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Sandro Rosell
FC Barcelona President
Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Choreographed pyrotechnics along with a host of top performers were the theme of the opening ceremonies of the 19th Maccabiah Games in Israel.  / Photo Credit: Maccabiah USANY Knicks Forward Amar'e Stoudemire Coaches Canadian Basketball team

An exciting pyrotechnic display along with performances by a bevy of popular Israeli singers were the theme of the evening at the opening ceremonies of the 19th  Maccabiah games at Jerusalem's Teddy Stadium on Thursday evening, July 18. The Israeli Maccabiah is a quadrennial event known as the Jewish Olympics.

Hundreds of dancers bedecked in colorful costumes entertained the crowd of 30,000, and among those performing were hit sensation; electric violinist Miri Ben-Ari. American “X Factor” runner-up Carly Rose Sonenclar sang “Hallelujah”.

Lighting the  torch at the opening ceremony was US Olympic gold medal gymnast Aly Raisman, of Massachusetts, who is Jewish.

“After winning medals and winning achievement, go tour Israel. This is your country,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a welcoming speech that alternated between English and Hebrew. “I’ll tell you the truth. I hope you and your families decide after this visit to come and live here.”

Netanyahu and Israeli President Shimon Peres rose and applauded as Israel’s blue-and-white-clad delegation of 2,270 athletes entered the stadium, according to a JTA report. The 1,100-member U.S. contingent wore red, white and blue sweatsuits with white baseball caps.

President Obama greeted the athletes via video, referencing the “unshakeable bond” between Israel and the United States.

Athletes from a record 78 countries will participate in 42 sports, as well as Paralympic events. Some 150 athletes who participated in the recent Olympic Games will also be competing in the Maccabiah games, according to JTA.

Former Israeli Olympians carried a large Israeli flag into the stadium, each accompanied by a participant in the special-needs events.

Reciting the Yizkor prayer of mourning in memory of the nine members of the Israeli delegation who were killed in the 1972 Summer Olympics and the four Australian athletes killed in the 1997 Maccabiah bridge disaster was Amitzur Shapira, an Israeli athlete at the Munich Olympics.

Paralympics tennis gold medalist Noam Gershony, four-time windsurfing world championship winner Lee Korzits, former Israel national soccer team goalkeeper Nir Davidovich and Israeli judoka Arik Ze’evi carried the Maccabiah torch into the stadium. They then passed it to Raisman, who lit the Maccabiah flame.

Earlier in the day, at a meeting in his Jerusalem office. Shimon Peres implored New York Knicks forward Amar’e Stoudemire, who is coaching the Canadian Maccabiah basketball team, “to join the Israeli National Team and be a part of our country.”

Stoudemire, a one-time all-star, met with Peres to present the educational project he has launched to promote in Israel — learning science through sports.

Speaking of those Canadian players that he is coaching, Stoudemire said, "“Even though these guys are not NBA players, they’re still NBA fans and they’re trying to improve the game of basketball. That’s where my expertise comes into play, I can teach them the game.”

Some 8,100 athletes from 78 countries are vying for medals in 33 individual and team sports.

Many Olympic gold medalists, world champions and world record-holders have competed in the Maccabiah. A short list includes swimmers Mark Spitz, Lenny Krayzelburg, Jason Lezak and Marilyn Ramenofsky; and gymnasts Mitch Gaylord, Abie Grossfeld, Ágnes Keleti and Valery Belenky, according to a report on the Israel21c website.

The Maccabiah actually predates the state of Israel. The first games were held in 1932 under the British Mandate of Palestine. Tel Aviv Mayor Meir Dizengoff rode through the streets of Tel Aviv on a white horse to herald the opening ceremony, which also featured the release of 120 carrier pigeons. Almost 400 athletes from 18 countries participated, including more than 60 athletes from Arab countries such as Syria and Egypt.

As the third-largest sporting event in the world, the Israeli Maccabiah. is open to Jewish athletes from across the globe. The 2013 Maccabiah slogan is: “Higher! Faster! Stronger! Sound Jewish Minds in Healthy Jewish Bodies."

According to a report on the Israel21c web site, Maccabiah Chairman Amir Peled says   that approximately 70 percent of the 9,000 visitors this summer are in Israel for the first time.

“I want them to have the best summer of their life — two weeks to experience, a lifetime to remember,” says Peled.

“They are here for sports and I wish all of them success,” he continued. “But they are also here for Jewish identity and education and Zionism, so I hope they leave here with a deep love of Israel. And if the outcome will be that they come again, to study or live, or even if they just enjoy following Israeli sports teams, I will be more than happy.”

Elliot Cohen 15, of Solana Beach, California is a starting soccer player for Team USA juniors.

“I’m excited to be in Israel and play for the U.S.,” said Elliot, an attacking center midfielder, who plays soccer for Canyon Crest Academy and San Diego Surf Soccer Club. “It’s been really fun. I’m getting to meet new friends.”

The team, which includes players born in 1997-1998, defeated Australia 2-0 in the group’s first match after the Opening Ceremonies. Elliot gave the inspirational talk in the huddle just before kickoff, according to a report in the Del Mar Times.

“He’s such a passionate player,” said Elliot’s mother, Carolyn Cohen. “It’s very invigorating to watch him. It’s really fun.”

The high school sophomore has played soccer since he was a toddler. His father, David Cohen, played for the U.S. Open Men’s soccer team in the 1985 Maccabiah Games in Israel when he was 27 years old.

David, a Solana Beach chiropractor, is currently in Israel coaching soccer and treating U.S. athletes for sports injuries. Carolyn and her daughter are traveling to Israel on July 22 to watch Elliot play and attend the Closing Ceremonies on July 30.