A Maccabiah Like No Other

Two months ago today, the Canadian delegation arrived back in Toronto after the incredible 20th Maccabiah Games.

Having time to reflect back on the honour and privilege it was to lead a delegation of 600 people on this exceptional journey, I can certainly say that although we went to Israel to watch Canadian athletes make history by achieving sports excellence, at the same time, many of us experienced more of a spiritual, life changing event, rather than an athletic competition.

During the first week, along with a group of 240 junior athletes and staff, we participated in Maccabi Canada’s Azrieli Israel Experience – the ultimate Israel Experience for athletes.  As an Israeli, it was extremely moving and emotional for me to experience Israel through the eyes of almost half of our junior athletes and staff for whom it was their first visit to Israel.  Watching them fall in love with the country as they climbed Masada and dipped in the Dead Sea, overcome by emotion as they walked the ancient streets of Jerusalem and stood before the magnificent Western Wall, and grasping the understanding that you do not have to live in Israel to belong and feel at home, brought tears to my eyes.

As described beautifully by David Ratner, a member of the Junior Basketball team: “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.

For those who had been to Israel before, watching them form lifelong friendships with other Jewish athletes from across Canada, united over their passion and achievements in sports, all brought to life the understanding that Maccabi is an organization like no other.

Maccabi Canada’s Azrieli Israel Experience for the junior delegation culminated on July 6th as we were joined by the rest of the Canadian delegation to walk into Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem at the Opening Ceremonies, marking the beginning of the 20th Maccabiah Games.  It is hard to describe the sea of emotions that flooded all 600 of us as we marched into the sound of the cheering crowd and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s voice greeting and congratulating our Canadian athletes.  Seeing the array of colour flags in the stands representing every Jewish community in the world, including an entire red Canadian section, while hearing the voices of 45,000 people from 80 different countries, all knowing and singing the words to HaTikva together, forever bonded by their love for Israel, pride of Judaism and passion for sports, was overwhelming.

The following two weeks we experienced extreme highs and devastating lows, as our determined athletes competed to the best of their ability winning over 70 medals, including 15 gold medals.  Sasha Gollish, the greatest Canadian middle distance runner to date, won the 800, 1500 and 5000 metre races breaking the Maccabi record in the 1500 by 8 seconds.  For this outstanding achievement, Sasha was named Female Athlete of the Games.  Olympian Josh Binstock and his partner Aaron Nusbaum made Canadian history by winning Beach Volleyball gold. Jeremy Langer, won silver in a high level tennis tournament beating the number 1 and 2 seeds on route to the finals that were played in an extreme Tel Aviv heat wave. Our hockey teams made history by playing highly competitive hockey, in Jerusalem, in Israel, in July!  The atmosphere was electrifying at the very fast paced, high level Open Hockey final where Canada beat the USA in front of more than 8,000 fans. Our Open Men’s Softball team played in the last event of the Games, in front of 1000 plus spectators at Kibbutz Gezer, to win gold, beating the USA 5-4 with a walk off hit in the final first of extra innings. Our swimmers at the Wingate pool, and our Triathletes in Tiberius, all performed to their best winning numerous medals. And these are only some highlights of our athletes’ achievements.

There were so many more highlights during the many ceremonies, cross country tours, social, cultural and religious activities that gave our delegation members a profound understanding of what it means to belong to a global Jewish community, to be a part of the Jewish people and forever belong to the land of Israel.  Throughout the experience each and every one of us had the honour to meet and get to know amazing people from Canada and around the world, and I can attest that lifelong friendships continue to flourish and are now becoming a part of our Maccabi family.

I want to thank the Canadian leadership and team heads for working tirelessly and relentlessly through countless responsibilities and demanding schedules, and keeping our delegation on track during the Games. Our coaches, managers, chaperones, therapists, doctors, media and logistics teams – thank you for accepting the challenge and making Canada the best managed and cared for delegation. To our generous donors and supporters who make the Games a dream come true, without your support the Games for so many would not be possible. To Maccabi World Union, we thank you for hosting the best run Games ever, and of course a special mention should be made to our office staff Cathy, Marina, Michele and volunteers, for making the year leading up to the Games as successful and smooth as it could be.

Finally, I want to take a moment to thank our athletes and their families for making the sacrifices that it takes to support and become an Elite Athlete, and for choosing Maccabi to be one of the stops on your Jewish journey.

I want to share an album of our Canadian delegation at the Opening Ceremonies, and a link to the media coverage our athletes received during the Games.  I also want to take this opportunity to wish everyone Shana Tova, and to invite you to join us on our next adventure at the Maccabi International Youth Games in Israel in July, 2018.

Grateful and honoured,
Tali Dubrovsky
National Executive Director
Maccabi Canada