Cpl. Toumarkin swimming
Cpl. Toumarkin swimmingIsrael news photo: IDF/Roni Aviv

Over 9,500 athletes from 78 countries will gather in Jerusalem Thursday night for the opening of the 19th Maccabiah Games. This will be the biggest Maccabiah in history, with contests in 42 different events.

Participants in the games hail from all over the Jewish world. The Israeli contingent, with 2,943 athletes, will be the largest in the games, followed by the delegation from the U.S., which is sending 1,121 participants. Canada sent 606 players, Britain 444, Brazil 435, Australia 418, Argentina 403, South Africa 359, Russia 198, Germany 195, and Mexico 187.

The Maccabiah Torch, which like the Olympic torch travels the world, will be carried in the opening ceremonies by Arik Zeevi, Nir Davidowitz, Noam Gershoni and Eli Reisman – all of whom won medals in the Olympics for Israel. The opening ceremony will take place Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, with 30,000 people in attendance.

The Maccabiah Games were conceived as a “Jewish Olympics,” with the first games held in 1932. According to historians, the year was chosen specifically because it was the 1800th anniversary of the Bar Kochva rebellion, the last major resistance put up by the Jews to Rome. The second games were held in 1935, with the next one taking place only in 1950, due to World War II and the Holocaust years. Since then, the event has been held every four years.

The games consist of athletic contests in areas like swimming, running, track and field, and other Olympic-style events, and generally follow the rules of the Olympics – and in fact, are seen as somewhat of a staging ground for the Olympics, as several dozen athletes who participated in the Maccabiah later went on to win medals in the Olympics.