In 1932, Yossef Yekutieli‘s vision came to life, as the first Maccabiah Games opened in Israel. The Games, the first ever held during the British Mandate of Palestine, were opened by Tel Aviv Mayor Meir Dizengoff, who rode through the streets of Tel Aviv on 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. Almost 400 athletes from 18 countries participated, including over 60 athletes from Arab countries such as Syria and Egypt.
The 19th Maccabiah formally started in Jerusalem on Thrusday, July 18, 2013, the first time the capital of Israel hosted the sporting event.
78 countries are nearly 10 000 participants are taking part this year in the third largest sporting event in the world, called by many people the “Jewish Olympics.” The 2013 games are the largest since the Maccabiah was first held in Tel Aviv in 1932. President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and many ministers and officials attended the opening.
US Olympian Aly Raisman lit the Maccabiah flame at the ceremony, which featured pyrotechnics and performances with hundreds of dancers and famous Israeli singers.
The athletes are participating in 42 sports, as well as Paralympic events. Some 150 athletes who participated in the recent Olympic Games will be competing in the Maccabiah. For the first time in decades, the Moroccan Jewish community was present at the Maccabiah. The Moroccan and Turkish delegations were the only ones that represented Muslim countries.
Amitzur Shapira, an Israeli athlete at the Munich Olympics, recited the Yizkor prayer of mourning in memory of the 11 members of the Israeli delegation who were killed in the 1972 Summer Olympics and the four Australian athletes killed in the the 1997 Maccabiah bridge disaster.
The games, always held in Israel, are in fact three separate competitions – “Open,” “Juniors,” and “Masters”. Every Israeli citizen and every Jew not an Israeli citizen, is eligible to compete in the games. Sports in the junior games are open to any qualifying athlete aged 15 to 18. Masters’ sports are divided into a number of different age categories—generally for older competitors.Unlike the Olympic games and other major international sporting events, the sport list for the Maccabiah Games is not set in stone. The “Basic Rules” of the Maccabiah Games state that competitions will only take place if four (three, in the case of all female sports, and junior team sports) countries bring competitors for that sport.