At last summer’s Olympic Games in Beijing, U.S. swimmer Jason Lezak was in the shadow of teammate Michael Phelps, despite Lezak’s record-breaking final leg in the 4×100 meter freestyle relay that kept alive Phelp’s quest for eight gold medals.
At this summer’s Maccabiah Games in Israel, Lezak is in the spotlight.
During the 18th rendition of the so-called Jewish Olympics, Lezak, at 33 taking part in his first Maccabiah competition, is the most feted of some 8,000 athletes from 65 countries.
He lit the torch at the nationally televised opening ceremonies Monday in Ramat Gan Stadium, right, met Israeli politicians, took part in a mass bar/bat mitzvah event, and was followed by photographers wherever he went.
“To do it with so many other people at the same time was an experience”, he said of the bar/bat mitzvah. At the Western Wall, he tucked a personal note between the stones’ crevices. “It’s hard to put in words. It’s something I’ve never really felt before.”
During the opening ceremonies, Joshua Small, a ten-pin bowler from Australia whose father died in the 1997 bridge collapse over the Yarkon River during the 15th Maccabiah Games’ opening ceremonies, recited Kaddish.
Competition began this week, preceded by teams marching under their countries’ flags in the opening ceremonies, left, and tours of Israel.
“I thank you for coming. I thank you for participating, but I ask you to do one more thing,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the athletes. “I ask that you make aliyah, not just for the Maccabiah. Come be one of us, every day of the year.” To encourage Maccabiah participants to immigrate, the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption announced extra financial benefits for athletes and coaches who become olim.