Although he carried home no medals, the real winner of the 16th Maccabiah Games that closed on Monday was Todd Chase. The sport in which the American bachelor specialized was not included in the official program. The 36-year-old Chase, trainer of a seniors' volleyball team, spent his time in Israel very pleasantly as he went on a nationwide hunting expedition.
In a flash of brilliance, he waved a sign at the Maccabiah's opening ceremony that carried the clear message that he was looking for a wife. Within 24 hours and especially after his appearance on Channel Two, the telephone switchboard at his hotel came perilously close to collapsing under the flood of calls from eligible Israeli women.
It can be assumed that the 16th Maccabiah will produce a few more matrimonial matches and a few more romances. That kind of thing always happens at sports events, especially when the event brings together young Jewish men and women from all parts of the Diaspora. However, the reduction of the dangers of assimilation is not one of the Maccabiah's goals and it certainly does not justify spending millions of shekels.
One should not underestimate the games' by-product: Israel's statement that it would not capitulate to Palestinian terror and a demonstration by young Diaspora Jews that they and their parents did not let fear stand in the way of the holding of these games, despite the tense security situation.
Former justice minister Yossi Beilin once proposed, a number of years ago, that a new model be established for Israel-Diaspora relations: Instead of continuing to receive "charity" from the Jews of the world (charity that it no longer really needs), Israel itself should fund from its own treasury visits here by Diaspora Jewish youth. In doing so, Israel would cast aside the image of the needy cousin that it continues to broadcast to the Jews of the world. Furthermore, Israel would create a new basis for its relationship with world Jewry: Jewish education and a recognition of Israel's new reality.
Although that was not their purpose, the organizers of the 16th Maccabiah inadvertently carried out Beilin's plan, although the actual implementation left much to be desired, owing to the circumstances. The organizers managed to bring to Israel 2,000 young Jewish men and women; however, because of a deep concern for their safety, they fenced these visitors off in hotels and sports facilities and did not allow them to come into contact with the real Israel.
However, even if the accommodations were impeccable, this is not the goal of the Maccabiah, which was founded, and which continues, to further one central goal: to conduct a sports event that would be a Jewish version of the Olympics and which would fulfill Zionist leader Max Nordau's dream of a "muscular Judaism."
From this standpoint, the 16th Maccabiah was an incredible flop. The athletic results were embarrassingly low. The level of performance in all the sports events was dismal. The only redeeming feature was the achievement of backstroke swimmer Lenny Krayzelburg, an Olympic champion and a world record holder. Although his results in the Maccabiah were far below his best performance, they served as a cogent reminder that the Maccabiah is intended, first and foremost, to be a sports event. If it cannot function in that capacity, it would be better not to hold it at all.
The money that has been - and will be - invested in the 16th Maccabiah would have been better spent to advance Israeli sport. The Ministry of Science, Culture and Sport has already transferred to the organizers, the world Maccabiah movement, the sum of NIS 3.5 million and has obtained on their behalf a commitment from the Finance Ministry and from the Prime Minister's Office for a few more million shekels. This money is needed to cover the deficit incurred because of the cost of security arrangements for the 2,000 overseas participants. Even if the sport ministry people do not know precisely what the total bill will come to, it is obvious that it will be somewhere in the neighborhood of between NIS 10-NIS 15 million.
This is a gargantuan sum, which brings to mind only one appropriate phrase: What a lovely waste of money! The sport ministry's total direct funding for the country's dozens of athletic organizations was NIS 17 million this year. Were it not for the Maccabiah, Israel's athletes could have enjoyed double that amount, which, in any case, is insufficient for the needs of a nation that, more than any other nation on earth (certainly any other Western nation), must live up to the counsel, "A sound mind in a sound body."
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now