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Maccabiah Games Get Under Way; Emotion, Pride Mark the Opening

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The 12th Maccabiah Games got under way here yesterday with opening ceremonies marked by emotion, pride and colorful spectacle.

Outstanding Jewish athlete Mark Spitz of the United States kindled the Maccabiah flame following a yizkor (memorial) service for Jewish dead in one of the more emotional moments in the three-hour program

The seven-times Olympic gold medal winner in swimming, accompanied by Shirley Shapira, Anouk Spitzer and Shlomit Romano, 13-year old daughters of Israeli athletes murdered by terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics, was mobbed by many of the athletes already assembled on the grass playing field at Ramat Gan Stadium.

The crowd cheered enthusiastically as Spitz ignited the Maccabiah flame in the darkened stadium. Earlier, 4,000 athletes representing 38 countries marched into the jampacked stadium, with 50,000 spectators greeting the athletes with warm applause.

Canadian flagbearer Mark Berger, a bronze medal winner at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics in judo, led the 190-strong Canadian contingent in the colorful parade of Maccabiah representatives.

Marching in the front row of the group were Rabbi Gunther Plaut, Alex Fisher and Jean Beliveau, honorary chefs de mission, followed by the athletes, coaches, medical crew and executive of the Canadian Maccabiah team.

SOMETHING TO SMILE ABOUT

Beliveau’s broad smile was unmistakable even from 30 meters away. Earlier, the former Montreal Canadiens star center told reporters, "I was at the 1972 and 1976 Olympic Games and I didn’t walk in the opening ceremonies, so I’m really looking forward to walking with Canada’s athletes."

Beliveau had good reason to smile, as the atmosphere among the athletes was one of camaraderie and brotherhood, and the show was nothing short of spectacular.

The Brazilians captured the hearts of the spectators as the exuberant South Americans danced their way into the stadium, led by women in Brazilian native dress moving to the sound of the samba beat. Cheerleaders sporting pompoms led the 500-strong American squad, while the British entered in good order.

If medals were given out on opening night, the 90 Italians would have walked away with the gold as most nattily attired team, for their white suits and navy blue slacks and ties.

The 300-strong Australian team entered wearing their familiar bush hats, while the two-man team from Bermuda wore — you guessed it — Bermuda shorts.

The Maccabi Modi’in delegation, consisting of newcomers to Israel plus South Africans, Rumanians and a Lebanese, wore dark blue shirts and khaki pants. The Canadians were sharp in their white blazers, red slacks or skirts, topped off by red cowboy hats.

ISRAELI TEAM GETS WARMEST APPLAUSE

Israel’s 800-person team, dressed in the blue and white of the Israeli flag, received the warmest applause, but the spectators saved a little something extra and clapped rythmically as a group of seven marched behind a banner that read "Let my people go," a reference to the Jews who are not free to be in Israel.

Among the spectators present were Israeli President Chaim Herzog, Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Knesset members, diplomats, World Maccabi Union president Fred Worms, and many notables from the international sporting world.

After Herzog, himself a past Maccabi boxer from Ireland, declared the games open, thousands of children presented a play, Tribes of Israel, told in song and dance, followed by five parachutists who dropped thousands of feet to make pin-point landings in the center of the stadium.

A spectacular fireworks display ended the wondrous evening, after which the athletes and fans, faces beaming with pride, crowded out of the stadium looking forward to the start of 10 days of spotting competition.

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