The 17th Maccabiah Games

(July 11, 2005)

On July 11, 2005, some 7,000 men and women athletes from 55 countries from around the world marched into the Ramat Gan International Stadium together with 4,000 dancers, singers, and performers from Israel and the Diaspora. The ceremony was opened by President Moshe Katsav.

Every four years, the best Jewish athletes come to Israel from all over the world to compete in the Maccabiah Games - “the Jewish Olympics”.

The Maccabi movement, named for Judah Maccabee, was initiated in 1895-96 when the first all-Jewish Maccabi gymnastics club was formed in Constantinople. By the end of World War I, more than 100 Maccabi-style clubs existed in Europe. The first Maccabiah Games, featuring 14 countries and 390 athletes, was held in 1932. World events forced the delay of the third Maccabiah Games, scheduled for 1938, until 1950. The Maccabiah Games have been a quadrennial event since 1957. The 60th annual traditional carrying of the torch took place during the Hanukkah holiday last December near the graves of the Maccabees in Modi'in with the participation of thousands of members of the Maccabi youth movement.

The Games today are organized by the International Maccabiah Committee and are sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee and World Federation of Sports. The Maccabiah Games, ranking among the five largest sports gatherings in the world in number of participants, are considered Regional Games by the International Olympic Committee.

In the opening competitions, Asala Shehadeh, 17, from the Arab village of Sakhnin in the Galilee, captured Israel's first gold medal, taking first place in the women's 200 meter breaststroke. Although often called the Jewish Olympics, competition in the Maccabiah is open to Israeli citizens of all religions.

Overcoming terrorism through sport

Also taking part in the opening ceremony will be the participants of “Project Tikvah” - a special project of the Maccabi World Union, which injects hope to victims of terrorism, rehabilitating them through sport. Terrorist attacks maim and wound 10 times more people than they kill. At the moment 139 adult and child victims of terrorism participate in this project, with a waiting list of 400, who will start as soon as sufficient funds are received.

Asael was watching TV with his 5-year-old brother Avishai when a terrorist gunman burst into the Shabo family's living room in June 2002, spraying bullets in every direction. His mother Rachel and three brothers were brutally murdered in the attack. The surgeons who amputated his right leg at first felt that sports might not be a good idea, but now they are fully convinced that Asael's frenetic activity is actually helping to build his bones and develop his muscles. His doctors also think sport has done wonders for his morale.

Now 11½, Asael is seriously into sports - swimming, in which he won 2 Class-9 Gold Medals, table-tennis, tri-cycling, and wheelchair basketball - and recently he has started sailing. When asked what drives him to have become so fiercely competitive, he replied: "If that terrorist couldn't beat me, no one else will!"

Sources: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs