L-R:Israeli delegation's Romina Roni, Maccabi's Riki Kanterevicz, Argentinian Amb. Tropepi
L-R:Israeli delegation's Romina Roni, Maccabi's Riki Kanterevicz, Argentinian Amb. TropepiMorag Bitan

With the Pan American Maccabi Games set to begin in Argentina next week, an Israeli delegation of more than 200 athletes was planning to join 5,000 Jewish participants from across the world who will compete in 30 sports.

But, as with practically every facet of Israeli society, Oct. 7 changed their plans.

Now a pared down group of 74 Israeli athletes will head to Argentina for the 15th edition of the international tournament. Forty-five of them live in communities close to the Gaza Strip, the area attacked on Oct. 7, according to a press release from the Maccabi World Union, the global governing body that puts on the quadrennial Maccabiah Games in Israel and other international tournaments.

The delegation is being funded by the Maccabi World Union, as well as through donations from other Maccabi members around the world, the First International Bank of Israel, and the travel insurance company PassportCard.

“A lot of us Israelis have been through a trauma, and many still are,” Riki Kanterevicz, Maccabi World Union’s vice chairman and the chairman of Israel’s delegation, said in a statement. “In this new reality, this year’s is the most exciting and important delegation we have organized.”

He added, “The Jewish people in the Diaspora showed incredible solidarity with Israel after Oct. 7, and the delegation includes many athletes who experienced a real nightmare on Black Saturday,” the day of the attack.

In anticipation of the Games, which run from Dec. 27 through Jan. 5, the Israeli delegation met on Thursday with Francisco Tropepi, the charge d’affaires at the Argentine embassy in Israel. They met at the Kfar Maccabiah complex in Ramat Gan, where a thousand displaced Israelis have received temporary shelter since Oct. 7.

“Our countries have deep connections. You will be welcomed as family,” Tropepi told the athletes, according to the press release. “Sport unites people, brings us closer together, makes us better people, teaches us how to work and thrive together. You are going to defend the colors of Israel.”

Argentine-Israeli ties may get tighter following the election of Javier Milei as Argentina’s new president. Milei studies Torah regularly and has said he intends to convert to Judaism. He recently pledged to move Argentina’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and has said he will appoint his personal rabbi as Argentina’s ambassador to Israel.

Maccabi USA, the American arm of the global Maccabi movement, said it has made arrangements for its athletes to meet their Israeli counterparts in Argentina, “to hear their stories, understand how life has been impacted in Israel and to be inspired by their strength and courage,” the group said in an email.