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Our sporting elite did us proud on the night

In the stadium . . . the Bertfields (second row up) in blue and pink.   Photos by Barbara Lyons.

We were on our way to the 19th Maccabiah Games, one of the world's largest sporting events, held this year at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem. Three buses from ESRA drove to the opening ceremony. What a pleasure to not have to worry about the traffic or where to park. Our drivers made great time and we arrived well before the 6 p.m. scheduled arrival time. It was chaos, with hundreds of buses from all over the country waiting to park and many of the athletes walking past us, all very excited to be taking part in the Games. We found our seats, which was incredibly easy, and inside, the atmosphere was electric.

The stadium was huge, with a full capacity of 32,000 people. In the center of the arena a stage had been erected with large screens all around. The TV cameras panning in and out of the spectators caused great excitement all round and created a fantastic atmosphere, especially when encouraged to perform the legendary Mexican wave, all of us waving our Israeli flags with pride. 

Big parade . . . the athletes enter the Teddy Stadium

The ceremony started with former Israeli Olympians carrying a large Israeli flag into the stadium, each accompanied by a participant in the special-needs events. After the flag was raised, Hatikva was sung,

Amitzur Shapira, an Israeli athlete at the Munich Summer Olympics of 1972, recited the Yizkor prayer of mourning in memory of the nine members of the Israeli delegation who were murdered there, and the four Australian athletes killed in the 1997 Maccabiah bridge disaster.

Then the real excitement began with the parade around the Stadium of the 9,000 Jewish athletes, 6,500 from more than 77 countries in the Diaspora, the rest comprising 2,270 Israeli athletes - the largest delegation ever. Many of the delegations were participating for the first time. There was one representative from Scotland, a man wearing a kilt. All of them, marching around the stadium created one of the most beautiful moments of modern Jewish life. Altogether a record number of 150 elite athletes were to participate in the Games. All the delegations were led by a scout carrying a huge balloon bearing the colors of the flags of their country. The athletes will participate in 42 different sports, as well as Paralympic events.

Once all the athletes had been seated, the entertainment started with an amazing array of talent - Miri Ben Ami, the Israeli violinist; Rami Kleinstein, one of Israel's most renowned pop superstars; singers Sivan Talmor and Harel Skaat; and Kathleen Reiter, a Canadian/Israeli singer. The entertainment was completed with singing from Carly Rose Soneclar from the X Factor USA. Throughout the singing there were a number of Israeli dance groups wearing wonderful costumes and the stage was highlighted with lasers.

After Hatikva was sung, the large colored balloons were released to hover over the stadium and of course no Israeli event would be complete without speeches from the Prime Minister, the President and the Mayor of Jerusalem as well as the organizers of the games. All spoke about the significance of the games and the importance of aliyah in the lives of the athletes. Binyamin Netanyahu finished his speech saying that at the end of the Seder at Pesach we say the words "next year in Jerusalem". He said that he hoped that it would be this year in Jerusalem and that many of the athletes would find their futures at home in Israel. 

Bring on the balloons . . . a spectacular sight on the opening night of the 19th Games

Before closing, the Maccabiah torch was brought into the stadium by four very well-known champion sportsmen - Noam Gershony (tennis Paralympics), Lee Korzits (wind-surfing), Nir Davidovich (soccer goalkeeper) and Israeli judoka Arik Ze'evi who passed the torch to Ali Raisman, the USA 2012 Olympic gymnast gold medalist, who lit the Maccabiah flame.

An incredible number of fireworks finished the evening off in a kaleidoscope of amazing colors and a magnificent show of fire which lit up and warmed the entire stadium.. The flame was lit and the games were ready to commence.

We arrived home at 2.30 in the morning, tired but exhilarated after a superb evening. 



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Monday, 22 April 2024

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