Australia has always led the parade at the Maccabiah Games opening ceremony, and since the 1997 disaster when four of its participants were killed after the collapse of the Yarkon river bridge into the Ramat Gan stadium, extra emotion has been added to the appearance of the first squad alphabetically.
Australia’s 400-strong strong delegation marching into Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium on Thursday night included 23-year- old Josh Small, the son of tenpin bowler Greg Small who drowned in the tragedy.
Small said: “I’m here representing my father so I’m wearing the same shirt he wore in 1997 at the ceremony when he died.
"I participated in the last Maccabiah, but this is still a deeply emotional event for me. I was seven when my father died and I was very angry. But I’ve got past that and along with the sadness is also happiness that I am back here to carry on doing what my father loved."
The Australian delegation was among the first of the record 7,000 overseas participants to arrive in Israel for the games.
The Jewish sportsmen and women came from 72 countries and together with Israel’s 2,000 strong squad, they will compete in 42 sports in four categories – Junior, Masters, Open and Paralympics.
The Maccabiah is a special event for UK Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould, because among Team GB’s 443-strong squad is his nephew James who will play in the junior rugby
One Brit who is representing Israel rather than the UK is Liverpool-born Lauren Isaacs, 33, who emigrated there four years ago and plays for Israel’s netball team.
Marching with the Brazilian squad is a special guest — Zico, star of the 1978, 1982 and 1986 World Cups.
The largest overseas squad is the 1,100 US delegation including US gymnast Aly Raisman, an Olympics gold medal winner in London.
She is due to be presented with a special award by the families of the 11 Israelis killed at the Munich Olympics in gratitude to her dedicating the Hava Nagila medal-winning floor exercise in London to the slain athletes.