Delegations from 78 Jewish communities worldwide to march at opening ceremony of 19th international Jewish athletic event in Jerusalem, including 20 countries which have never participated in games before. Event's budget totals NIS 200 million, making it most expensive Maccabiah in history
VIDEO - Eighty-one years after the dream to establish a major athletic event for Jews in the Land of Israel became a reality, the biggest and most expensive Maccabiah Games ever will open in Israel
A record number of 9,000 athletes will march this year at the opening and closing ceremonies, which will be held at Jerusalem's renovated Teddy Stadium rather than at the Ramat Gan Stadium which has hosted the ceremonies in the past.
For the first time, the focus will be shifted from central Israel to the capital, where some 40,000 guests, escorts and athletes are expected to stay. In addition, 12 competitions in different sports will take place in the city.
Representatives from 78 countries are arriving this year, including 20 countries which have never participated in the games before, like Armenia, El Salvador, Nicaragua and one tennis player representing Mongolia.
Playing on Ice
Ice hockey returns to Maccabiah Games / Daniel Horowitz
For first time in 16 years, team sport to make appearance at 'Jewish Olympics' in northern Israeli city of Metula in July 2013. NHL coaching legend Mike Keenan at helm of Team Canada
One of the delegations arriving in Israel for the first time will represent the Jews of Cuba in the sports of table tennis, archery, softball and karate.
"We are very excited about the delegation's arrival," says Roberto Sierra-Popovsky of Havana, who was one of its organizers. "There are close to 1,200 Jews living in the country today, and we asked the authorities for a special permit to leave for Israel. For us this is already an achievement, and we hope the sports achievements in Israel will lead to recognition of the Cuba Jewry."
Aly Raisman. From Olympics to Maccabiah (Photo: MCT)
This year, athletes will compete in 42 different sports, including seven new ones added to the 19th Maccabiah: Archery, ice hockey, handball, shooting, open water swimming, bridge and badminton. The Paralympic events will include tennis, table tennis, cycling, swimming and wheelchair basketball.
The 19th Maccabiah will also be the most expensive in history, with a budget totaling some NIS 200 million (about $55 million) – NIS 120 million ($33 million) from the state budget and Maccabi management and NIS 80 million ($22 million) from the different countries participating in the competitions.
Family ties, romance
Viewers will get to see as many as 150 athletes who participated in the recent Olympic Games, including American artistic gymnast Aly Raisman
who performed her performed her floor exercise at the London Games to the tune of "Hava Nagila" and won two gold medals in the team and individual competitions.
Raisman will be joined by American Olympic swimmer Garrett Weber-Gale, who two gold medals in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, as well as Ukrainian breaststroke swimmer Maxim Podoprigora, who represented Austria in three Olympic Games and won a silver medal at the 2001 World Championships.
Sisters Adi and Yuval Kisilevic. To compete against each other (Photo: Lihi Kisilevic)
The Maccabiah, considered the third biggest athletic event in the world after the Olympic Games and FIFA World Cup, holds quite a few surprising stories, including that of 18-year-old Yuval Kisilevic of Guatemala, who will be competing in the equestrian events against her own sister, Adi, who will be representing Israel.
The games include their share of romance as well, as the Maccabiah is considered one of the biggest matchmaking events for the world's Jews. For example, Adam Joseph, who arrived in Israel eight years ago as part of the Australian football delegation, met team player Bec on the plane. Four years later, when they returned to Israel for the next Maccabiah, he proposed to her on Tel Aviv's beach. This time, they will be returning to the competitions with their 18-month-old son.