The 17th Maccabiah games (AKA. Jewish Olympics) started this week, an event that happens every 4 years. Over 7,000 athletes from 55 countries will participate in the events. The ceremony was impressive, big, colorful and uniquely Israeli, a real world class events with a reported 30,000 in attendance. Run loosely along Olympic guidelines, the 11-day event includes athletics, swimming, football and tennis as well as lawn bowls, chess, bridge, netball and cricket.
The opening ceremonies were attended by senior members of government, all sitting behind bulletproof glass, of course. Sharon in his address basically tried to encourage Aliyah (a permanent return to Israel) and took the opportunity to blatantly tell the athletes to basically stick around when the games are all done. There is traditionally a certain percentage of athletes that remains after these events and the big man was trying his best convince them to stay.
And now for something completely out there, Shas Party (the main religious party) Chairman, Eli Yishai, attacked the 17th Maccabiah management for desecrating Shabbat by requiring personnel to work on Saturday to prepare for the dress rehearsal of the opening ceremony. He said their actions were a “disgrace” that crossed red lines. Yishai said a worker told him he and his friends had to start preparing for Saturday night’s dress rehearsal before the end of Shabbat.
The worker refused to reveal his identity out of fear they would lose their jobs. Funnily enough it seems that this employee would rather keep his Shabbat desecrating job then quit though – interesting. Maccabiah spokespeople responded by saying, “We would be happy to see Yishai among the Knesset Members and government ministers that will partake in this international event.”, in short telling Yishai to take a flying leap.
Unfortunately, the next day after the opening ceremonies a suicide bomber drove into the center of Netanyah, approximately 35 minutes from Tel Aviv, blowing up, killing 4 women and wounding 90 people. The blast took place outside a busy downtown shopping mall.
An hour earlier, the Dutch soccer team attending the Maccabiah games left that same mall for soccer practice. The team is staying at a local Netanyah hotel and after the blast several team members said they wanted to go home. Several forum posts on local news sites suggested the players try London..
Their team manager said, “Most of our players are in shock, and we do not know how they will deal with it. Most of them want to leave Israel as soon as possible, because they are not used to such a thing. I will try to convince them to stay for the games, but it is their individual decision.â€
And in all this, a truly great story, an Israeli Arab teenage girl from the town of Sakhnin became one of the first medalists in this year’s Maccabiah Games with a victory in the women’s 200-meter breastroke in the Wingate Institute pool, causing a wave of pride in her father, family and community.
Halaj Shahada, proud father of Asala, 17, said there would be celebrations in Sakhnin following her gold medal win. â€œThe Maccabiah belongs not only to all the Jews, but also to all the Israelis, and I am a proud Israeli,â€ Asala said.
Israeli Olympics, never a dull moment.