The Maccabiah Games


(The lit torch in the opening ceremonies for the 2001 Maccabiah Games in Israel)

The Maccabiah Games are a cultural sporting event that take place in Israel every 4 years (typically a year after the Olympic games).  To most, the games are known as the Jewish Olympics.  The best Jewish athletes from all over the world compete in a wide variety of sports, at 4 different levels (Open, Masters, Juniors, and Disabled).  Along with the rigorous competition, the athletes also develop a sense of Jewish Identity through participating.  This is essentially the goal of the Maccabi World Union, to further Jewish identity. 

The original concept for the Maccabi games came from Yosef Yekutieli.  He, at the time, was a 15 year old of Russian decent.  He was so driven by the tragic events of the 1912 Olympics, that he came up with the idea of hosting a worldwide Jewish Olympics in the land of Palestine.  10 years later in 1928, he proposed this plan to the Jewish National Fund.  He proposed that the games be in commemoration of the 1800th anniversary of the Bar Kochba Rebellion, the Jewish revolt against the Roman.  Hence, the adopting of the name Maccabiah for the Olympics.  It recognizes the great importance of the ancient Maccabees both in the sports world and the Jewish world.

With great compromise the proposal was passed and the first Maccabiah scheduled.  It took place on March 28th, 1932 and much to doubters surprise was a great success.  Since then the participation of both athletes and bystanders in the Maccabiah Games have continued to steadily increase.  The first games hosted 319 athletes from 18 countries.  In 2005, the 17th annual Maccabiah games hosted 5,000 athletes worldwide.  The success of the games promotes a pride in Judaism and an appropriation of Israeli culture to other Countries through out the world. 

(The logo for the 17th annual Maccabiah in Israel)

Every four years, thousands of bystanders watch as the beautiful torch is lit in the Holy Land of Israel.  For a brief two weeks the majority of the country can forget about the struggles of day to day life in Israel and enjoy incredible athletic competitions among their closest friends.  Each individual involved, be it athletes or fans, develop a new found sense of Jewish identity as well as a close camaraderie among each other.  It allows Jews world wide to experience the magnificent culture the defines Israel. 

Sparked by the immediate success of the Games in Israel there are now Maccabiah Games held all over the world.  The United States holds a less competitive version for athletes up to the age of 16 each year in 3-4 different locations.  This allows everyone to experience the spirit of the Games.  Athletes from all over the world participate including many from Israel.  This allows for the spread of culture to reach a different crowd.  The Maccabiah Games are also held in Europe, Canada, and Pan-America.  This cultural sporting event has taken the nation by storm bringing with it core Jewish traditions and values that change the lives of many in such a short period of time.

(Team Israel marching in at the Opening Ceremonies)