MACCABIAH , international games, recognized and approved by the International Olympic Committee, held every four years in Israel and open to athletes of the Jewish faith from all countries. The aim of the Maccabiah is to raise the standard of physical culture and sports among Jewish youth and to encourage and foster a sense of belonging to the Jewish people.
The idea of Jewish Olympics was conceived by one of the founders and veteran leaders of the Maccabi movement in Palestine, Joseph Yekutieli, who advocated it with zeal from 1921. After he had succeeded in persuading the mayor of Tel Aviv, Meir Dizengoff, to build the first sports stadium in the country, he brought his plan before the Maccabi World Congress at Ostrava, Czechoslovakia, in 1929 and it was enthusiastically approved. In 1932 the first Maccabiah was held in Tel Aviv, with contingents from 23 countries and 500 athletes.
A great number of the athletes and accompanying personnel remained in Palestine after the Maccabiah and thus the games became not only a tool for stimulating sports but also an important means for promoting Aliyah. The second Maccabiah in 1935 was even more of an "Aliyah Maccabiah," since most of the 1,700 sportsmen from 27 countries, and their escorts, remained in Palestine because of the antisemitism which was sweeping Europe following the Nazis' access to power in Germany. The third Maccabiah could not be held until 1950.
In 1953 the fourth Maccabiah was held. The Maccabi World Union congress which followed it adopted a resolution to build a Maccabiah village to house the visiting contingents. Since then the Maccabiah games have been held regularly every four years, the fifth in 1957, the sixth in 1961, the seventh in 1965, and the eighth in 1969, with an ever-increasing participation of athletes from over 30 countries. The main sports embraced by the Maccabiah are track and field events; gymnastics; swimming and water polo; boxing, wrestling, and fencing; tennis and table tennis; and soccer, basketball, and volleyball. The Maccabiah games contributed to Israeli sports and established themselves as an international Jewish events. Mark *Spitz, who won seven Olympic gold medals, participated in the Maccabiah along with many other world class athletes.
The Maccabi World Union Executive, which sponsors and organizes the Maccabiah games, appoints the International Maccabi Games Committee (imgc). This generally includes the chairmen of the territorial Maccabi organizations. In countries where no organization exists, leading Jewish sportsmen and people connected with athletes are appointed to select and arrange the training of the various teams. Since the third Maccabiah, *Ha-Po'el Israel has taken an active part with its general secretary a member of the imgc. The *Betar and *Elizur sports organizations also participate in the Maccabiah games.
The program for the Maccabiah games includes festive opening and closing ceremonies under the patronage of the president and the prime minister of the State of Israel, with contingents parading under their national flags.
In the 15th Maccabiah of 1997 a terrible tragedy clouded the games. During the opening ceremonies, a newly constructed bridge over the Yarkon River collapsed as the Australian contingent, numbering 731 members, was crossing it on the way to the stadium. Four of the athletes were killed immediately and 70 were injured. Many of the injuries became more serious because of the pollution of the river. The opening ceremonies continued while the rescue operation was under way, until Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called a halt to the festivities. The event tarnished the image of the Maccabiah Games and damaged Israel-Australia relations, especially those with the Australian Jewish community.
In 2002 the 16th Maccabiah was held under the threat of terror attacks. The games were defined as a vehicle of identification of the Jewish people with the State of Israel, but fewer participated than in previous years.
J. Yekutieli, My Road to the First Maccabiah (1969); Maccabiah, the 8th, Maccabiah Omnibus (1969).
[Menahem Savidor /
Shaked Gilboa (2nd ed.)]