The Maccabiah Games:

« First Jewish Olympics »

A Pacifist and Transnational Movements

Formed at the end of the 19th century, the Olympic Games and Zionist movements don't have many points in common, aside from similar pacifist principles and a transnational organizational structure.

The Maccabiah Games may have borrowed their ceremony from the Olympics, but their main goal is to bring together Jewish athletes from around the world, rather than to break sporting records.

In 1929, after the International Olympic Committee had refused to recognize the Maccabi World Union, Yosef Yekutieli suggested to the chairman of the Jewish National Fund that a « Jewish Olympic Games » should be created. The British High Commissioner in Palestine, Sir Arthur Wauchope, agreed on condition that Arab athletes and sportsmen from the British Mandate could also take part. The first Maccabiah Games were held in Tel Aviv between March 28th and April 6th, 1932. The parade of 390 athletes, representing eighteen countries, and some 1,500 gymnasts was opened by Mayor Meïr Dizengoff, who joined the parade on a white horse.

The rise of the Maccabi movement

Bringing together 1,350 athletes from 28 countries, the second Maccabiah Games in 1935 were even more successful, largely due to the rise of the Maccabi movement in Europe, and further afield in Egypt, Syria, Argentina and so on. While it would be inaccurate to call it a « sporting aliyah », it is nonetheless true that some athletes made use of the Maccabiah Games to set up home in Palestine, even though under the British Mandate, Jewish immigration was limited (White Papers in 1922 and 1930).

The third Maccabiah Games were planned for 1938, but were cancelled due to persecution of the Jews in Europe, and troubles in Palestine under the British Mandate. in the presence of chairman Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gourion, who announced, “To live in our ancestral land, we will need as much physical strength and vigour as we will intellectual excellence.” The Maccabiah Games would convene for a fourth time in 1953, before a policy was adopted to hold them one year after every Olympic Games. Next >>

quizz In which year took place the 1st Maccabiah Games? 1932   1935