Almost five thousand athletes from sixty-five countries came to compete in a variety of different sports, with the Team USA delegation being the largest of the visitors. Three categories of Masters, Open, and Juniors teams came to participate.
The most extensive Maccabiah Games to date didn’t disappoint. Maccabiah “fever” could be felt everywhere. Signs, banners, storefronts, hotels, restaurants all welcomed the athletes, and the much needed tourism and revenue they bring.
The opening ceremony combined pageantry, showmanship, and heart in a way that could only be found in the “Jew-lympics.", as Michael Levine, Team USA’s Beach Volleyball member likes to call it.
Woven throughout the Cirque de Soleil-esqe experience was the underlying realization that from our Jewish history of wandering the desert, we have come to bloom in a free nation of our own. Israel is a nation free to celebrate not only its existence, but its accomplishments -- even if only for the sake of physical feats and cultural pride. It is a nation where thousands of Jews from
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the Diaspora are willing and happy to come and compete, expressing their identity as Jews and their allegiance with Israel.
Further fitting the theme, was the significant number of eighteen, whose numerical value in Hebrew correlates to the letters Chet and Yud, which together spell Chai – Life/Live.
The games themselves were held throughout the country with events going on simultaneously for a ten-day period. Events ran smoothly except for a few minor glitches. Most memorable being a softball game stormed by police because the permit -- or lack thereof – was invalid. Yet the games carried on, with Team Israel dominating, winning more gold than any of the other participant countries.
Closing ceremonies brought the games to a bittersweet end. With the games concluded, the show was not quite over. Performances, speeches, and the celebratory cheers added to the excitement. Swimmer Jason Lezak (US) and Chess Champion Judit Polgar (Hungary) were each awarded titles of “Outstanding Player."
With thousands of athletes leaving the country directly from the ceremony, goodbyes and promises of "I'll Facebook You" rang through the athletic crowd.
However, nothing resonated louder than the encouragement to make Aliyah (the Hebrew term for immigrating to Israel) and, perhaps, most meaningful for the18th Maccabiah games was, as Prime Minister Netanyahu so eloquently chanted, “Am Yisrael Chai (The People of Israel Live) – Long Live Israel!”