From early July to mid-August last year – not too long after outbound COVID-related travel restrictions were lifted in Australia – I was very fortunate to not only embark on my first trip to Israel in eight years, but also to experience my first Maccabiah Games, with a huge Aussie delegation of 620, including 538 athletes, and scores of fellow volunteers.
As a member of Maccabi Australia’s 21st Maccabiah Games Media Team, the first two-and-a-half weeks of my trip – based in Netanya – were a whirlwind of activity.
Although the busy days and nights flew by – and sleep often flew out the window – being able to share in the green and gold Maccabi spirit at the Jewish world’s equivalent of the Olympic Games, and the camaraderie among the 10,000 participating athletes from around the world, was incredible.
And the passionate singing each night in the dining room of my hotel – by masters footballers from various teams from South and Central America – was something else!
Being able to witness amazing medal-winning triumphs by the Aussies, as they unfolded in the pool, on the courts and playing fields, and on the golf course, was a wonderful privilege, and something I’ll cherish.
What particularly stood out for me was a three-day period at the Wingate Pool when Australia’s nine-member masters swimmers won an astonishing 33 medals between them – including six golds – and also when Australia’s junior, youth, open, and masters netballers won three golds and one silver on the same day in Ra’anana.
What was also notable throughout the Games was the way the Aussie athletes and volunteers attended each other’s matches and tournaments in droves to cheer each other on, often accompanied by an inflatable boxing kangaroo.
And the way they supported each other on a most difficult day – the 25th anniversary of the Maccabiah bridge disaster – during a team Australia memorial service beside the Yarkon River.
Another priceless memory was marching with the whole Aussie delegation into Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium for the opening ceremony, watching US President Joe Biden wave from the stands to the American team, and hearing Israeli President Isaac Herzog say, “You have come here from dozens of countries, but you represent the Jewish people … and our home is your home.”
After the Games, I stayed on for 11 days for some much-needed R&R, but more importantly to reconnect with members of my mum’s side of the family, who live in Givatayim, Holon, Herzliya, Rishon LeZion, and Netanya.
Being hosted by my cousins – the Katz brothers of Givatayim – and attending home-cooked family Shabbat dinners in three different cities, was really wonderful.
I know I will be back in Israel again – it will just be a question of when.
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