TEL AVIV (Jul. 28)
Athletes from 27 nations gathered at Modiin, in the West Bank village of Midya, to mark the opening yesterday of the eighth Maccabiah games. The site is the traditional burial place of the ancient Maccabeans. The Maccabiah torch was lit by veteran Maccabi leader and Maccabiah games innovator Yossef Yekutieli as some 1,500 Jewish athletes assembled around the huge, grey tombstones overlooking the hills of Lydda. Present were Pierre Gildesgame, World Maccabi chairman, and heads of Maccabi branches throughout the world.
Runners brought the torch to the Ramat Gan Stadium near here today where President Zalman Shazar officially opened the games. The athletes marched in their colorful uniforms and a memorial observance was held for those who died in Israel’s defences. Also remembered were those who, captives in their own countries, could not be present. They were represented by Jews now living in Israel but originally from those countries. Egyptian Jewry was represented by Abraham Pessah, a basketball coach; Czech Jewry, by swimmer lvonna Tobbis; Moroccan Jewry by Henry Ohayon, Polish Jewry by Tuvia Mayortchik, Hungarian Jewry by gymnastic champion Agnes Kelety and Russian Jewry by tennis player llana Pessacoff.
Flag bearer for the United States contingent was swimming star Mark Spitz. Following the swearing-in of the participants, a flock of pigeons symbolizing peace were released, followed by an evening of mass gymnastics, a parade of contingents, prayers and song. This year’s games will constitute the largest Maccabiah in number of participants and categories of competition, The largest non-Israeli contingent is the 154-member American group. Britain has sent 84 competitors, South Africa 79, Mexico 61, Argentina 100, Brazil 96 and Canada 48. Presumably for political reasons, India and Iran barred their Jewish athletes from coming here.
Officials said the most crowded competition will be in swimming. Other major events will be in track and field, football, basketball, boxing, wrestling and golfing. Among the top American sportsmen are Mr. Spitz, who has a world record in swimming, and Steve Marcus, a shotput star. Two swimmers holding world records–South Africa’s Karen Muir, in the backstroke, and Ada Kok, Dutch butterfly–will participate in a swim demonstration, which will be held outside the official competition.
Mr. Gildesgame said Maccabiah authorities are attempting to convince participants to settle in Israel. “For every soldier who is killed in the war,” he said, “we hope 10 boys and girls will remain to replace them.” He said the Maccabiah is different this year “because we are going to urge and educate the young people to come and settle in Israel.”