TEL AVIV (Jul. 5)
Cheered on by a crowd of nearly 50,000, President Ezer Weizman officially opened Israel’s 14th Maccabiah in a gala ceremony at dusk Monday in the Ramat Gan stadium.
About 5,600 participating athletes, the largest number ever to compete in the “Jewish Olympic games,” marched into the stadium as part of the impressive $1 million opening festivities.
The Maccabiah torch, the fire first kindled at the tomb of the ancient Maccabim at Modi’in, was lit at the stadium by Yael Arad, who became the first Israeli athlete to win an Olympic medal when she captured a silver medal for judo at the Barcelona Olympics last year.
Oren Smadja, who won an Olympic bronze medal in judo at the same games, carried the Israeli delegation’s flag into the stadium.
The official opening declaration was followed by a gymnastic performance by thousands of Young Maccabi children, a folklore performance and fireworks.
The 10 days of games will close July 15 with a ceremony at the Sultan’s Pool in Jerusalem, in the presence of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
In a Maccabiah event Sunday at Kibbutz Gezer, prior to the official opening, William Brown, the acting U.S. ambassador to Israel, threw out the first ball in a special Fourth of July softball game. The Americans beat the Israelis 10-1.
Several new teams will be attending the games for the first time, largely the result of political developments since the last games were played four years ago.
Zimbabwe, Costa Rica, Cuba and Hong Kong will be making their Maccabiah debuts, while Poland, Bulgaria and a joint Czech Republic-Slovakia delegation are attending for the first time since World War II.
Changing political realities have also led to the formation of delegations from Croatia, the Commonwealth of Independent States and South Africa, the last made possible by the lifting of an international sporting boycott on the white minority government country.