JERUSALEM (JTA) — Joe Biden became the first U.S. president to attend the Maccabiah Games, known also as the Jewish Olympics, on Thursday.
The audience at the opening ceremony of the 21st Maccabiah games showered Biden with affection as thousands cheered “Joe” repeatedly and shouted things like “we love you Mr. President” at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem. Biden, flanked by Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Israeli President Isaac Herzog, waved a baseball cap emblazoned with the letters USA for several minutes as the crowd cheered.
Biden, who is wrapping up the Israel leg of his four-day visit to the Middle East, showed up at a bullet-proof glass box installed for him there just before the announcers welcomed in the American delegation of athletes. Organizers claim that the event is the third-largest sports gathering in the world, with 10,000 athletes from 60 countries.
But in a timing mishap, he appeared to leave before the U.S. delegation appeared. Biden and the Israeli leaders then returned to the bullet-proof glass box to wave to the American delegation, who responded to him by bouncing up and down and blowing kisses in his direction.
Biden’s attendance was planned with short notice when it emerged his visit would coincide with the event, which takes place in Israel every four years.
“What a treat,” said Sharon Birenbaum, an aunt of one of the American soccer athletes, about getting to see Biden.
Although she is a Biden voter and supporter, she had never seen him in person.
“It’s bizarre that it’s happening here and in this setting, but it’s making me so proud and happy that he came to this extra-curricular activity because it captures how much he really cares about Israel and the Jewish people,” she said.
Biden also spoke directly with the U.S. delegation of athletes during his stop at the ceremony.
“What you’ve done is you’ve demonstrated to the world that you can do anything, and I’m so damn proud,” Biden told them, according to the Times of Israel. “You think I’m kidding you, but I’m not.”
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