The Maccabiah is a series of athletic competitions for Jews throughout the world. Like the International Olympics, the Maccabia is held every four years. The goal of the Maccabia is to promote the physical strength of Jews while fostering a sense of nationalism among Jewish athletes.
The idea for an international Jewish sports competition grew out of the various sports clubs that existed in Eastern European countries. In the late 1800's, many young Jews began to stress the importance of physical strength in the quest to downplay the image of “the ghetto Jew.” These clubs were to be united in the first decade of the new century, into the Juedische Turnerschaft, the Union of Jewish Gymnastics Clubs.
The Union became particularly Zionist in character when it began arranging visits to Palestine, but remained outside of the official Zionist Organization. In 1921, this Union became the Maccabi Work Union, further uniting the various associations. Only many years later after the creation of Israel was the Union to join the Zionist Organization in the late 1980's.
The first Maccabia was held in Palestine in 1932 with 390 athletes from 14 countries participating in the event. The second Maccabia was held in Tel Aviv in 1935, and was of particular importance to the yishuv. As the games brought Jews into Palestine, the Maccabia was as much of a tool for the promotion of aliya as it was a tool for the promotion of sports activity. Most of the 1,700 athletes from 27 countries remained in Palestine after the second Maccabia, due to the rapid increase of antisemitism throughout Europe.
Source: The Jewish Agency for Israel and The World Zionist Organization.