‘Golden girl’ gymnast Aly Raisman will lead a parade of more than 8,000 athletes from around the world to Israel next week for the 19th Maccabiah Games in which they will compete, mingle, and display their Jewish heritage.
This year’s event will see many first-time competitors, including delegations from Cuba, Nicaragua and Mongolia. Some nations will only send one or two athletes, like El Salvador, whose delegation consists of a lone squash player.
The United States will send more than 1,100 athletes, coaches and managers to compete in 33 sports. Along with youth and over-35 categories, there are also half a dozen events for Paralympic athletes.
Jed Margolis, executive director of Maccabi USA, said the American team will include athletes ranging in age from 14 to 84 and it will be double the size of the 2102 U.S. Olympic team.
“We’re building Jewish pride through sports, connecting people to their culture and heritage,” said Margolis, a member of the ’73 U.S. basketball team. “We don’t just go to compete and come home.”
The Games, often called the Jewish Olympics, first began in 1932, with 5,000 athletes from 22 countries, including the United States. Delegations of motorcyclists, led by Yosef Yekutieli, creator of the event, circled throughout Africa and Europe to promote the Games. This year, the Games are expected to draw more than 8,500 athletes competing from 71 countries.
Famous names have often competed — before and during the height of their athletic glory. Mark Spitz competed in the 1965 Maccabiah Games as a 15-year-old. This year, American Olympic gold medal gymnast Raisman is scheduled to compete. New York Knicks star Amar’e Stoudemire will also be in Israel to coach the Canadian basketball team.
Other famous Maccabiah Games alumni include Olympic gold medalists Kerri Strug and Lenny Krayzelburg and NBA champion Dolph Schayes and Larry Brown.
The opening ceremony will take place on July 18 at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem.