The 14th European Maccabi Games took place in Germany for the first time, from 27 July to 5 August. Well over 2,300 Jewish athletes from 36 countries took part. It was Europe’s biggest Jewish sporting event.
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The Games, which date back to 1929 and take place once every four years, alternating cities in Europe, are an initiative of the Maccabi World Union (MWU), which promotes amateur sports as a means to bring Jews closer to Judaism and Israel. More commonly known as the “Jewish Olympics”, the Games involve 19 sporting disciplines ranging from football to fencing.
This year, seven decades after the fall of the Nazi regime and half a century since the start of diplomatic relations between Israel and the German Federal Republic, the European Maccabi Games were held in Berlin. In a statement published before the Games, German chancellor Angela Merkel wrote: “In view of the past, Germany may truly be thankful for the restored diversity of Jewish life in our country and for the renewed trust of the guests from abroad.”
The Games’ opening ceremony took place on 28 July in Berlin’s Waldbühne, an amphitheatre built in the 1930s at the request of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. The ceremony’s guest of honour was German president Joachim Gauck, who said he was very happy and moved by the fact that Berlin, which once discriminated against and humiliated Jewish athletes, is now hosting a Jewish sporting event.
Some of the most poignant moments as athletes and organisers from the 36 countries stood together in the stadium and sang the Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem. The Kaddish, the Memorial Prayer, was recited by the Chief Rabbi of Berlin, Haim Yitshak Ehrenberg, for those who perished during the Holocaust. The climax of the ceremony was the lighting of the Maccabi torch by descendants of the Jewish athletes who 79 years earlier were prevented from taking part in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
Nancy Glickman, daughter of Marty Glickman, the famous sports broadcaster and Olympic athlete, lit the flame that officially launched the 2015 European Maccabi Games. Glickman senior had travelled to Berlin as part of the 1936 US Olympic relay team but, along with fellow Jewish athlete Sam Stoller, was suddenly replaced at the last minute in a movewidely believed to be an effort to avoid embarrassing Adolf Hitler.