Jewish Sports Connects Israeli and Diaspora Jewry

July 18, 2013 will be recorded as an historic day for Israel and the Jewish community.We (my wife, Brenda and our son, Micah) arrived at Teddy Kolek stadium in Jerusalem with thousands of visitors, friends and relatives waiting in anticipation of the start of the Opening Ceremonies of the 19th Maccabiah Games.Our younger son, Adam (member of the Canadian rugby team) would soon be marching in with the Canadian delegation along with a record forty-one other countries that sent teams. We were part of the Canadian Maccabiah contingent. Canada sent the second largest diaspora delegation. The Canadian energy, spirit and pride was represented by an extraordinary group of 200 Junior Athletes, 200 Open Athletes, 100 Masters Athletes and 120 coaching and support staff. Canada sent 44 teams that competed in 24 sporting events.

Over eight thousand Jewish athletes and coaches marched behind their country flags printed on huge helium balloons that later would be tethered around the stadium creating a sea of colour representing the Jewish communities of the world. Thirty-five thousand participants in the stadium joined hundreds of thousands who watched on Israeli TV as the ceremony drew together Jews from all lands. The ceremony was an exciting mix of music, dance, formal speeches from President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mayor Nir Barkat and remembrance. The lighting of the Maccabiah flame marked the official opening of the Games and over the next two weeks, athletes of all ages competed and came together in a renewed spirit of Jewish peoplehood.

There are many doors through which Jews living in the diaspora can and do engage with the land of Israel and our Israeli brethren. The Maccabiah Games provides a unique platform for Jews – young and old – to come together and spend an intensive two weeks fulfilling the dream of representing their country and participating in highly competitive sports for which they have been training for months (if not years). At the same time, it brings many more thousands of supporters (family and friends) to Israel who, in turn, have the opportunity to meet others from many countries and share the wonderful experience of watching their children, grandchildren and spouses compete and come together in supporting Israel. Through this event, connections are made and the bonds with Israel are strengthened.

Many of the country teams organized pre Games tours for their participants that provided the opportunity to learn about and experience Israel. Maccabi Canada took the junior athletes on such a tour that gave our younger athletes to unique opportunity to experience Israel prior to competing in their sport. Parents, like us, had time between events to do our personal touring and see friends and relatives. In spite of the heat, being in Israel and meeting new friends and watching our children compete was a wonderful experience and much different way to engage with Israel.

Israel, as expected, had the largest delegation followed by United States and Canada. Israel was dominant in the games coming first in number of medals followed by the US with Canada achieving fourth place in the medal standings. Although Adam’s rugby team did not win a medal, the team played hard and, as with other athletes, as important as winning was the opportunity to meet new friends and take pride in being part of the Maccabiah Games.

Adam’s relationship with Israel was clearly strengthened by his being on the Canadian team, an experience he shared with the 500 Canadians he marched with at the Opening Ceremony.

The Maccabiah Games is an important program as it contributes in a critical way to the connection of Jews living in the diaspora with Israel. At the same time, Israelis have the opportunity to host and meet other Jews and understand the importance of Diaspora Jewry to the well being of Israel.

Maccabi Canada plays an important role in the strengthening the relationship among Jews from all lands – where athletes and families come together, connect and understand the importance of being part of a strong and resilient Jewish community. The success of the hard work, energy and time of the Maccabi Canada team is evidenced by the sentiments heard from many of our athletes that they look forward to representing Canada at the next Maccabiah Games.