Ahead of the 21st Maccabiah Games, explore photos from ‘Jewish Olympics’ history



(JTA) — Hanukkah isn’t the only time Jews around the world celebrate the legacy of Hasmonean hero Judah Maccabee.

Every four years, 10,000 or so athletes — mostly Jews, plus Israelis of any religion — descend upon Israel for the Maccabiah Games, the world’s largest Jewish athletic competition, sometimes called the Jewish Olympics.

Run by the World Maccabi Union, the competition began in 1932 and includes athletes from roughly 80 countries. Here is a JTA dispatch from the first Maccabiah Games, in April 1932.

In 1938, the third iteration of the competition was postponed until 1950 due to World War II and Israel’s War of Independence.

The competition then took place every four years from 1953 through 2017. The 21st Maccabiah Games, scheduled for the summer of 2021, was pushed back due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Games are split into four divisions based on age and ability — open, juniors, masters, and paralympics — and feature dozens of sports. 

Jewish sports legends like Mark Spitz, Agnes Keleti, Kerri Strug, Isaac Berger and others have participated over the years. 

The 21st Maccabiah Games open Wednesday, July 12, and will run through July 26.

Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael – Jewish National Fund, a Maccabiah partner, has shared with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency some images from its Maccabiah photo archive. It’s quite a trip down Jewish sports memory lane.

People on a field

Athletes line up at the inaugural Maccabiah Games in 1932. (Miriam Shamir/KKL–JNF Photo Archive)


A tower with birds at the top

Pigeons are released from a tower built in honor of the 2nd Maccabiah Games in Tel Aviv, 1935. (Zultan Kugler/KKL-JNF Photo Archive)


Gymasts practice at the 2nd Maccabiah Games, in Tel Aviv, 1935. (Zultan Kugler/KKL-JNF Photo Archive)


A sports stadium with fans

The 3rd Maccabiah Games was the first at the stadium in Ramat Gan, Israel, in 1950. (Jacob Rozner/KKL-JNF Photo Archive)


Athletes line up at the 3rd Maccabiah Games in Ramat Gan, Israel, 1950. (Edgar Hirshbein/KKL–JNF Photo Archive)


Torch lighting

The torch is lit at the 3rd Maccabiah Games in Ramat Gan, 1950. (Izik Eiznshtark/KKL–JNF Photo Archive)

For more coverage of the upcoming Maccabiah Games, subscribe to The Jewish Sport Report, JTA’s weekly Jewish sports newsletter.

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