Held in Israel every four years, the Maccabiah Games is named for Jewish warrior Judah Maccabe who fought against the ancient Greeks. Many notable athletes have competed in the Maccabiah, including swimmer Mark Spitz, gymnast Mitch Gaylord, golfer Corey Pavin, basketball players Ernie Grunfeld and Danny Shayes and tennis player Dick Savitt. The following is a brief history of the games:
Maccabiah I (1932) — The first Maccabiah Games was nicknamed the “White Horse Olympics” because Tel Aviv mayor Dizengoff led a parade honoring the games through the city streets while riding a white horse. The opening ceremony witnessed the release of 120 carrier pigeons, 10 pigeons for each of the 12 tribes of Israel, whose mission was to send to the world news of the opening of the first Maccabiah games. Approximately 390 athletes from 14 countries participated in the competition.
Maccabiah II (1935) — These games were was held despite official opposition by the British Mandatory government. A German delegation of 134 Jews flouted Nazi Germany's order not to attend the games and the delegation refused to fly the German flag during the opening ceremonies. The games became known as the “Aliyah Olympics” because many of the athletes from the various countries chose to remain and settle in Israel. With few exceptions, the Bulgarian delegation stayed in Israel, sending home their sports equipment and musical instruments. A total of 28 countries were represented by 1,350 athletes.
Maccabiah III (1950) — Originally scheduled for 1938, the event was postponed because of the international political situation and British fears of an upsurge in illegal immigration. The first games to be held after the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel was attended by 800 athletes representing 19 countries.
Maccabiah IV (1953) — This Maccabiah initiated the tradition of bringing from Modi'in, Judah Maccabee's birthplace, the torch used to light the flame at the opening ceremony. A total of 890 athletes from 12 countries participated.
Maccabiah V (1957) — Some Eastern European countries did not send delegations to protest the Sinai Campaign. Competitors included American weightlifter and Olympic gold medalist Isaac Berger and Australian national tennis champion Eva Dulding. Hungarian four-time Olympic gold medalist Agnes Kleti performed in two exhibitions. The policy of playing the Maccabiah every four years was established.
Maccabiah VI (1961) — The International Olympics Committee endowed the Maccabi World Union with Olympic standing and declared the Maccabiah a “Regional Sports Event.” American Dick Savitt won two gold medals. Exhibitions were performed by two American Olympic medalists, Rafer Johnson (decathlon) and John Thomas (high jump). The event had 1,000 competitors from 27 nations.
Maccabiah VII (1965) — Several well-known athletes won medals, including swimmer Mark Spitz (winner of seven gold medals in the Munich Olympics), swimmer Marilyn Ramenofsky (then USA record-holder and silver medalist in the Rome Olympics in the 400-meter freestyle) and international tennis player Tom Okker (Holland).
Maccabiah VIII (1969) — Wimbledon winner Julie Heldman participated in the eighth Maccabiah.
Maccabiah IX (1973) — This event was dedicated to the 11 Israeli Olympians murdered by terrorists during the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Maccabiah X (1977) — “The Jubilee Maccabiah” marked 25 years of Maccabiah competition. More than 2,700 competitors from 33 countries participated.
Maccabiah XI (1981) — The games honored the memory of Maccabiah World Union President and International Maccabiah Games Committee President Pierre Gildesgame who died in a car accident. Thirty countries sent 3,450 to play in the games. Dan Shayes, the future Denver Nugget, played for the American basketball squad.
Maccabiah XII (1985) — Olympic legend Mark Spitz opened the games lighting a torch along with three children of Israeli Olympians murdered at the Munich Olympics. Four thousand sportsman from 40 countries attended the games. The junior Maccabiah was established.
Maccabiah XIII (1889) — The opening torch was carried by former world swimming champion Hanoch Budin, an IDF disabled veteran. The event brought together 4,500 athletes from 45 countries.
Maccabiah XIV (1993)— A total 5,500 athletes from 57 nations competed.
Maccabiah XV (1997) — Former Montreal Canadien coach Jacques Demers led a Canadian hockey squad consisting of numerous NHL players. The event was marred when a pedestrian bridge collapsed and four Australian athletes were killed and more than 60 other people were injured.
Maccabiah XVI (2001) — On the verge of cancellation because of ongoing violence, the 16th Maccabiah attracted more than 3,000 athletes from 41 Countries to participate in 44 sports. Women’s basketball returned to the Games and women’s soccer was added. U.S. Olympic swimming gold medalist and former world record holder, Lenny Krayzelburg earned a gold and set a new Maccabiah record in the 100 meter backstroke.
Maccabiah XVII (2005) — Some 7,000 athletes from 55 countries participated in the 2005 Maccabiah Games.
Maccabiah XVIII (2009) — Approximately 9,000 athletes from 54 countries participated.
Source: Mitchell G. Bard and Moshe Schwartz. 1001 Facts Everyone Should Know About Israel. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005.