It was two weeks of medals and memories, familiar athletic events and new connections to Jewish tradition.
The quadrennial Maccabiah Games, the so-called Jewish Olympics that ended this week at a music-filled closing ceremony in Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium, featured several Israeli and Maccabiah records set, and many expected gold medals (the U.S. in baseball and basketball and golf, Canada in hockey, Israel in swimming). Competition also included chess and rugby/
But many competitors said the highlight of their fortnight in Israel was the land itself. An extensive schedule of tours was part of the Maccabiah experience, including visits to the Western Wall and Yad Vashem.
“There’s so much more [to the Maccabiah] than playing sports,” Jeffrey Bukantz, general secretary of Maccabi USA, told San Francisco’s jweekly newspaper, pointing to the Maccabiah’s Israel Connect program. “It’s to the point that Israel Connect is more important than the actual sports. The kids are really impacted by the program.”
Under Israel Connect auspices, some 120 members of the U.S. delegation — athletes in their 20s and 30s — marked their bar and bat mitzvahs at a group ceremony. On the grounds of a reception center in the hills west of Jerusalem, they participated in the ceremony in a hall lined with red, white and blue balloons.
Luke Rosener, a 22-year-old bar mitzvah from California who had not had the ceremony as a teen, said he didn’t “know what to expect. I know it’s a big thing in the Jewish culture. You have your bar mitzvah when you’re 13, and it seemed my time had passed. But this gives me a second opportunity.”