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From Rio to the Maccabiah...

The Olympic Games came to a close in Rio last week and left with us plenty of memories. The gold medals of Michael Phelps in the pool or Usain Bolt on the track helped all who watched them soar the shining peaks of sporting ambition alongside their heroes. Likewise Simone Biles in the gym and the champions and near-champions in every sporting discipline.

Jewish sportspeople also shined. Aly Raisman took a gold and two silvers for the US and now has a glittering array of six Olympic medals. There were two Israeli bronzes in judo – one won with much newspaper coverage as an Egyptian judoka was sent home for refusing to shake his Israeli opponent’s hand. Other Jewish athletes competed for several different countries including Canada, Australia, Argentina, South Africa, and hosts Brazil. And after 44 years, the 2016 Olympics finally marked the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972 with a special ceremony.

Yet, unlike with Nobel Prizes for Science or Economics, the sum total of Jewish medals in Rio was probably in proportion with Jewish global demographics. That is to say, it was typically negligible (an historic list of Jewish Olympic medallists can be found here)! It was for this and other reasons (a fuller history is available) that the Maccabiah Games were created, and first held in 1932. A sporting occasion bringing together people from Jewish communities around the world to compete and celebrate together – and someone Jewish could win every medal!

The Maccabiah Games, like the Olympics, are held every four years. The 20th Maccabiah will be held next summer in Israel, and many sportsmen and women come together to our Jewish Olympic Village – Kfar Maccabiah.

I participated in 2001 in the Maccabiah Games. It was my first trip to Israel and what a great introduction to the country it proved. The Opening Ceremony contained no less razzmatazz than the Olympics and as I remember it was the famous swimmer Mark Spitz who lit the Maccabiah Olympic Torch. We marched across the Teddy Stadium, one country after the other, all of us wearing our national colours and waving our national flags.

As the “Jewish Olympics”, the Maccabiah is not shy about including Jewish “sports” such as chess and bridge. There are also categories for kids and for adults, as well as for “masters” – older age-groups e.g. over 35s, over 45s, over 55s – in many sports. It makes for an interesting social mix but does not mean the competition is any less competitive.

I was competing in the chess competition and was proud to bring home a bronze medal for the GB team. It even made the Jewish Chronicle! It was funny that in the chess section, everyone of my opponents spoke Russian – be they representing Israel, the US, Germany or Russia!

It would be wonderful if we could put together a Singapore delegation for the 20th Maccabiah Games next July. With 43 different sports on offer (see this for the full list) – there really is something for everyone. As a small Jewish community we might not be able to manage a full rugby squad, but surely we could put together some swimmers and golfers and tennis players, a fencer, a judoka and someone for the half marathon. And any success we made would be historic and up there to be celebrated in Singapore alongside Joseph Schooling!

This Shabbat let’s start to dream – it’s not just for kids, it’s for every age group - and if you are interested, please get in touch with me for more details.

Thu, 27 June 2019 24 Sivan 5779