10 Memorable Days In Berlin
By: Tali Dubrovsky. Photography: Nathalie Lussier and Keren Winer
After having had a few days to rest and reflect on Team Canada’s experience at the European Maccabi Games, outstanding is the word that comes to mind. Going to Berlin, none of us knew what was to come athletically and/or spiritually, but we all knew that we are about to embark on a unique, life changing journey.
From the beginning, upon arrival at the Estrel hotel, we could feel the electrifying buzz in the air. Home to the 2,300 Games participants, the hotel lobby was action packed and filled with people of all ages and nationalities speaking a variety of languages, all on a Maccabi mission, united by excitement and anticipation.
The Canadian delegation consisted of a Youth Boys Basketball team, three Masters Golfers and a Masters Swimmer. Having participants of all age categories, all sports, and from every country stay in the same accommodation centre, provided an opportunity for all the delegations to get to know each other, and created a bond amongst the Canadian athletes.
To begin the experience, on the first morning the basketball team joined a group of 600 junior athletes from 36 countries on a visit to the memorial site of the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. More than 200,000 people were imprisoned in the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp between 1936 and 1945. At first the prisoners were mostly political opponents of the Nazi regime. However, increasing numbers of members of groups defined by the National Socialists as racially or biologically inferior were later included. Tens of thousands of people died of starvation, disease, forced labor and mistreatment, or were victims of the systematic extermination operations of the SS. In addition to meeting a 93 year old survivor who shared his memories of Sachsenhausen and answered the athlete’s questions, a memorial service for all Sachsenhausen victims was held at the end of the visit. Junior athletes from each country read names of victims and laid wreaths in their memory.
While the junior athletes visited Sachsenhausen, all other athletes attended a memorial service at the Olympic Park in Berlin. Participants were addressed by the German Justice Minister who spoke about Germany’s zero tolerance for anti-semitism and called the historic treatment of Jews in Germany “shaming”. A 93 year old holocaust survivor Margot Friedlader, an accomplished German athlete in her youth who was forbidden from competing by Nazi policies, spoke to the audience and asked everyone to take part in memory of her family and other athletes who did not survive. Her message reinforced the importance of the Maccabi athletes being in and competing in Berlin, giving us the feeling that we were representing them.
This emotional day ended with all participants gathering at the Olympic Park in Berlin for the magnificent opening ceremonies of the European Maccabi Games. Many of the facilities where the games took place, including the open-air stage and stadium, were originally built by the Nazis for the 1936 Olympics, shortly after Adolf Hitler became Germany’s chancellor. The sight of thousands of Jewish athletes marching into the stadium where Jews were previously banned, parading by the same seat in which Hitler sat, and uniting with a crowd of 8,000 in singing HaTikva, were all a testament to the triumph of the Jewish spirit, the international Jewish family that is Maccabi and announcing to the world Never Again!
Flooding the competition venues with hundreds of talented Jewish athletes was another reinforcement that we are here to stay. High level soccer, water polo, basketball, marathon, tennis, golf, equestrian, futsal, swimming, volleyball, track, field hockey and many other competitive tournaments took place in these Games.
Team Canada fared well with our Basketball team winning a Bronze medal following a semi-final win over Great Britain, and a win over Turkey in the Bronze medal game. Eddy Lang, our swimmer, finished with no less than 5 medals! Three Gold medals in 200M Individual Medley, 100M back and 100M fly, and two Silver medals in free and medley mixed relays where he swam with athletes from Scotland, Great Britain and South Africa.
Canadian Golfers dominated the podium bringing home Gold and Silver in Singles, a Bronze in Net Score and a team Gold. A course record was set by American Golfer Ben Feld who shot 64 on a par 72 course. A notable achievement that a young Jewish golfer from Philadelphia, set the record at Stopleheid golf club in Berlin.
The athletes gave it their all at these games and displayed a level of sportsmanship and camaraderie amongst competing teams that may be new to those participating in a Maccabi event for the first time, but is expected by all Maccabi veterans.
Participating in a mass Shabbat service with hundreds of people reciting Adon Olam, followed by a 2,300 person Shabbat dinner in the city of Berlin, is a meaningful experience for any Jew. Having it recorded in the Guinness Book of world records made it that much more memorable. Each guest was given a numbered bracelet so that the vast number of attendees could be counted. An official Guinness World Records adjudicator was on hand to verify that the previous record of just over 2,000 participants was broken at the European Maccabi Games.
There was a magical atmosphere on Shabbat as many different Jewish traditions were carried out, such as blessings and the breaking of bread, and later singing and dancing. It was a special feeling to see some athletes celebrating Shabbat for the first time, and others celebrating as part of their weekly routine.
During our stay, Berliners welcomed Maccabi participants with open arms and a helping smile in every corner. Today’s Berliners showed us that this generation is eager to start a new chapter and deserves a clean slate. Berlin is not generally considered a popular destination for Jewish tourists, and I can admit it wasn’t on my list. I want to thank Maccabi for allowing me this experience and for re-establishing a relationship that for many was long gone.
Berlin in the Media
Berlin Maccabi Games called a triumph of Good over Evil – CJN, Paul Lungen and Alex Davis, July 29, 2015
Canadian Delegation Marching in Opening Ceremonies -Video – Youtube, July 28, 2015
Jewish athletes proud to compete at European Maccabi Games in Berlin – Toronto Sun, Mike Koreen, July 28, 2015
…and then we take Berlin – Jewish Free Press Calgary, July 16, 2015
Jeremy Freedman to be Canada’s flag bearer at the European Games in Berlin – Maccabi Canada, July 8, 2015
One Month Away to 14th European Maccabi Games – Maccabi Canada – July 9, 2015