Last night the Maccabiah opening ceremony splashed light, color, motion, and emotion around Israel's Ramat Gan national stadium. The thousands upon thousands in the stands were at least as exhuberant as the athletes and performers on the field. The whole event was truly awesome, not to use that word lightly.
The pre-program began with parasailors parachuting into the stadium in 2 groups of five. Followed by a Russian artistic gymnastics team, medal-winners at their event. Followed by young dancers presenting a whole pagent of red, gold, green, and blue formations: circles, hearts, and more.
Then singing, including the audience: "Am Yisrael Chai" and other favorites.
I was sitting at the end of an aisle and got to talking with Yoav, a young man doing security duty. Yoav just finished Army, completing his duty through the worst of the intifada. And, yes, there was mention of the 8,000 Israelis and others injured by terrorists and the help for these victims given by Project Tikvah (Hope). Yoav, like many just out of the Army, is off to India for a couple of months. Then to university to study architecture. He was kind enough to provide background for parts of the ceremony I might not understand. B'hatzlacha (good luck) Yoav! I enjoyed your company.
Before darkness focused attention on the field and the parade of athletes, it was fun to watch all the different contingents of fans: a whole block of Aussies in green, fans from Colombia doing the Wave with Colombian flag colors. Kids with T-shirts proclaiming "Turkia."
Then came the Parade of Athletes. 52 nations represented. Some, like Japan, with only one athlete. Some, like the Australians, with hundreds; 559 Australians to be exact, their largest delegation ever. This, the 17th Maccabiah, started in 1932, more than a decade before the modern State of Israel was official. Here's the list of nations, parading in order of their names in Hebrew (excuse misspellings, no time to ck dictionary):
Australia, Austria, Ukraine, Uruguay, Azerbijan, Italy (carrying a long banner that said, in Hebrew, "Italy Loves Israel"), Argentina, USA (all in white, the second largest contingent after the Israelis, who numbered 800+) led by Mark Spitz and Lenny Krazelburg...
...Brazil, Belgium, Belorus, Brazil, England. At this point, I've got to stop and say it was fun to see Brazil followed by England. The green/yellow Brazilians were, as one might expect, full of drama: doing flips on the field, spilling out of order with an overload of crazy energy. And the Brits, wearing red, were, yes, oh-so orderly.
...India, Holland (Netherlands), Hungary, Venezuela, Turkey, Greece, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldavia, Mexico, China/Hong Kong, Slovakia, Spain, Serbia/Montenegro, Poland, Portugal, Finland, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Chile, Czech Republic, France, Colombia, Costa Rica, Canada, Romania, Russia, Sweden (the Swedish and Russian contingents were about the same size, which surprised me), Switzerland, and Israel.
Uri, my friend Talia's son, was watching the ceremony at home on TV and was impressed that this whole stadium field was packed with athletes--all Jewish! I told Talia that we, in the stands, felt the same way. The emotion was palpable. They announced that this was the world's largest Jewish event. Yes, indeed.
Once the athletes were all on the field, they began moving, uniform colors mixed and mingled as athletes began trading. Ami told me he got a Mexican jersey, an Australian hat, and something else. BTW, Ami, I did see you as that huge river of USA athletes in white rambled by. I saw you stop and take a picture and then someone took one of you. The athletes then took their seats to watch the show.
First, a brief yizkor with the stadium lights turned off and everyone lighting mini-flashes remembered, especially, the athletes killed on the Maccabiah bridge 8 years ago. Then Gal Friedman, who won the windsurfing gold for Israel at the last Olympics, lit the Maccabiah torch.
to today. Melodies from prayers we sing. "Tents" (think "Ma tovu...") scored by the stripes of tallitot. Colored cloths held by dancers on the field were flipped to show their gold side, we in the audience held gold-foil paper, and the lights reflected a field and stands of gold as we sang "Yerushalaem shel Zahav" (Jerusalem of Gold).