For weeks now, the highways leading to Jerusalem from Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv have been decorated with the faces of Jewish athletes participating in the largest Jewish event ever, the Maccabiah.
The aura of festivity only grows stronger in Jerusalem, where the opening ceremonies will take place. Jerusalem of Gold is now Jerusalem of many, wonderful colors. In just a few days, on Thursday, July 18, 9,000 Jews from 70 communities around the world will march proudly in Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish world, as part of the 19th Maccabiah opening ceremony.
Every four years, Israel’s sticky summer gets all dressed up in honor of Jewish men and women who arrive to celebrate Judaism through sports. At first glance, there is nothing particularly Jewish about sports, but a deeper look reveals so many Jewish values: fairness and respect, self-discipline, good health, mutual consideration, and much more.
The Maccabiah Games are an international athletic event similar to the Olympics, but for mostly Jewish athletes. Arab Israelis can also participate. The International Olympic Committee and World Federation of Sports sanctions the Maccabiah, by participation one of the five largest sporting events in the world. It is categorized as a Regional Games by the IOC.
The Maccabiah is also the world’s largest Jewish athletic competition. The first Maccabiah took place on March 28, 1932. About four hundred sportsmen took part. By the time the second Maccabiah Games was held in April 1935, the number of participants had increased to about 1,350. The third Maccabiah, scheduled for 1938, was delayed until 1950 due to the outbreak of the Second World War.
The entire State of Israel enjoys the benefits of the Maccabiah. Not only does the focus shift from politics and conflict to sports, but the economy benefits from the enormous number of tourists. The fact that many thousands of Jews from all over the world choose to spend their summer in our very humid, small country, makes us all appreciate even more our state’s beauty and our people’s strength.
On the eighth day of the Hebrew month of Av, 1492, the Jews of Spain who didn’t convert to Christianity were asked to leave Spain. These uprooted Jews left what was once home, with nothing but their Jewish faith and pride.
Tomorrow, on the ninth day of the month of Av, Jews around the world will commemorate the destruction of both the First Temple and Second Temple in Jerusalem, which occurred about 655 years apart, but on the same Hebrew date, the ninth of Av–Tisha b’Av .
In Spain, the Marranos had to hide their Judaism and keep Shabbat and other Jewish traditions in secret, knowing they were risking their lives. For centuries, Jews mourned the loss of both Temples; although the two Temples were just buildings, they symbolized our Jewish being, our faith in one God, and our pride in our heritage. Jews were exiled from their own homeland as a result of the destruction of both Temples. The Maccabiah, for 19 times now, marks our Jewish victory. In the free land of Israel, Jews are free to come to their homeland from all over the world to celebrate Jewish peoplehood, as free people.
Leah Garber, Vice President, JCC Association Israel Office