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Behind the Headlines: Australians Grieve for Team in Wake of Maccabiah Tragedy

July 16, 1997
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Members of the Australian Jewish community were devastated by the news of the tragedy at the opening ceremony of the Maccabiah Games.

At least three members of the Australian team died and dozens of others were injured when a pedestrian bridge collapsed at the Ramat Gan stadium, plunging scores into the river below.

Two of the fatalities were Gregory Small, 37, and Yetty Bennett, 50, both of Sydney and both members of the 10-pin bowling team. The third, who died in the hospital, was not immediately identified.

Six of the injured remain in critical condition.

The Australian Jewish community of 105,000 had been anticipating good news from the Maccabiah Games, where the 370-member Australian team was expected to improve on the 16 gold medals it won four years ago.

Instead, at 3:30 a.m. local time, Jewish families were awakened Tuesday by relatives and friends in Israel with news of the tragedy.

Throughout the day, Jewish community organizations’ phones were flooded with calls from the families and friends of the competitors, as well from as many other Australians sending their sympathies and condolences.

Family members interviewed in the Australian media choked back tears in efforts to convey their feelings of loss and despair.

Jewish welfare organizations organized counseling sessions for those who were close to the victims and for students at Jewish day schools.

Peter Wertheim, president of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, the umbrella organization for 40,000 Jews, said in an interview, “It is extremely difficult and painful to come to terms with the fact that such a joyous international sporting event should have been marred by a devastating tragedy of this magnitude.”

The premier of New South Wales, Bob Carr, was among the first callers to the Jewish community, sending his condolences to the families of the deceased, who came from his home state.

The organizing committee for the Olympic Games that are slated to be held in Sydney in the year 2000, also sent its sympathies to the Australian team.

Prayer services are being organized in synagogues throughout Australia. Some Jewish organizations are holding special services to allow community members to express their grief and feelings of sympathy.

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