More than 10,000 athletes from 60 countries are currently in Israel for the “Jewish Olympics,” the 21st Maccabiah Games, which opens this Thursday evening and will continue through July 26.
Organized by the Maccabi World Union, the Maccabiah has been scheduled to take place every four years since it began in 1932. However, last year’s event was postponed until this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Maccabiah’s opening ceremony on Thursday will be held at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem. It is unclear whether visiting U.S. President Joe Biden will make an address at the event.
This year will see the largest Maccabiah ever held, with more than 30,000 individual competitions across 42 sports. Five new sports – wave surfing, climbing, 3×3 basketball, motocross and paddle – have been added; while weightlifting, after a hiatus of 33 years, has returned to the games. Additional new sports for female competitors include ice hockey, football and futsal.
The Maccabiah Games are the third-largest sports event in the world by number of competitors, after the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup.
The largest delegation to the games comes from Israel, with 1,700 participants; followed by the United States with 1,400 participants, Argentina with 800 participants, and Canada with 700 participants. The Bahamas is participating for the first time, with eight athletes, while Ukraine has provided 45 athletes. A delegation of olim, new immigrants to Israel, will be participating for the first time.
“We need their participation in order to improve competitions or to save competitions. They are coming from Ethiopia, from Ukraine, from Russia, from Mexico, from the USA – we’re looking worldwide for people who have made aliyah,” said Maccabiah CEO Roy Hessing.
The Maccabiah is held in Israel about half of the time, but Hessing would like the Israeli public to become better acquainted with the competition than they are today. For this reason, the organizers have announced this year’s theme as “Sports Celebration in Israel” and have made more than 80 of the Maccabiah events open to the public, including holding them in Israel’s largest sports arenas.
The games will be held at venues in 18 Israeli cities. Some of the competitions’ supporting events include the more than week-long Maccabiah Village festivities at Netanya’s Poleg Beach – where an interactive museum displaying 100 years of Jewish and Israeli sports opened this month – a night run in Jerusalem, a sports and technology fair in Tel Aviv’s velodrome and a number of parties across the country.
“The reason why we started this sports event is to make the connections between Israel and the diaspora stronger,” Hessing said.
Some of the events, such as the opening ceremony, will be broadcast on Israeli television, while the whole event will have live coverage on the Maccabiah website.
“As in every Maccabiah, thousands of Jews from across the diaspora are arriving in Israel and they will have a meaningful opportunity to meet the reality of Israel, to get to know the country, to travel around and strengthen their bond to this place,” said Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata.
“The Maccabiah events are a golden opportunity to encourage aliyah and reveal ourselves to the young people from all of the world’s communities who will become the future Israelis,” she said.
According to Hessing, 5% of Maccabiah athletes end up immigrating to Israel after competing, and any athletes who move to Israel within a year and a half of the games are eligible for additional grants from the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.