July 18, 2013 will be recorded as an historic day for Israel and the Jewish community. I arrived with my wife, Brenda, and our son, Micah, at Teddy Kolek stadium in Jerusalem with thousands of visitors, friends, and relatives waiting in anticipation of the start of the Opening Ceremonies of the 19thMaccabiah Games. Our younger son, Adam, a member of the Canadian rugby team, would soon be marching in with the Canadian delegation along with a record 41 other countries that sent teams.
More than 8,000 Jewish athletes and coaches marched behind their country flags printed on huge helium balloons that later would be tethered around the stadium creating a sea of color representing the Jewish communities of the world. In the stadium, 35,000 spectators joined hundreds of thousands who watched on Israeli TV as the ceremony drew together Jews from all lands. The ceremony was an exciting mix of music and dance, as well as remembrances and formal speeches from President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Mayor Nir Barkat. The lighting of the Maccabiah flame marked the official opening of the Games, and over the next two weeks, athletes of all ages competed and came together in a renewed spirit of Jewish peoplehood.
There are many doors through which Jews living in the Diaspora can and do engage with the land of Israel and our Israeli brethren. The Maccabiah Games provides a unique platform for Jews young and old to come together and spend an intensive two weeks fulfilling the dream of representing their country and participating in highly competitive sports for which they have been training for months (if not years). At the same time, it brings to Israel many more thousands of supporters, including family and friends, who, in turn, have the opportunity to meet others from across the world and share the wonderful experience of watching their children, grandchildren, and spouses compete and come together in supporting Israel. Through this event, connections are made and bonds with Israel are strengthened.
Many of the country teams organized pre-Games tours for their participants that provided the opportunity to learn about and experience Israel. Parents, like us, had time between events to do personal touring and see friends and relatives. In spite of the heat, being in Israel, meeting new friends, and watching our children compete was a wonderful experience and much different way to engage with Israel.
Israel, as expected, had the largest delegation at the Games, followed by the United States and Canada. Israel was dominant in the Games, coming first in number of medals, followed by the US, with Canada achieving fourth place in the medal standings. Although Adam’s rugby team did not win a medal, the team played hard and, as with other athletes, as important as winning was the opportunity to meet new friends and take pride in being part of the Maccabiah Games.
Adam’s relationship with Israel was clearly strengthened by his being on the Canadian team. This unique experience built upon his education at Holy Blossom Temple and his continued involvement with URJ Camp George. The Maccabiah Games is an important program, as it contributes in a critical way to the connection of Jews living in the Diaspora with Israel. At the same time, Israelis have the opportunity to host and meet other Jews and understand the importance of Diaspora Jewry to the wellbeing of Israel.
Mark S. Anshan, a member of the Union for Reform Judaism Board of Trustees, is the immediate past president and a third generation member of Holy Blossom Temple (Toronto). He serves on several URJ committees, has served as a Vice-Chair of the URJ, and is an active supporter of URJ Camp George. Mark, a lawyer, lives in Toronto with his wife, Brenda. Their son, Micah is completing his MA, and their son, Adam is entering his fourth year in business at Dalhousie University.