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Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

Maccabiah flame
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

Maccabiah Games Boost Spirits and Tourism

By Rhonda Spivak, November 1, 2009

This  past summer’s Maccabiah games were much more than a sporting event.  The 77 year old Macabbiah Games, which began taking place well before the birth of the State of Israel, were foremost a celebration of the life and vibrancy  of the Jewish people.

My family was among the 30,000 people who were at the National Stadium in Ramat Gan on July 13 for the opening ceremony of the games.

Although we could not boast any particular  athletic accomplishments, we were pleased that we had figured out how to  found a suitable parking spot near the stadium that wouldn’t involve spending hours being caught in traffic —something which in Israel is no small feat.

Our seats were also “strategically placed” right behind the concession stand, to the delight of my children.
We watched  with excitement as the parade of  delegations of  athletes from all over the world strode into the  stadium—7000 in total. The stadium on this beautiful night was awash with the different colours of  flags, hats, banners, and cheering fans.  Yes, it felt like  a real “ingathering of the nations.”

We  explained to my children how Jews live practically everywhere around this globe-and that we are part of one ancient people.

Some of the athletes threw hats and flags to the audience, and my 10 year old daughter stretched out her hands to catch a  flag from Brazil.  Of all the fans, in my estimation, Brazilian Jews were by far the  most spirited group, singing and dancing in the aisles, making more noise than even the far larger American delegation. Unquestionably, Brazilian Jews know how to party!

For the first time in the history of the Games, Scottish Jews were a delegation separate from British Jewry-and they strode out wearing Scottish red and green plaid kilts-a rather unusual site.

There was even a handful of athletes from Estonia  (apparently there are Jews in Estonia !), and  other  far flung countries such as  Khakastan and Azerbajan. 

Every member of the crowd was given a little light that they turned on when the ceremony began and  the effect was magical.

One of the more poignant moments of the ceremony was when a great shofar was sounded.  Australian ten-pin bowler Josh Small read the Yizkor remembrance prayer in memory of those-including his father, Greg-who died in 1997 when a bridge collapsed over the Yarkon River while they were waiting to enter the opening ceremony of the 15th Maccabiah.

Four elite Israeli athletes carried the Maccabiah flame into the stadium-including paralympic swimming medal winner Inbal Pizarro who carried it while in a wheelchair.  The  huge Maccabiah flame,  lit by three time U.S. Olympic gold medal swimmer Jason Lezak  burned bright throughout the two weeks of the games.

It was hard not to be captured by the spectacle of the  music, lights, dancers, singers, bicyclists, fireworks and blue and white balloons released into the air above Ramat Gan.

Maccabi World Union president Jean Futeran addressed the crowd:

“Despite the troubled times, you, we, arrive together for these great moments of sports.  Together we stride forward proud in our tradition, celebrating the life of our tradition. Am Israel Chai.” 

In addition to the sporting competitions, all of the activity  associated with the Macabiah Games  provided  Israel with much needed tourism this summer.

In Netanya, the Galil and Margolia hotels, where  some athletes stayed, proudly displayed the orange Maccabiah flags and hung welcoming signs.  Hotel vacancy rates have been higher than they were last summer, and  every bit of tourism was appreciated.

The  Netanya town square was brought to life by the groups of athletes and their supporters buying trinkets and gifts. Aside from the hub of Maccabiah related activity, the  town square has been, relatively, quiet.

There is no jumping trampoline for children this year. Baruch, who used to run it, is only running a carousel.

 “There aren’t as many children as there used to be. The French tourists aren’t here like lasst year,” he says.

The Russian Israeli immigrant who runs the one  horse and carriage ride in the town square sits on the curb of the street—his buggy is empty a lot of the  time. Fewer tourists are willing to pay for the extravagance of a short ride.

The scale of the Netanya street festival, put on by the municipality, is less than it was last year. Budgets have been cut.

The  new kosher Sushi restaurant on the beach which we were hoping to  patronize just didn’t open at all this season. 
The owner of Pninat Hayam restaurant  on Netanya’s beach promenade tells me,

“Everyone has been affected by the  global economic crisis.  There are fewer tourists from France.  In the middle of the week, if you come, you’ll see that my restaurant is empty.”

No doubt that many in Israel’s tourist industry are saying to themselves-if only, the Maccabiah Games had lasted  a little longer.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.