The Maccabiah is famously called the “Jewish Olympics” since it is the world’s largest athletic event that brings Jews from the nations to Israel for two weeks of serious competition.
In fact, it is second or third only to the actual Olympics and possibly FIFA in terms of number of athletes. Some of the Jewish athletes participating in the Maccabiah also complete in the Olympics which is why the schedule is usually staggered with that event.
But the location of the Maccabiah – which draws thousands of world-class Jewish athletes every four years – is what makes it unique. The event is aways in Israel and is meant to emphasize the centrality of the Jewish state for the Jewish people.
This year’s event, the 21st Maccabiah, will include 10,000 youth and adult athletes from 65 countries Some 42 sports and 3,000 events are on the scheduled between July 12 to 26.
ALL ISRAEL NEWS caught up with a coach of one of a Maccabi U.S.A. teams after meeting him and his players at a combined basketball “peace” camp in Jerusalem.
Matthew Malc is a self-described “guy who fell in love with the game of basketball” and has coached high school basketball as a career. He was chosen to be head coach of America’s under-18 men’s basketball team for the Maccabiah this year. He described the process of recruiting players for the team and having to comb the rosters of high school basketball players around the United States looking for Jewish players.
“We went through every single name that sounded Jewish. We reached out, we found details – it was a really difficult task, but it was a lot of fun to meet these guys,” Malc said. “I would send a message just kind of hoping they were Jewish. And some of them were. A lot of them said, ‘Coach, I get it, but I'm not Jewish.’ So that was fine as well. But we did a really good job – we worked hard, we found tremendous talent.”
After two tryouts of 100 kids, they ended with 12 players from all over the U.S. who are here now acclimating and practicing in preparation for their first game against Brazil on Wednesday.
Aside from preparing for competition, Malc described a physical and emotional tour of the Holy Land for the young players, many of whom have been away from their family for a few weeks. Part of the journey here included volunteering with disabled Israeli soldiers and a game of wheelchair basketball with them.
Meanwhile, some of the players and coaches dealt with deaths of loved ones at home while they were here. And, in addition to recent losses, many of the players are descendants of Holocaust survivors and made the meaningful and somber visit to Yad Vashem Holocaust Center.
“We got to see a lot of the sights and scenes. Tomorrow will be at Yad Vashem, tonight we’re having a dinner with a Holocaust survivor,” Malc recounted. “So it’s been about basketball, it’s been about the spirituality, it's been about religion, and it's been about pride. And most importantly for us, it's been about family and sharing this experience together as one.”
“It means the world to us – we are representing the United States of America while playing in Israel. It just doesn't get any better than that for us.”
This year, U.S. President Joe Biden will be in Israel at the same time as the games and will possibly be on hand for the opening ceremonies in Jerusalem on Thursday, another source of pride for the American team.
Nicole Jansezian was the news editor and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS.