You have probably heard of the Maccabiah Games, but did you know that it is actually the third-largest sporting event in the world when measured by the number of competitors?
The Maccabiah Games take place every four years and the twenty-first edition has recently wrapped up in Israel. It brought together roughly 10,000 youth and adult sportspeople from around the world to compete across 3,000 events in 42 sports.
Amazingly, the idea of the Games was first put forward by a 15 year old. Joseph Yekutieli came up with the idea in 1912 as he felt there were not enough international competitions open to Jewish athletes. It took 20 years for his idea to come to fruition, but the first games took place in 1932.
There are several misconceptions surrounding the Games. However, the biggest is that it is only open to Jewish athletes (one of its many alternative names is the “Jewish Olympics”). In fact, any Israeli athlete may enter, regardless of religion, and at the 2022 edition, Adam Alkeian became the first Israeli Bedouin to compete and impressively, he is just 15 years old. (Incidentally, the youngest Israeli to take part was 12 year old Lior Sherf (table tennis) and the oldest was 90 year old Yosef Shachmon (tennis)).
Unsurprisingly, the Maccabiah Games are named after the Maccabees, the Jewish fighters from the Second Temple era. Because of that, the torch that ignites the flame at the Games’ opening ceremony begins its journey in the town of Modi’in, the home of the ancient warriors. This year, the torches were carried by five top Israeli sportspeople, Avishag Semberg, who won a Bronze in Taekwondo at the Tokyo Olympics, the simmer Anastasia Gorbenko, the Paralympic swimmers Mark Malyar and Iyad Shalabi, and the baseball player Ian Kinsler. At the opening ceremony, attended by President Biden, the main touch was lit the Israeli Olympic medallists Linoy Ashram (Rhythmic Gymnastics) and Artem Dolgopyat (Judo).
The Maccabiah Games are not only growing in popularity, but more and more sports are added with every edition. For instance, this year, paddle, motocross, 3×3 basketball, climbing and wave surfing where included for the first time. They also added futsal, football and ice hockey for women for the first time, and weightlifting returned to the games after a 33 years hiatus.
While you may not be able to attend the Maccabiah Games in Israel again for a few more years, you will be able to visit a brand new museum at the Maccabiah Village in Netanya that is due to open to the public in October 2022. It will house numerous interactive exhibits as well as pieces of memorabilia such as Alex Averbukh’s pole-vaulting pole, Mark Spitz’ swimming cap, and a basketball ball signed by Tal Brody.
Furthermore, there are other editions of the Maccabiah Games that take place around the world, Such as in Europe and America, so you may not need to wait that long if you are hoping to go cheer on your favourite Jewish and/or Israeli athletes.