The 20th Maccabiah Games opened Thursday (July 20) night with massive shouts and excitement at Teddy Stadium in the heart of holy city of Jerusalem as some 10,000 Jewish and Israeli athletes greeted exponentially more fans who came to cheer them on.
Pre-recorded video greetings from British Prime Minister Theresa May and Canada’s Justin Trudeau gave extra motivation to athletes from those nations.
A record number of participants has made this year’s Games the biggest ever, with athletes from 80 nations around the world competing to celebrate the half-century mark of the reunification of the holiest city in the Jewish faith.
The Maccabiah Games, known as the “Jewish Olympics,” technically covers athletic events from July 4-18 in various places around the country, comprise the third largest sporting event in the world. (So far this week, the United States has played basketball against Australia. The final score was 5-0. Guess who won?*)
Athletes test their mettle against one another in 46 sports split up into four divisions: Junior, Masters, Open and Paralympics, totally some 3,000 competitions in all.
There are economic benefits as well, according to Mayor Nir Barkat, who says that having the Games in Jerusalem has been responsible for the massive upgrade of the city’s sports infrastructure that will be good for at least the next decade or more.
Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin offered brief remarks during the opening ceremonies.
Netanyahu commented that he would not urge the athletes to “break a leg” — as performers tell each other before they go on stage – as he has bad memories of injuring himself during his own attempts at soccer and wrestling.
Adding that “we are all descendants of the Maccabees,” the prime minister said that despite having suffered the greatest tragedies in history, “we came back. Much success!” he said.
Rivlin opened his arms wide, as if to embrace the entire stadium, greeting athletes and their fans, “Welcome home! It’s so great to see you here in Jerusalem, Israel’s capital city, rebuilt and free, at the opening of the 20th Maccabiah Games, commemorating 50 years since the liberation of Jerusalem.
“The time has come to pluck the fruits of fame,” he said. “To elevate ourselves not just physically, but also spiritually…
“Beloved athletes, our country is your country. Our home is your home. Onwards, Maccabees, the Maccabiah is on!”
*Australia vs. America in basketball? Forget it. America got creamed. But well played!