Last week, we began our look at the world’s premier Jewish sporting event, the Maccabiah Games, which begins July 12 in Israel.
It’s no surprise that there will be delegations from the United States, Canada, France and Australia. But according to the Maccabiah site, there will also be Jewish missions representing Grenada, Puerto Rico, India and Thailand – approximately 60 countries in total. And they will be competing in a huge variety of sports, some familiar to the Olympic community: swimming, sailing and triathlon; and others not: 10-pin bowling, chess and footsal, a type of indoor soccer. [tinyurl.com/maccab22]
The official Maccabiah 18 site gives a good overview of this year’s games in English, Hebrew and Spanish. [tinyurl.com/maccab14] On the home page of the site, there’s a media player with selected clips about past games. Intriguingly, one of the tabs is labelled “Live,” which implies that we’ll be able to watch some coverage of the games as they unfold. [tinyurl.com/maccab13]
You can view a lovely film highlighting the American delegation’s visit to Israel for the 17th games in 2005. Watch for a short clip of Mark Spitz, Olympic champion and Maccabiah veteran of the 1965 and ’69 games. [tinyurl.com/maccab24] As well, there’s an inspiring promotional video for this year’s games. [tinyurl.com/maccab16]
Mark Spitz isn’t the only Maccabiah veteran who also brought home Olympics medals. Other famous names include judoka Arik Ze’evi, who won bronze for Israel in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens; American swimmer Lenny Krayzelburg, three-time Olympic gold-medal winner at the 2000 Games in Sydney, and windsurfer Gal Fridman, who won Israel’s first Olympic gold medal at the Beijing Games in 2008. One of the athletes to watch this year is U.S. swimmer and five-time Olympic medallist Jason Lezak. Lezak scored two golds in Beijing as a member of relay teams that included Michael Phelps. This summer, Lezak is forgoing his chance to compete in the world championships so that he can swim at the Maccabiah. [tinyurl.com/maccab17]
The Maccabiah is known as the Jewish games and is open to Jewish athletes from around the world. However, the competition also welcomes all Israeli citizens regardless of religion. In 2005, Asala Shahada, an Israeli Arab teenage girl from the town of Sakhnin, won gold in the women’s 200-metre breaststroke. “The Maccabiah belongs not only to all the Jews, but also to all the Israelis, and I am a proud Israeli,” Shahada said. [tinyurl.com/maccab18] Those sentiments were not universal. An Israeli Arab dance group cancelled its participation in the same games. According to the group’s manager, Widad Atalla, “It is a Jewish endeavour; it is not connected to Arabs.” [tinyurl.com/ maccab19]
People attend the Maccabiah games for all sorts of reasons. In 2001, Denver’s Todd Schayes came as a player-coach, but it seems he was interested in more than just basketball. During the televised opening ceremonies, the 36-year-old athlete held up a sign that read: “Single male. American. Looking for Israeli wife. Contact Todd Schayes at the Tel Aviv Hilton.” And more than 4,500 women did. Unfortunately, none of them seemed to be his bashert. Although the New York Times did report about one Israeli Yiddishe mamma with more than a bit of chutzpah. She called “and said she has a son, not a daughter, and asked if Todd would give her his list when he had finished so she could find a bride for her boy.” [tinyurl.com/maccab20]
Fortunately for Schayes, the story didn’t end there. Back in the States, Elaine Housman of Kent, Conn., was reading about the athlete and his exploits in her local Jewish paper. “I screamed, ‘I have found the man for Diane!’” Housman wrote Schayes to tell him about her 30-year-old niece, Diane Lipner. As reported in the New York Times, Todd and Diane’s e-mail relationship developed into a full-blown courtship and culminated in their 2003 wedding. [tinyurl.com/maccab21]
Although Schayes’ quest started in front of TV cameras at the Maccabiah games in Israel, his relatives say he really doesn’t seek the limelight. “He’s very low key, very mellow,’’ said Jon Housman, a cousin of the bride. ‘‘He told me: ‘I’m not a hopeless romantic. I’m a hopeful romantic.’”
Mark Mietkiewicz is a Toronto-based Internet producer who writes, lectures and teaches about the Jewish Internet. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.