Today opens the 20th Jewish Olympics, or Maccabiah Games, where 10,000 Jewish athletes from around the world will compete in Israel, giving them a chance to explore the Holy Land and their Jewish roots.
The Maccabiah Games were the brainchild of 15-year-old Yosef Yekutieli, who got the idea for an international Jewish sporting event after hearing about the Stockholm Olympics in 1912. Nearly two decades after the games were conceived of, 390 athletes from 18 countries participated in the first Maccabiah Games in Tel Aviv in 1932, competing in a stadium — the first of its kind in what was then Mandatory Palestine — that was completed just prior to the opening ceremony.
Seventy-five years later, a record-breaking 10,000 athletes from 85 countries are participating in 45 sporting events. Past competitors have included Olympians, including four-time Olympic gold medalist Jason Lezak, and players of major professional sports…
“Before WWII, Czechoslovakia had 70,000 Jews,” says Gavornikova [Head of the Slovak delegation]. “Nowadays, that number is closer to between 2,000 and 3,000,…Our goal is to find people of Jewish heritage and bring them back to their Jewish identity. And what better way to do this than sport?”