Maccabiah Games opens in style in Jerusalem

A record 10,000 athletes danced and sang in a lavish ceremony in front of 30,000 spectators


The 20th Maccabiah got officially under way in Jerusalem tonight as a record 10,000 participants from 74 countries poured into Teddy Stadium for a lavish opening ceremony, which also marked 50 years since the reunification of the city. 

The Jewish athletes danced and sang their way around the stadium in front of 30,000 spectators. The Israeli delegation was the largest with 2,400 participants and the US the largest overseas contingent, numbering 1,161. Bernard Davidson, Brian Green and Jack Mattey were the three flag-bearers for the 400-strong Team Maccabi Great Britain.  

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had two messages for the participants. “Firstly, excel in sport and reach for the skies and secondly, remember that we are all one people, descendants of the Maccabees and this is your homeland too." 

He revealed that his own sporting ambitions had been curtailed by breaking an arm in wrestling as a teenager and breaking his leg playing football.

President Reuven Rivlin, an avid Beitar Jerusalem fan, said: "Today Jerusalem has surrendered to Maccabi but we do not mind. We strive to go faster, higher and stronger. That is the spirit of the Maccabiah and the spirit of Zionism."

The Maccabiah torchbearers included Israeli Olympic medalists Or Sasson and Yarden Gerbi, with the biggest and longest cheer reserved for NBA basketball player Omri Casspi who yesterday agreed a one-year deal with NBA champions Golden State Warriors.

The opening ceremony included a dazzling medley of music, singing, and dancing with an emphasis on Jewish tradition, the customary fireworks. There was even an impromptu wedding for two members of the Canadian team, with a chuppah hastily erected and a rabbi ready with Kiddush wine. There was also an enacted history of the previous 19 Maccabiah games and how it intertwined with 20th century Jewish and Israeli history.

World Maccabiah Union chairman Yair Hamburger said: "My parents came here for the Maccabiah from Germany and stayed. The Maccabiah saved my family from the clutches of the Nazis. Thanks to the Maccabiah I have five children and 19 grandchildren."  


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