have just returned from the Maccabiah Games in Israel, where my husband David competed in masters tennis.
The Games showcased top Jewish athletes from 55 different countries competing in an impressive array of sports. From soccer to table tennis, gymnastics to judo, it was inspiring to watch the strength, skill and determination of our athletes from around the world.
I was amazed by the countries represented at the Games. When thinking about world Jewry, countries such as Finland, India, Panama and Turkey don’t generally jump to mind.
On our way to the opening athletes’ party, we were fortunate to share our bus ride with the Indian cricket team, some of whom wore kippot and kept the long ride amusing by singing David Melech Yisrael.
Back in Toronto, we showed a picture of the Indian cricket team to an acquaintance from India. He immediately recognized one of the team members as a famous cricket player who is well-known throughout India for his ability.
The tremendous achievements of our athletes were rivalled only by the overwhelming camaraderie that existed between them.
At the opening ceremonies, I was struck both by our diversity and by our unity as Jews. Seven thousand athletes from a multitude of cultural backgrounds and varying levels of religious observance were united by their shared Jewish roots and support for Israel.
The stadium was packed to capacity for the opening ceremonies, with 40,000 people cheering, singing and dancing as the athletes paraded onto the field.
And despite the attempts of Islamic Jihad to disrupt the Games with a suicide bombing in Netanya the next day, only one athlete out of 7,000 withdrew from the competition and flew home.
When the athletes weren’t training or competing, they could be found trading their Maccabiah clothing for the uniforms of athletes from other countries.
My husband, who is as skilled in negotiations as he is in tennis, returned home with clothing – ranging from socks to jackets to hats – from 10 different nations.
During the negotiation process, a great deal of information was exchanged about Jewish life in different parts of the world. The same positive sentiments were expressed repeatedly by many of the athletes about the glamour of participating in the Games in Israel, the bonds felt with fellow Maccabiah participants and the thrill of meeting Jews from every corner of the globe.
For me, the Maccabiah Games trumps the Olympics, and I left the Games with heightened pride as a Jew and confirmed optimism about the importance of “being Jewish” to Jews around the world.