February 25, 2020

Maccabiah Games Come to a Close

The 16th Maccabiah Games ended with a lot of fanfare, flaming batons and fireworks — and a sigh of relief from the organizers that the much-anticipated event had ended safely and without mishap.

There were hundreds of police officers and soldiers surrounding the outdoor Jerusalem space where the event was held. In addition, X-ray scanners and metal detectors checked bags and bodies, making the attendees feel more secure.

This was the first time the Maccabiah opening and closing ceremonies were held in Jerusalem. Last week’s opening event was at Teddy Stadium, in the city’s southern corner; the closing party was in the cavity of Sultan’s Pool, a Herodian reservoir that looks up at the ancient walls of the Old City.

One delegation head said that he would breathe more easily once his athletes were home safe and sound, but that he was glad the participants had attended this year’s games.

"This was about solidarity, showing a deep connection to the State of Israel," said Richard Feldman, the delegation head for Great Britain, who brought 160 athletes instead of the usual 350 British delegates.

Indeed, at the closing ceremony, "Am Echad," (or One Nation) and "We Are One" were both printed on the T-shirts worn by American athletes.

"This year’s Maccabiah made a statement, and the athletes should feel proud," said Bob Spivack, president of the Philadelphia-based Maccabiah USA. "It’s about more than sports."

Israel blew away the rest of the field in the medal race, winning 96 gold, 74 silver and 74 bronze medals. The U.S. team came in second, with 21 gold, 23 silver and 30 bronze medals.

Israeli athletes, who were used to the security situation in their native land, constituted the largest team; its member athletes were considered among the most skilled and competitive.

With this year’s competition safely behind them, some began setting their sights to the future. "We need to start planning now for the next games in four years," said Mark Berman, a coach for the Israeli softball team. "My view is that this continues to serve a purpose. It’s bonding for Jewish athletes, and I’m encouraged that so many individuals made a statement and showed up for the Maccabiah."

It didn’t seem as if the athletes were ready to leave after Monday night’s closing ceremony. They stamped their feet, waved colored flashlights and hooted their way through the show, which included belly dancers, the Israel Defense Force choir performing disco numbers, and a helicopter bearing the Maccabiah flame from Teddy Stadium.

In return, the athletes were thanked and applauded for their decision to compete.

"We’re grateful to the athletes, because without them, we wouldn’t have had the Maccabiah at all," said Oudi Recanati, chairman of the Maccabi World Union and one of the sponsors of the 16th Games, which were shortened to seven days from the usual 10.

Despite the low turnout and some unusual competitions — in some events every team won a medal, because there were only three teams — it seemed that the significance of this year’s games was that they took place at all during such a tense and trying time for Israel.

"The very fact that the 16th Maccabiah was held, against all odds, is a tribute to the Jewish people of the world," Recanati said.