Herb Brown (center), Maccabi USA’s men’s basketball coach, celebrates the Fourth of July with wife Sherri and player David Michaelis Monday night at Kfar Maccabiah.World sporting attention will be focusing on Israel in the coming days, as the 17th Maccabiah Games takes off July 11-21. Over 7,000 sports men and women from 55 countries will participate in the 2005 games.
Every four years, the best Jewish athletes come to Israel from all over the world to compete in the Maccabiah Games – ‘the Jewish Olympics’. The opening ceremonies will take place at Ramat Gan’s National Stadium.
The Maccabi movement, named for Judah Maccabee, was initiated in 1895-96 when the first all-Jewish Maccabi gymnastics club was formed in Constantinople. By the end of World War I, more than 100 Maccabi-style clubs existed in Europe. The first Maccabiah Games, featuring 14 countries and 390 athletes, was held in 1932. World events forced the delay of the third Maccabiah Games, scheduled for 1938, until 1950.
The Maccabiah Games have been a quadrennial event since 1957, and the games are now ranked among the five largest sports gatherings in the world.
One of this year’s top draws will be Olympic backstroke champion Lenny Krayzelburg. The triple-gold medalist from the 2000 Sydney Olympics has been named the honorary captain of the American team.
“To me the Maccabiah Games represent a life-changing event that affects many people and I am proud to be one of them,” Krayzelburg told The Jerusalem Post.
Other international stars participating in the games include Russian sabre master Sergei Sharikov, who has won four medals in three Olympics. In Atlanta he won gold in the teams sabre and silver in the individual event. At Sydney he won gold in the teams event and followed that up with a bronze in the teams in Athens.
Also in attendance will be five-time world champion and Olympic gold medalist, Maria Mazina. The Russian fencer won gold in Sydney in the team epee.
In basketball, Israeli prodigy Shay Doron returns to play on the American women’s team. Playing for the University of Maryland, in the ACC, Doron is one of the brightest stars in the women’s college game.
Leading the Israeli delegation will be Olympian pole vaulter Alex Averbukh and judoka Arik Ze’evi.
The American delegation arrived in Israel just before July 4th, and Lindsey Durlacher, 29, who won the US national championship in Greco-Roman wrestling two weeks ago, had the honor to carry the flag off of the plane.
“It was quite an honor to be the first one off your plane and the team honors you with… carrying the flag and leading the delegation off into the great State of Israel,” he said.
More than 750 athletes, managers and coaches disembarked from the plane dressed in blue and red T-shirts and were each greeted with flowers, cheers and music.
Jed Margolis, executive director for Maccabi USA Sports for Israel, “got chills” as the plane taxied from the runway. “People are eager to come back to Israel to experience the joys and wonders of this country,” he said. “[My expectations are] that everyone is going to have a gold medal experience on the court and off the court.”
Like many of the athletes, Seth Hauben, a basketball player on the men’s open team, was experiencing Israel for the first time. “Stepping off the plane and being greeted like this is just unbelievable,” the recent University of Rochester graduate said. “It feels great.
Previously, the US Maccabiah Team has included such sports greats as swimmers Mark Spitz, gymnasts Mitch Gaylord and Kerri Strug, National Basketball Association stars Ernie Grunfeld, Dolph Schayes and Danny Schayes, golfer Bruce Fleisher, tennis pros Brad Gilbert and Dick Savitt and World Cup soccer player Jeff Agoos.