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The Maccabiah Games (a.k.a. the World Maccabiah Games; Hebrew: משחקי המכביה or Hebrew: משחקי המכביה העולמית; plural Maccabiot) first held in 1932, are an international Jewish multi-sport event now held quadrennially in Israel. It is the third-largest sporting event in the world, with 9,000 athletes competing on behalf of 78 countries. The Maccabiah, which is organized by the Maccabi World Union, was declared a "Regional Sport Event" by, and under the auspices of and supervision of, the International Olympic Committee and international sports federations in 1960. The Maccabiah is often referred to as the "Jewish Olympics".
The 19th Maccabiah, the most recent edition of the Games, was held in 2013. The next edition, the 20th Maccabiah, will be held in July 2017. The most recent Games brought together 9,000 athletes, making it the third-largest international sporting event in the world (after the Olympics and the Pan American Games). The 9000 athletes competed on behalf of 78 countries.
Originally, the Maccabiah was held every three years; since the 4th Maccabiah, the event is held the year following the Olympic Games. In contrast with other large multi-sport events such as the Olympics, competitions at the Maccabiah are organized into four distinct divisions – Juniors, Open, Masters, and Disabled.
Maccabiah is open to Jewish athletes as well as Israeli athletes regardless of religion. Arab Israelis have also competed in it. The Maccabiah is a forum for Jewish athletes to meet and convene, it also provides these athletes with opportunities to explore Israel and Jewish history.
The name Maccabiah was chosen after Judah Maccabee, a Jewish leader that defended his country from king Antiochus. Modi'in, Judah's birthplace is also the starting location of the torch that's used to light the flames at the opening ceremony, a tradition that started at the 4th Maccabiah.
The Maccabiah games were the result of a proposal put forward by Yosef Yekutieli in 1929 at the Maccabi World Congress. Yekutieli, who heard about the Stockholm Olympics, wanted to form a representation for Eretz Yisrael. Following the appointment of the new British Palestine High Commissioner, Sir Arthur Grenfell Wauchope, the Maccabiah got the go-ahead. The 1st Maccabiah opened on March 28, 1932. The Maccabiah Stadium in Tel Aviv, which was built with donations, was filled to capacity. Roughly 400 athletes from 18 countries took part in everything from swimming, football, and handball, to various athletics. In the first games, the Polish delegation took first place.
Following the success of the first games, the 2nd Maccabiah was held from April 2 to 10, 1935 despite official opposition by the British Mandatory government. Over 1,300 athletes from 28 nations participated. The 3rd Maccabiah which was originally scheduled for spring of 1938 were postponed until 1950 due to British concerns of large-scale illegal immigration, World War II, and the Independence War. It became the first Maccabiah to be held after the establishment of the State of Israel.
Starting from the 4th Maccabiah, the games were changed to take place every four years on the year following the Olympics. The 15th edition was marred by what became known as the Maccabiah bridge disaster when a temporary bridge built for the march of athletes at the opening ceremony collapsed, plunging about 100 members of the Australian delegation into the polluted waters of Yarkon River. Four athletes were killed and 63 injured. More than 5,000 participants from over fifty countries competed in those games.
Over the last two decades, the number of participants have grown to 7,700 in the 17th Maccabiah. The most recent Maccabiah, the 19th Maccabiah, brought together 9000 athletes from 78 countries, making it the 3rd largest sporting event in the world and the largest sporting event in 2013, behind the Pan-Am Games and the Olympics.
Prior to World War II there was an attempt to organize a winter Maccabiah. Due to the relatively warm temperatures in Palestine, the winter Maccabiot were organized in European nations. The 1st Winter Maccabiah was held in Zakopane, Poland February 2 to 5, 1933. The games were met with great opposition; the Gazeta Warszawska newspaper encouraged Polish youth to intervene during the games to prevent the "Jewification of Polish winter sports venues". A second attempt at the winter games was relatively more successful. The 2nd Winter Maccabiah took place February 18 to 22, 1936 in Banská Bystrica, (then Czechoslovakia). In the games, 2,000 athletes from 12 nations participated. This was the last time a winter Maccabiah was ever held and the only two Maccabiot to not take place in the Land of Israel; although Maccabi still runs smaller regional winter games to date.
The Maccabiah ceremony are two ceremonial events that take place during the first and last days of the Maccabiah games. The ceremonies are an important part of the Jewish culture in Israel and the Zionist movement. The ceremonies of the Maccabiah can trace their roots to the early Olympics games of the 20th century. As such, they share many similarities.
The opening ceremonies represent the official commencement of the Maccabiah. Some sports however, such as Golf and Rugby, might start prior to the opening ceremonies in order to finish on time. The opening ceremony for the first games were held at the new Maccabiah Stadium. The Maccabiah Stadium which is located next to the Yarkon River in Tel Aviv was finished just the night before. The Stadium also hosted the 2nd Maccabiah in 1935. For the 3rd Maccabiah, the opening ceremony took place in a new stadium in Ramat Gan. The stadium has been hosting the opening ceremonies of the Maccaibah ever since with the exception of the 16th and 19th Maccabiah games which were held in Teddy Stadium, Jerusalem.
