Rachel Katzenberg cheers with a small US flag as she marches into Teddy Stadium for the 21st Maccabiah opening ceremony. ©Mark D Phillips
Rachel Katzenberg cheers with a small US flag as she marches into Teddy Stadium for the 21st Maccabiah opening ceremony. ©Mark D Phillips

The 21st Maccabiah opened with a parade of 10,000 athletes at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem with US President Joe Biden joining Israel’s President Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Yair Lapid in attendance.

The 18 members of the USA Field Hockey team were part of the largest contingent of athletes, over 1300 strong, that included my daughter, Liza Phillips. Known as “the Jewish Olympics,”this year’s gathering has become the second largest sporting event in the world. 

With 30,000 spectators, the opening ceremony featured some of Israel’s top performers. But the parade of athletes was the start of a night that celebrated, as President Herzog stated, a gathering of his “Jewish brothers and sisters from all around the world.”

“Our land is your land. Our home is your home,” he finished.

For many of the athletes, including Liza, it was exhilarating.

“To hear them introduce us as our country was absolutely surreal,” she said. “Being able to share an International stage with people that I am connected with not just by sport is something so special.”

Prior to the opening ceremony, athletes from several countries came to the Pais Arena across the street from the stadium to watch Canada vs USA in junior ice hockey, a possible preview of the gold medal matchup. Canada’s decisive victory pumped up the Canadian delegation, one of the first countries to enter and helped set the stage for a boisterous night.

The athletes may be competing against each other, but during this night, the name of the game was the trading of gear. Hats, pins, shirts and jackets were sought by all. Liza ended the night with an Israeli jacket and a Germany tshirt, but her crowning glory was a Paraguay polo. To get it, she exchanged a USA hat for an Argentina hat, that hat got her a Turkey polo which she then  used for the Paraguay polo. Talk about international trade.

President Biden’s presence added a chaotic element to the evening with road closures and unprecedented security, but it also added a sense of excitement for the attendees. Israeli singing star Eden Ben Zaken opened the ceremony performing the aptly titled “You Will Not Beat Me” with an array of fireworks, backup dancers, fog, and a light show to begin the live telecast of the opening ceremony. For one night in Jerusalem, the world came together united by the bonds of athletics and religion.

The Israeli President summed it up with the end of his remarks.

That’s the marvelous power of sports… they make the nation better in body and spirit,” he said.

And for the next 12 days, the power of sports will be one of the biggest stories in the nation.

View daily coverage of the 21st Maccabiah Games at maccabiusa.com/live-stream