BUDAPEST - The 15th European Maccabi Games kicked off on Tuesday in Budapest, with 2,300 athletes from 42 countries competing. In his address to the opening ceremony, World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder said, “To me, this is not just another sporting event filled with athletes. What I see is our future. What I see is the future of the Jewish people.”
More than 6,500 people were in attendance at the opening ceremony of what has become known as the ‘Jewish Olympics.’ High-level attendees included, inter alia, Áder János, President of Hungary; Varga Judit, Hungarian Minister of Justice; Yoav Galant, Israeli Minister of Immigration and Absorption; Stephan Mayer, German Secretary of State for Home Affairs; Amir Peled, President of the Maccabi World Union; Jack Terpins, Chairman of Maccabi World Union; as well as American, Israeli, and Hungarian ambassadors and sports officials. Germany has the largest delegation this year, with 297 members.
“At one of the most difficult times to be Jewish in Europe since the end of World War II, all of you have stood up and said: Yes, I am Jewish. Yes, I am proud to be identified as Jewish. I am proud of my people and what we have given the entire world over the past 3,000 years,” Ambassador Lauder told the athletes. “This is a time when we desperately need leaders, courageous leaders, who will stand up for our people. And here you are, all together in one stadium.”
Invoking the names of some of the great Jewish leaders, including Theodor Herzl, Joshua Ben Nun, and Golda Meir, Ambassador Lauder underscored that it was these heroes who “devoted their lives to the Jewish people, and in the process, changed the course of our history.”
“They led us, the Jewish people, to accomplish the impossible. But it all started when they stood up and identified themselves as Jews. This is what you have now done. I am absolutely confident that you will lead us into our great future,” Ambassador Lauder said. “Sports brings all of us together. Some of you are young, some a little older. Some of you are Orthodox, and some of you are secular. But we are all one people. And that has always been our greatest strength.”
About the Maccabi Games
Over the next nine days, athletes will compete in a variety of disciplines, ranging from the classic Olympic sports such as swimming, football, and cycling, to more eclectic sports such as futsal, bridge, and chess. The Maccabi Games have more levels of competition than the Olympics, with different categories for different skill levels, including the Youth, Master, and Open categories, as well as a Paralympic category. Because of this, the ages range vastly, including an 86-year-old American bridge player as the oldest athlete and a 10-year-old Lithuanian chess player as the youngest.
The European Maccabi Games are the European regional version of the Maccabiah – or the world Maccabi games – which is held in Israel every four years – each year following the Olympics – with the European Maccabi Games being held two years later. The first European Maccabi games were held in 1929 in Prague. Three years later, in 1932 the Maccabiah was held Mandatory Palestine, and again in 1936, at which point they went on hiatus due to the rise of Nazi Germany and a crackdown on immigration to Palestine. The games subsequently resumed after the Holocaust in 1950, after the establishment of the State of Israel. During these early years, many delegations from across the world would use the occasion of the Maccabiah games to make Aliyah.
The last European Maccabi Games were held in Berlin in 2015, in the Olympic Stadium built for the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany. During that seminal event, Ambassador Lauder said, “while it is great to win, you have already won just by being here, by representing your people with courage and strength, by being proud of your ancient heritage, and for giving us all hope for the future.”
Follow the games here: https://www.emg2019.com/