The Last Word: The power of the Maccabiah

The Maccabiah is both a competitive sporting event and an opportunity for Jews to connect with the Jewish state.

jeremy last 88 (photo credit: )
jeremy last 88
(photo credit: )
It was just before 6 p.m. on August 29, 1965. The American team sat in the locker room at the Yad Eliyahu arena confident of victory in one of the biggest games of their lives. Two hours later the basketball final of the 7th Maccabiah games was over. Team USA had beaten the Israel national team 74-66 in front of a full house to claim the gold medal, and 21-year-old shooting guard Tal Brody knew his life had changed forever. The next year the University of Illinois graduate, who had made his first trip to Israel for the Maccabiah, joined Maccabi Tel Aviv and began a career which changed the face of Israeli sports, climaxing in 1977 when Maccabi won the European Cup final. On July 13 the Maccabiah returns for its 18th edition. More than 5,000 Jewish athletes from all over the world will join Team Israel's 2,000 participants at National Stadium in Ramat Gan for the opening ceremony of the third largest sporting event in the world. Brody's famous story is far from unique and could very well be repeated next month as it has done in the years since. The Maccabiah serves a dual purpose. It is both a competitive sporting event which attracts the best of Jewish sporting prowess, and an opportunity for Jews, both young and old, to connect with the Jewish state. Who knows if Duke University's Jon Scheyer will follow in Brody's footsteps and sign for an Israeli team, as Princeton University graduate David Blatt did when he moved to Maccabi Haifa in 1981. Blatt played for 12 years in Israel before retiring injured and becoming one of the best coaches in European basketball. Many sporting analysts, especially those in Israel, are quick to dismiss the quality of competition at the so-called Jewish Olympics. But here at The Jerusalem Post we are highly anticipating the chance to unearth future stars who could make an impact as a 15-year-old Mark Spitz did in the pool 44 years ago. Just four years ago, at the 17th Maccabiah, defender Leonard Krupnik shone as he played for the US soccer team. The next year he made aliya, moved to Maccabi Netanya and established himself as a top prospect. This season he played 29 games for Maccabi Haifa as the Greens won the league title for the first time in three years. Competition for places at the Maccabiah is highly competitive in many countries, where trials are held to determine who gets the chance to travel to Israel. Throughout the games drug tests are held to catch out those athletes who think they can cheat their way to glory. And it is glory that the participants will be chasing as the eyes of the Jewish world are focused right on them. Let the buildup begin.