China's First-ever Delegation Rows, Jumps and Plays Squash

Six months ago, the idea of a delegation to the Maccabiah from Hong Kong and China had not even been dreamt of. Yet on Monday night, at the opening ceremony of the 17th Maccabiah Games, just ahead of Slovenia and right behind Mexico, proudly marched a six-strong team of athletes representing both Hong Kong and China.

"We were the last delegation to register," reports delegation head Rafael Aharoni, an Israeli-born businessman who has lived for the last 15 years in Hong Kong, the former British colony that became a special administrative region of China in 1997.

A few months ago, Aharoni was inspired to pull together the first ever Hong Kong-Chinese delegation to the Maccabiah after receiving a telephone call from his son, Jonathan, an actor living in Hollywood who is competing in the games on the American volleyball team. "He asked me why there were no athletes from Hong Kong or China and, after I put the question to Maccabi World Union, they appointed me chairman for the region."

Aharoni, who is honorary chairman of the Israeli Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, tapped his extensive contacts within Hong Kong's 3,000-strong Jewish community and formed a committee to promote the Maccabiah and seek out competent athletes. They tried to extend word to the 1,000 Jews living in Beijing and to the smaller community of Shanghai. "We really wanted to bring the Chinese flag too," says Aharoni, who sought permission from both the Hong Kong and Chinese governments to fly their flags.

Four of the five delegation members who will compete in the games - Aharoni is not competing - are Israelis who have permanent residency in Hong Kong. Gil Inbar and Shai Ratzon will play in the squash tournament, while Adi Haller is competing in rowing and Joe Teichmann in the high jump. The fifth athlete in the delegation is German-born Bernie Pomeranc, a tennis player who won a gold medal for the United States at the Pan-Am Maccabi Games in Argentina 10 years ago, but is now a resident of China.

Aharoni, who grew up in Jerusalem, where he was a member of the Maccabi youth movement, is adamant that the first show of athletes from Hong Kong and China at the Maccabiah will be the start of something much bigger. "The next stage is to establish Maccabi as an organization in Hong Kong," he says. "We want to bring emissaries from Israel. Four years from now, we want to bring a bigger team."