Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Maccabiah Games: Uniting Jews from Near and Far

July 23, 2013 3:09 am 0 comments

Opening night of the 19th Maccabiah Games on Thursday, July 18. Photo: Arsen Ostrovsky / Tazpit News Agency.

Every four years, the Maccabiah Games, the world’s third largest sporting competition (after the Olympics and FIFA), are held in Israel. Also called the “Jewish Olympics,” the games date back to 1932, when they were first held in the British Mandate of Palestine – with 390 Jewish athletes competing from 14 different countries. This year the quadrennial sports competition is hosting 9,000 athletes from 78 countries, some of whom have traveled from the most remote Jewish communities in the world to take part in the historical competition.

Among the 78 delegations, there are 21 nations participating for the first time in the history of the Games, including a tennis player from Mongolia, and athletes from Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Cuba. The Jewish athletes from those respective countries, along with other far away states, were able to compete thanks to two Jewish visionaries: Jeffrey Sudikoff of Los Angeles and Macabi Carasso of Israel.

After attending the 2009 Games, Sudikoff, a venture capitalist, realized that there were a surprising number of countries where Jewish people resided that did not compete in the Games. He went to the Maccabi World Union (the international Jewish sports organization formed in 1921 that organizes the Games) with a proposal to bring Jewish athletes to the games from countries that had never participated. With Sudikoff funding the project, called “Small and Lost Communities,” a 61-year-old Israeli aptly named Macabi Carasso, set out on a mission to recruit Jewish competitors.

Team USA. Photo: Arsen Ostrovsky / Tazpit News Agency.

Carasso, whose family immigrated from Salonika in 1924 and established a successful Israeli automobile-import business, traveled to 18 countries over the past two years looking for athletes.

He visited a number of remote places in Latin America, the Caribbean, and countries of the former Yugoslavia, among others, and discovered areas with tiny Jewish populations.

“What we’re looking for in these communities is not a super-athlete — someone who jumps the highest or is a tennis champion — but to create a link between these communities and the Jewish world,” Carasso told the JTA.

Indeed, the Maccabi World Union is the largest and longest-running Jewish sports organization, spanning over five continents, with more than 60 countries, 450 clubs, and 400,000 members. As a Zionist organization, its primary goal is to utilize sports as a means to bring Jewish people of all ages closer to Judaism and Israel. Its signature event, the Maccabiah Games, highlights the organization’s message of unity and continuity.

That message was certainly highlighted for the 55-member delegation from Cuba, as noted in an article by The New York Times. Although Cuba has no diplomatic relations with Israel, the official delegation of Jewish athletes and coaches were able to visit because of recently relaxed travel restrictions for large groups departing from Havana, according to the Times.

Team Australia. Photo: Arsen Ostrovsky / Tazpit News Agency.

There are approximately 1,500 Jews living in Cuba, and hundreds have immigrated to Israel in the last few years. Rafael Gonzalez, 24, and his sister, Roxana, 25, are competing in archery. The Gonzalez siblings are from Cienfuegos on the Cuban coast, a city of 150,000 whose Jewish population is 25 people.

Others like Andrew Szabo of the West African nation Guinea-Bissau, one of two delegations representing Africa in this year’s Maccabiah, see the games as an ideal way to unite Jews across the world. “I think the Maccabiah is the ultimate form of Jewish unity,” he told the Times. “It’s not a cutthroat competition, but about getting together, the camaraderie.”

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture First English-Language Trailer Debuts for Natalie Portman’s Hebrew Film ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness,’ Based on Amos Oz’s Memoir (VIDEO)

    First English-Language Trailer Debuts for Natalie Portman’s Hebrew Film ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness,’ Based on Amos Oz’s Memoir (VIDEO)

    The first English-language trailer for Natalie Portman’s directorial debut — A Tale of Love and Darkness — based on Israeli author Amos Oz’s memoir, was released on Thursday. The movie, originally filmed in Hebrew, tells the story of Oz’s childhood in Jerusalem at the end of the British Mandate and the early years of Israel’s independence. Portman, who was born in Israel and speaks fluent Hebrew, plays the lead role of Fania, the author’s mother. She struggles to raise her son as she deals with inner demons, a […]

    Read more →
  • Features As Berlin Prices Rise, Israelis Turn East for German Real-Estate Bargains

    As Berlin Prices Rise, Israelis Turn East for German Real-Estate Bargains

    JNS.org – Sonnenallee, a street in Berlin’s Neukölln district, looks like it comes straight out of an Arab city — so much so that it goes by the nickname “Gaza Strip.” Kebab and bakery shops are advertised in Arabic; men sit in men-only coffee shops; and bridal shop windows showcase glittery, not-so-stylish gowns. But take a random turn, and you’ll find a swath of bars, burger joints, and Indian restaurants where hip Berliners announce that they have arrived to urban coolness. […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Slays in ‘Wonder Woman’ Trailer (VIDEO)

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Slays in ‘Wonder Woman’ Trailer (VIDEO)

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot engages in fierce action sequences in the new Wonder Woman trailer, which Warner Bros. premiered during the San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday. The nearly 3-minute trailer, the first to debut for the superhero film, shows scenes of Diana, princess of the Amazons, fighting alongside men in the battle against the world’s toughest enemies. The first shot of the video shows Wonder Woman discovering a man, Steve Trevor (played by actor Chris Pine), washed ashore. The clip then takes viewers to the all-female island where Wonder Woman was born. […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    Is diplomacy worthwhile, even if the end result isn’t what we hoped for? That is the question, among many others, posed by the new play Oslo, by J.T. Rogers. Making its New York debut at Lincoln Center, the play examines the secret diplomatic process that led to the historic 1993 peace accords. The character of Shimon Peres makes an appearance onstage — and he, along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, tower over the proceedings. But they mainly do so in absentia. Instead, […]

    Read more →
  • Spirituality/Tradition Sports Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    JNS.org – Other than being part of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, Sandy Koufax and Dean Kremer have something else in common: a respect for Jewish tradition. Koufax — who was recently ranked by ESPN as the best left-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball (MLB) history — decided not to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because the game fell on Yom Kippur. “I would do the same,” Kremer said in an interview. Last month, the 20-year-old Kremer became […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    The famed lead guitarist of British rock band Queen, Brian May, encouraged Jewish singer-songwriter Adam Lambert to perform in Hebrew during their upcoming joint concert in Israel, an entertainment industry advocacy organization reported on Tuesday. During a recent interview with Israeli television personality Assi Azar, May was played a 2005 video of Lambert singing the popular song Shir L’Shalom, (Song for Peace). May was so impressed by Lambert’s singing of the Hebrew track that he told the American singer, “We have to do that. Let’s […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    JNS.org – Kenyan-born marathoner Lonah Chemtai is expected to compete for Israel at the Olympics Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil next month after gaining a last minute approval. “I am very proud [to represent Israel] and I hope to achieve a new personal best time,” Chemtai told Reuters. Chemtai, who grew up a rural village in western Kenya, first came to Israel in 2009 to care of the children of her country’s ambassador to Israel. The 27-year-old runner recently gained […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    To date or not to date? That is not the question for most Modern Orthodox singles in New York. The question is when will they find their future spouses, and when will their families stop nagging them about having babies? Inspired by the success of the Israeli show “Srugim,” Leah Gottfried, 25, decided she would create and star in her own show, “Soon By You.” “Dating is so serious already,” Gottfried said. “We wanted to take a lighter approach and laugh at the […]

    Read more →