Jewish world. "I find that it's very good because it brings out the best in all the different countries to show up and support the cause," he said of Maccabiah. "It's good to have so many people from one religion come together and gather in the homeland." But not everyone is feeling the sense of unity. Only around half of the 2,000-strong Team Israel delegation will march into National Stadium in Ramat Gan at Monday's opening ceremony. The host country was told time and space constraints for the ceremony necessitated the decision. There had been some controversy as event neared, as the heads of a number of the Israeli teams, including the baseball team, claimed that hadn't been informed of the decision by the Olympic Committee of Israel. However, the OCI told The Jerusalem Post it had clearly informed team leaders that not every Israeli athlete would be able to take part in the ceremony. Additionally, there has been somewhat of a political split regarding the recognition of captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit. Teams expressed interest in wearing a yellow armband to support Schalit, but not everyone is jumping at the idea. The US delegation has declined to wear the armbands as a team, but individuals are free to wear them, said Ron Carner, head of the US delegation. "I have no problem with any individual wearing it," Carner said. "I'm not going to stop any individual from expressing their beliefs. It was an organizational decision." But much more than politics have already occurred before Monday night's ceremony, with several sports got underway Sunday. Russia, the defending futsal champions, asserted its dominance with a crushing 17-1 defeat of Hungary. Fierce competition could come from Israel, though, as it beat Australia, 7-2. Two of the rugby powerhouses earned victories today, as the US defeated Canada, 34-13, and Israel silenced Chile with a 89-5 win. In men's soccer, the US and Israel shut out their opponents to start the tournament on a positive note. The US held Peru scoreless, 4-0, while Canada surrendered three goals to Israel. Both teams, however, have to watch out for Mexico, which defeated Venezuela, 8-1. On the women's side, the US established itself as a force by smacking Brazil to an 8-0 beating. Shutouts were the theme of day for the women, as Canada beat Israel and Australia muted Great Britain by 1-0 scores. In cricket, no team came out with convincing victories in the two matches played Sunday. South Africa beat Australia, 179-175, and India edged out Israel, 134-127, proving the cricket gold medal is totally up for grabs. Jeremy Last contributed to this report.