The ceremonies often start with the introduction of the active participants of the Maccabi youth movement. After the parade of nations the opening ceremony continues on with a presentation of artistic displays of music, singing, dance, and theater representative of the Jewish culture. In recent games, Jewish singers from around the world were invited to participate in the opening ceremony. For example, in 2013, Grammy Award-winner Miri Ben-Ari and X-Factor USA finalist Carly Rose Sonenclar performed at the opening ceremony.
Parade of Nations
Just like at the Olympics, the Maccabiah starts out with a "Parade of Nations", during which most participating athletes march into the stadium, country by country. The countries enter the stadium in accordance with the Hebrew Alphabet. The parade of nations, in contrast to some other games, include junior and disabled athletes who also partake in the competitions. In accordance with the Maccabiah's tradition, the Israeli delegation always enters last.
The closing ceremony of Maccabiah Games takes place after all sporting events have concluded. Typically, a member of Maccabi or some other well-known figure make their closing speech and the Games officially close. The ceremony includes large artistic displays of music, singing, and dance. Various Jewish singers perform during the closing ceremony. In recent years, the closing ceremonies included popular musicians in live music and dancing.
A medal ceremony is held after each Maccabiah event is concluded. The winner, second and third-place competitors or teams stand on top of a three-tiered rostrum to be awarded their respective medals. Medals are awarded by an official Maccabi member.
The Maccabiah games recognizes all 28 current Olympic sports, plus many other sports such as chess, cricket and netball. In contrast with the Olympic games and other major international sporting events, the Maccabiah rules regarding accepting new sports are very lenient. New sports are accepted to the Maccabiah Games provided that competitions will only take place if four separate delegations bring competitors for that sport. (three in the case of female sports as well as the junior divisions) As a result, the Maccabiah has held various unique competitions such as duplicate bridge. Karate, not yet on the Olympic schedule, made its debut in 1977 at the 10th Maccabiah Games. Largely due to the efforts of American karate sensei, Alex Sternberg, the requisite number of initial countries signed on and agreed to send a delegation. Since 1977, karate has participated uninterrupted. Although, at the beginning, karate was only contested in the fighting or kumite category, forms or kata was included in 1981. In 1985, women's karate was added. Junior and youth categories made their debut in 2009. The World Karate Federation, a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) oversees and supervises the rules of karate competition at the Maccabiah.
The Maccabiah games are organized into four distinct divisions: Open, Junior, Masters, and Paralympics.
- Junior games – The Junior Maccabiah games are open to any qualifying athlete aged 15–18.
- Masters games – The masters games are designed to accommodate older competitors; these games are divided into a number of different age categories
- Open games – The open games are generally unlimited in age and are intended for the best athletes from each delegation, bound by the governing international rules in each sport
- Paralympic games – The paralympic games are generally open to all athletes with a range of physical and intellectual disabilities. Past games included Para-cycling, Paralympic swimming, Para table tennis, Half Marathon, and Wheelchair Basketball.
In recent Maccabiot there has been a renewed interest to introduce new sports to the Maccabiah. In the 15th Maccabiah games Ice hockey was first introduced. Ice hockey was not included in subsequent games but returned in the 19th Maccabiah. Squash became an official sport in the 10th Maccabiah Games in 1977. The 19th Maccabiah was also granted provisional approval for dressage and jumping competitions from the FEI.
Champions and medalists
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Athletes who have competed in the Maccabiah Games are Mark Spitz, Lenny Krayzelburg, Jason Lezak, and Marilyn Ramenofsky (swimming); Mitch Gaylord, Abie Grossfeld, Ágnes Keleti, Valery Belenky, Aaron Meland, and Kerri Strug (gymnastics); Ernie Grunfeld, Danny Schayes, (coaches); Larry Brown, Michel Serfaty, Jordan Freed, Nat Holman and Dolph Schayes (basketball); Carina Benninga (field hockey); Lillian Copeland, Jessica Goodkin, Gerry Ashworth, and Gary Gubner (track and field); Angela Buxton, Brad Gilbert, Julie Heldman, Allen Fox, Nicolás Massú, and Dick Savitt (tennis); Dave Blackburn (softball); Jason Taban (badminton); Angelica Rozeanu (table tennis); Sergey Sharikov, Vadim Gutzeit and Mariya Mazina (fencing); Isaac Berger and Frank Spellman (weightlifting); and Lindsey Durlacher, Jason Goldman, Fred Oberlander and Henry Wittenberg (wrestling); Madison Gordon-Lavaee (volleyball); Donald Spero (rowing); Bruce Fleisher (golf); and Adam Bacher (cricket); Boris Gelfand and Judith Polgar (chess); Elizabeth Foody (interpretive dance); Aaron R. Schwid (bowling); Irwin Cotler (ping pong); Marcelo Lipatin, Jeff Agoos and Jonathan Bornstein (association football), and Steve March Tormé (fast-pitch softball).; Shawn Lipman (Rugby).Dov Sternberg (Karate), Ilyse Sternberg (karate).
The Maccabiah Games have grown into one of the world's largest sporting event with 76 participating countries in the latest edition of the Maccabiah. Below is a list of countries that have participated in the most recent games.
Early games featured many delegations from the Arab nations. Iran, which debuted at the 7th Maccabiah, stopped participating following the Iranian Revolution. Countries that have previously participated but have not in the most recent Maccabiah are:
- Maccabi Australia
- Maccabi World Union
- Sports in Israel
- European Maccabi Games 2015
- Muscular Judaism
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