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Rediff.com  » Sports » Israel launches 'Jewish Olympics' in festive opening

Israel launches 'Jewish Olympics' in festive opening

Last updated on: July 14, 2009 

The 18th Maccabiah Games begin

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The 18th Maccabiah Games, popularly known as the "Jewish Olympics", began on Monday with a burst of song, dance and fireworks, and tight security for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Organisers said the 12-day Games are their biggest ever, with about half the 7,000 competitors coming from 65 countries. Some 30,000 spectators watched the opening ceremony.

These Games were being held in calmer times compared to previous recent editions of the event which is held every four years and always in Israel.

"You represent 65 countries but one united people," Netanyahu said in his welcoming remarks from his podium behind a bulletproof glass wall at the National Stadium in Tel Aviv.


Image: Israeli athletes perform during the opening ceremony
Photographs: Reuters
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A showcase of Jewish pride

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Israel has long seen the Maccabiah, now more a Jewish jamboree than a top-class sporting event, as a showcase of Jewish pride and solidarity and an opportunity to attract new immigrants from among the participants.

"You have come from all corners of the world and it is thrilling that you are here ... I thank you for coming, for your participation but I ask you to do one more thing: immigrate to Israel, your place is here, come and be a part of us," said Netanyahu.


Image: Members of the US delegation take part in the opening ceremony

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Troubled past

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The event has had some troubling times.

The 2001 Games were postponed by two months following a series of deadly Palestinian suicide bombings and shooting attacks.

The Games' image was badly tarnished in 1997 when a footbridge collapsed over a polluted river at the entrance to the National Stadium where the opening ceremony was being held, killing four Australian competitors and injuring 70 others.


Image: Israeli artists perform during the opening ceremony

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Games founded in 1932

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Run loosely along Olympic lines, the event includes athletics, swimming, soccer and tennis as well as lawn bowls, chess, bridge, netball, cricket, rugby and golf.

The Games were founded in 1932 and have been held regularly except between 1938 and 1950, the years corresponding with the Nazi Holocaust and the Arab-Israeli war that led to Israel's establishment in 1948.


Image: The opening ceremony of the Maccabiah Games

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Lezak is top attraction

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The Maccabiah is organised by the Maccabi movement, an international Jewish organisation named after Judah the Maccabee who led a Jewish rebellion against the Seleucid Empire some 2,000 years ago.

One of the few notable participants in these Games is American swimmer Jason Lezak, a triple Olympic gold medallist.


Image: US Olympic gold medallist swimmer Jason Lezak

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