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16 Fascinating Facts About the Maccabi Games

16 Fascinating Facts About the Maccabi Games


Swimmers at the Maccabi games play water polo


The Maccabi Games are the quadrennial Jewish Olympics held in Israel. Gil Travel has been working with the Maccabi World Union since 1981, sending both athletes and supporters to the games. 

This remarkable sporting event brings together the best Jewish athletes from around the world, who compete in various categories such as Open, Masters, Juniors, and Disabled competitions. The games happen in Israel but also in Europe and Latin America. 

The JCC Maccabi Games are organized by the Maccabi World Union (MWU), a global youth and sports organization committed to promoting Jewish identity and traditions through cultural, social, and educational activities. With its headquarters in Israel, the MWU plays a central role in uniting Jewish athletes and fostering their sense of belonging. 


Balloons representing the different countries at the Maccabi games

The history of the JCC Maccabi Games goes back to the ambitious idea of a determined 15-year-old Jewish boy named Joseph Yekutieli. Inspired by the 1912 World Olympics in Stockholm, Yekutieli spent the next decade developing his vision, facing skepticism and overcoming obstacles along the way. 

In 1928, he presented his proposal for the first gathering of Jewish athletes from around the world to Menachem Ussishkin, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Jewish National Fund. The timing was symbolic, coinciding with the 1800th anniversary of the Bar Kochba rebellion. However, the realization of the Maccabi required international recognition, which came after the establishment of the Eretz Yisrael Soccer Association in 1928. 

With this milestone, the groundwork was laid for the inaugural Maccabi Games in Eretz Yisrael. 

The games, initially known as the Maccabiada but later Hebraized to Maccabi, aimed to provide Jewish associations worldwide an opportunity to showcase their athletic prowess, prepare for international competitions, and celebrate the achievements of Jewish youth. 

Despite the challenging political climate and violent events, including anti-Jewish riots in Israel, the JCC Maccabi Games persevered and were held as planned. The response was overwhelming, with enthusiastic Maccabi members expressing their eagerness to participate in what would become known as the “Jewish Olympics.”

Fun facts about the Maccabi games

  1.  JCC Maccabi Games is the third largest sporting event in the world by the number of competitors. The only two larger are the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup
  2. If you’re wondering how often the Maccabi Games happen, they occur every four years
  3. The first person to come up with the idea for the Maccabi was only 15 years old. In 1912, Joseph Yekutieli wanted to create a competition since there weren’t many international competitions Jewish athletes could compete in. When the games finally started in 1932, he participated in the cycling race.
  4. The first Maccabi was held in Palestine in 1932. 14 countries participated in the event. The second was in Tel Aviv in 1935. Many of the 1,700 athletes from 27 countries stayed in Palestine to escape increasing anti-semitism in Europe. The entire Bulgarian team remained in the country.
  5. The Maccabi games are named for the Jewish warrior Judah Maccabee that fought against the ancient Greeks.
  6. Some of the most famous and best Jewish athletes like Aly Raisman and tennis player Dick Savitt have competed in the Maccabi
  7. In 1935, a German delegation of Jews attended the games and refused to fly the German flag during the opening ceremonies.
  8. Julie Heldman, a Wimbledon winner, participated in the eighth Maccabi in 1969.
  9. Maccabi USA was designated by the U.S. Olympic Committee as one of its Multi-Sport Organizations in 2013.
  10. Maccabi is open to Jewish athletes from around the world and Israeli athletes of any religion
  11. Since Modi’in in Israel is the home of the Maccabees, it is also where the lit torch begins at the opening Maccabi ceremony.
  12. The shoe designer Stuart Weitzman, who competed three times in the Maccabi USA event as a table tennis competitor, launched a $5 million matching scholarship fund with Maccabi USA so athletes in need could participate in the 2022 Maccabi.
  13. In 2022, Adam Alkeian was the first Israeli Bedouin athlete who participated in the Maccabi games.
  14. 1989 was the first year since World War II that athletes from Hungary, the former Soviet Union, and former Yugoslavia took part in the games.
  15. In 1930 to promote the first Maccabi games and the celebration of the best Jewish athletes, Jewish motorbikers took a tour from Tel Aviv to the Jewish communities of Europe. They went from Tel Aviv to Antwerp. Another group of riders went a year later from Tel Aviv to London. The second tour covered 5,825 miles and traveled across the Sinai, through Cario, Alexandria, Salonika, Gorna, Bulgaria, and more.
  16. The third Maccabi games were delayed by 15 years because of World War II, and then reborn in 1950 in the newly-created State of Israel.


Runners line up at a starting line during a track and field race


The Maccabi games are some of the most exciting events in the Jewish world and sporting world and an exciting goal for the best Jewish athletes. Participating in them is often a once-in-a-lifetime event, and attending them can be just as enriching as engaging in sports.

So what are you waiting for? Contact our Jewish travel agency for more information about trips to the Maccabi games today.

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