Athletes from 44 Nations Arrive to Compete in 13th Maccabiah Games

More than 3,000 Jewish athletes from 44 countries are relaxing at resorts all over Israel this weekend in preparation for the 13th Maccabiah, which opens Monday at Ramat Gan Stadium.

It has been dubbed the “Bar Mitzvah Maccabiah” and will end officially with ceremonies at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on July 13.

Organizers of the Maccabiah, the quadrennial “Jewish Olympics,” have expressed confidence that the 18-month-old Palestinian uprising will not adversely affect attendance from abroad.

They are predicting, in fact, that it will be 20 percent larger than the record set at the last Maccabiah in 1985.

The intifada certainly has not deterred the athletes.

Israel will field the largest contingent, with 846 participants. The United States is second, with 502, followed by Canada, with 267 competitors, and Australia and Brazil, with 237 each.

The smallest delegation is a one-man “team” from Hong Kong, which is participating for the first time. Other first-timers are athletes from Singapore, Portugal and Panama.

While track-and-field events often dominate the Olympic Games, the most popular Maccabiah event seems to be tennis. Over 400 players have signed up, while track-and-field drew only 169 athletes.

The Ramat Gan Stadium holds more than 50,000 spectators, and every seat is expected to be occupied at the opening, when the Maccabiah torch is lighted.

The identity of the athlete selected for the honor will be announced just before the event.

ULTRA-ORTHODOX ARE UPSET

The torch will have been borne by relays of young runners from the tombs of the Maccabees in Modi’in, where it will be kindled Monday morning.

The Maccabees, a priestly family, led the Jewish revolt against Hellenism and Syrian rule that began in 168 BCE. They reigned over Palestine from 142 BCE to 63 BCE.

Meanwhile, the daily newspaper Davar reported Thursday that a planned sports display at the Western Wall plaza has aroused the ire of ultra-Orthodox Jews.

They have denounced it as a “desecration of the Temple’s honor” and plan to demonstrate to stop it.

The ultra-Orthodox frown on the Maccabiah, because it was the Greeks who invented the Olympic Games and they who desecrated the Temple some 2,000 years ago.

The police will have to keep an eye out for the Sicari’i, a secret group of violence-prone religious extremists, who have vowed to do anything to “thwart the plot.”

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