Maccabiah Games – Experience of a Lifetime

Growing up as a boy who had a passion for basketball, never did my spiritual Jewish connection spark a change in the way I viewed life and people. I always honored my Jewish heritage and respected my religion’s homeland. Yet, never did I really tie the true connection to Israel. Participation in the 20th Maccabiah Games became the moment when the countless unseen hours of hard work and passionate dedication for my basketball dream eventually paid off. Prior to the Games was one long year filled with excitement, fundraising, nervousness, gear and the undying passion to continue perfecting our basketball skills. As the time came, I realized that there was no proper routine to prepare myself for such a once in a lifetime experience.

I’d always hear stories about Israel’s unique beauty and the overwhelming harmony of her land.  However, nothing could be compared to the feeling of representing Canada as a proud Jew in my homeland. It was only once our plane flew over the infinitely blue oceans and I set eyes on one of the most beautiful countries in the world did I realize the principal mission of the Maccabiah: strengthening Jewish athletes’ connection to the State of Israel by staging the highest possible levels of athletic competitions. Upon exiting the plane and leaving the airport, a very special, different and unique feeling of belonging came over me.

Other than the Middle Eastern heat, a whole new culture and special style of life was everywhere. Even though this was my first time in the Holy Land, I immediately felt a connection to the country, its people and the religion surrounding me. It was at this moment that I realized what Israel truly meant to the Jewish people: Home.

After many exciting hours of touring the Jewish state, experiencing its’ captivating beauty, food and people never ceased to amaze me. Our visit to Jerusalem’s eternal Western Wall remains one of my most touching spiritual moments. This holy site is filled with Jews from all over the world, who come to pray and thank Hashem for all we are blessed with – including this amazing land! Having heard many stories of dropping a note with a wish in the Wall’s cracks or praying at this holy site was inspiring, but actually being present there and being part of it was amazing!

Other than visiting Israel’s renowned landmarks, such as the Tel Aviv beaches, Baha’i Gardens, Carmel Mountain, the Jaffa Port, Caesarea, the Dead Sea, Massada, the Kotel and much more, I was overwhelmed by the picturesque sunsets, was stunned by the country’s unique agriculture and the people that only Israel grooms so specially.

To commence the Maccabiah games, 10,000 Jewish athletes from 80 countries all over the world were welcomed in the long anticipated and incredible Opening Ceremony! While exchanging pins, trading gear and creating new friendships, Jews from all over the globe were celebrating in excitement. It was amazing to see that every athlete shares a different background from a different part of the world, but everyone was united by the same Jewish faith.

As the last firework lit the dark sky and the final buses departed, the joyous memories of being united as one religion will forever stay fresh in each participant’s mind… this is the power of Israel. After many practices, training camps and ‘off-court’ efforts, the games have finally arrived! Other than the phenomenal feeling of representing the top Jewish athletes from your country and competing very seriously, sportsmanship and friendships are constantly developed. Prior to games, the competitive spirit of winning a medal is what fuels every team’s ambition. However, even as our main goal was to beat our competition, we’d always show respect to the other team by trading gifts and shaking hands pre and post game – regardless the score.

To not keep the whole focus of the tournament on strictly winning, many parties were added to create new friendships and understand Israel’s joyous side. However, as the end was growing near, winning a medal became almost crucial. Team Canada’s Junior Boys Basketball fought their way to the last whistle and managed to win (63-60) a well earned bronze medal over Israel’s national team. The feeling of winning such a prized possession was out of this world and will stay engraved in each team member’s memory forever.

Discovering Israel was Maccabiah’s most sacred gift, which strengthened the bond between thousands through sport, life-long friendships and religious faith. Every single participant will bring home not only athletic achievements but fond memories for many generations to recount. They will become ambassadors of Israeli pride and achievements into all 80 participating countries from the 20th Maccabiah (2017).