What is the Maccabee movement? What is its significance in the Jewish community? These questions are being asked on all sides, as the amazing growth of Maccabee clubs all over the world arouses the attention of the public.
The answer to both questions can be summarized in a sentence—the Maccabee movement is the renaissance of Jewish youth in the twentieth century. That is a very sweeping statement, and I will endeavor to elaborate it further.
The cult of physical fitness is one that to a very large extent has been neglected by Jewry as a whole, due in great part to lack of opportunity in the Galuth, to cramped quarters and the struggle for bare existence. In Biblical days one reads of "great hunters before the Lord", and of noble warriors, but the last of that heroic line was Judas Mac-cabeus, who led the remnant of the Jews in Palestine against the Roman invaders. After the dispersal from Palestine the Jews, living in strange lands, had no opportunity for hunting and sport, which was always the privilege of the aristocrats and landed proprietors, the tradition of physical prowess was lost, while all efforts were concentrated on mental alacrity.
THE DESIRE TO BE FIT
During this present century we have witnessed a spread of sport, and opportunities for physical exercise throughout the social stratum, and this general movement has affected Jewish youth as it has all others. They feel the need to become strong and alert in body as well as in mind: to have the opportunity to race and jump, play football, tennis, and to participate in all other forms of healthy recreation. They desire to be as fit as those they see around them, to be their equals in health and sport, which in reality means that they are imbued with a natural pride of race and a self respect for which they are seeking expression.
Therefore in those countries in Europe where Jews are not welcomed in sports clubs there has grown up quickly an urgent demand for a Jewish organization to provide this need, and the Maccabee World Union came into existence. This Union has branches in almost every country, the strongest branches being in those countries where the fewest opportunities of other kinds offered themselves. But as the movement grew so also did its ideology—the feeling of solidarity, of comradeship, of common ideals, welded the diverse clubs into a real union, and the eyes of youth looked towards the great adventure that was taking place in Palestine, and their hearts responded.
To many came the urge to go to Palestine to take part in the upbuilding of the country; to countless others there came a deep and abiding interest in what their fellows were accomplishing there.
EXPERIENCE OF A LIFETIME
Not all Maccabees are by any means what are known as Zionists, but there is in every Maccabee centre a close personal contact with the Palestinian Maccabee and the affairs of Palestine. Maccabee is a Jewish youth movement, and Palestine a land that is being re-created by Jewish youth, and it is therefore inevitable that the two should have strong affinities.
Those who have not seen a Maccabee gathering have yet to know one of the greatest experiences of their lives. I have just returned from seeing the one held in Prague and it remains vividly in my mind. Hundreds of Jewish boys and girls in simple blue and white sports clothes, coming from ten different countries—from England, France, Roumania, Jugoslavia, Poland, Denmark, Palestine, and the other countries, assembling in perfect order, with perfect poise and discipline, on an immense green sports field; pouring in on all sides until they form a huge living Shield of David: a shield symbolical of the best of Jewish youth—upright, sun-burnt, bright eyed and alert—a youth for any race to be proud of.
The sports themselves were of a very high standard; a new record in relay racing in Czechoslovakia was established; but the display of physical training, carried out in parallel columns of boys and girls, was to me the most interesting event. It showed what the movement as a whole had attained for this was not the display of picked athletes, but of the rank and file of the Maccabee clubs; and the rhythm of movement and precision of action were admirable.
But the greatest privilege of all is to be present at a Maccabiade in Palestine itself on the golden seashore of Tel Aviv, where all countries are gathered for a short space into the country, when Jewish youth returns with laughter and singing to Zion, and the spirit of the Jewish renaissance, of the re-awakening of the soul of Israel, overwhelms in its intensity. I was present at the first Maccabiade, an experience I shall never forget and shall always treasure in my memory. I felt then, and I have since grown firm in the conviction, that the Maccabee movement is one of the deepest importance to Jewry; a movement destined to grow, and to play a great and worthy part in the history of the Jewish people.