blogging from the 19th maccabiah games in israel


Olympic gold medalist leads U.S. delegation at Maccabiah opening

RAMAT GAN, Israel – When swimmer Garrett Weber-Gale heard his name announced recently as the U.S. flag bearer for the opening ceremony of the 19th Maccabiah Games, he just about lost his breath.

A two-time gold medalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Weber-Gale had spoken with JTA about the powerful feelings he experienced during his first few days in Israel. His emotional high continued during a pep rally at the Maccabi movement’s headquarters in Ramat Gan.

More than 1,100 athletes and coaches cheered the announcement of those chosen to lead the team into Jerusalem’s Teddy Kollek Stadium. Weber-Gale confessed to hoping he would be selected. He was not.

Then Jeffrey Bukantz, Maccabi USA’s general chairman, called Weber-Gale’s name as the flag-bearer and the room erupted in applause.

“My heart was pumping like crazy,” Weber-Gale said. “I was a little embarrassed walking up there with everyone watching me.”

“To represent the U.S.A., and the Jewish people in general, I can’t tell you how much this makes my blood pump.”

(From a blog post from Hillel Kuttler for JTA)


At the Maccabiah, making mom, grandma and great-grandma proud

RAMAT GAN, Israel – For a week before they started competing, many of the 1,100 U.S. athletes in this year’s Maccabiah Games toured Israel and learned about their Jewish heritage.

But when Yale Goldberg steps onto the tennis court, he’ll have another tradition to draw on.

He’ll be representing the fourth generation of his family to compete in the games.

His parents played tennis and swam for the U.S. in 1997, the year a bridge collapsed during the games leading to the deaths of four athletes. His grandmother swam for Israel in 1953, the second games after Israel became a state. And his great-grandmother and great-grandfather played volleyball and sprinted, respectively, a generation earlier.

“They always wanted me to play in the Maccabiah Games,” Goldberg said of his parents. “I’m really excited to be here, to keep the tradition going. It feels like I should be here.”

His grandmother, Anita Deutsch, was the youngest athlete in the 1953 games, but being 12 didn’t stop her from taking silver in the 100-meter swim. She has memories of contestants from other countries taking out trinkets and kissing them for good luck before springing into the pool.

“At that stage in my life it was the high point of my life,” said Deutsch, who now lives in Manhattan. “There was camaraderie among the other kids who participated.”

Goldberg isn’t the only member of the American delegation with family history at the games. Maccabi USA General Chairman Jeffrey Bukantz, who’s leading this year’s delegation, spent his career chasing his father’s fencing achievements at the Maccabiah.

Bukantz’s father, Danny Bukantz, won a gold in fencing at the 1950 Maccabiah. In 1981, Jeffrey finished fourth. He cried, and resolved to do better next time. In 1985, he took bronze, cried again and set his eyes on 1989.

During Jeffrey’s third Maccabiah, in 1989, he finally won gold.

“When I got the gold medal I flipped my mask in the air and jumped uncontrollably three times,” he said. “I was crying like a faucet.”

This time, they were tears of joy.

(From a blog post by Ben Sales for JTA)



O Canada! ... Oh Baseball

RAMAT GAN, Israel – It’s no surprise that the U.S. 18-and-under baseball team was expected to take gold at the Maccabiah.

There are only three teams, and the others are Canada and Israel – not countries known for their diamond prowess. Meanwhile, the American nine had never lost in the quadrennial competition.

Few expected, however, that the U.S. would no-hit Canada twice – the first two no-nos in Maccabiah baseball history. The red, white and blue showed some prowess with the bats, too, beating the Canucks 12-0 and 14-0.

The Americans’ fortunes have been more mercurial, though, in their games against Israel. The U.S. maintained its dominance with a 15-1 victory, but the home squad later dealt a historic loss to the Americans, 5-3.


(From a blog post by Ben Sales for JTA)



Remembering victims at Maccabiah

JERUSAELM, Israel – American, Canadian, Australian, Russian and British athletes started filing out of a Jerusalem hotel lobby recently to buses that would transport them to the opening ceremony of the 19th Maccabiah Games.

They paid little mind to the semicircle of older people forming around a table. A man lit two memorial candles and uttered a few words in Spanish. Within five minutes, the short ceremony had concluded.

Those in the semicircle – Argentinian tennis players in the master’s division – were commemorating the anniversary of the July 18, 1994, terrorist bombing in Buenos Aires of the AMIA (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina) Jewish Community Center. The attack killed 85 people and destroyed the building.

Israel has long fingered Iran as directing the attack.

Similar commemorations were held nearly everywhere Argentina’s Maccabiah athletes went. The AMIA victims were remembered during the Maccabiah’s opening ceremony, along with the 11 Israelis murdered at the 1972 Munich Olympics and the fallen soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces.

The ceremonies were “not only a remembrance,” but also “a [call] for justice,” said Elena Belinky, deputy assistant to the Argentinian delegation head. They acquired greater meaning, she said, because of the Argentina-Iran agreement in January to form a panel to investigate the bombing.

(From a blog post from Hillel Kuttler for JTA)



Maccabiah athletes to be offered  incentives to move to Israel

(Israel Hayom/Exclusive to  – Around 9,000 Jewish athletes from 79 countries are participating in this summer’s Maccabiah Games. Most of the athletes are visiting Israel for the first time, and Israel’s Immigrant Absorption Ministry will grant a unique benefits package to Maccabiah participants who immigrate to the Jewish state by Dec. 31, 2014.

The package will include expanded financial grants, professional Hebrew courses and special assistance from the Immigrant Student Authority. The Immigrant Absorption Ministry will also encourage employers to hire immigrants and give preferential aid to immigrants who choose to live in national priority areas.

“The Maccabiah is an important impetus for aliyah [immigration to Israel],” Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver said. “We must not miss this opportunity to encourage young athletes and their families to move to Israel and settle down here.”


Additionally, around 300 Israeli high school students will meet with Maccabiah athletes while they are in Israel. “We’ll thus strengthen the connection between Israeli youth and Diaspora Jews and use the popularity of sport as part of the Education Ministry’s goal of promoting a healthy lifestyle,” Israeli Education Ministry Director-General Dalit Stauber said.