Israel plays host to this year’s Maccabiah Games in Jerusalem, bringing a record-breaking 9,500 athletes from all over the world to the Holy Land.

More than 30,000 people attended a gala event that included fireworks, parades, and music as they celebrated the largest Maccabiah Games in history. With more than 9,500 athletes from 78 countries in attendance, the Games, otherwise known as the Jewish Olympics, have taken over much of Jerusalem. World leaders such as UK Prime Minister David Cameron and American President Barack Obama addressed the event.

“Welcome to Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Israel. Year after year, Jews around the world say ‘Next year in Jerusalem,’ but you say ‘This year in Jerusalem,'” Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu said in his welcome address. “We are all one family, and one people – we are all the people of Israel.” The prime minister also issued an invitation to the athletes, “After winning medals and winning achievement, go tour Israel. This is your country … I hope you and your families decide after this visit to come and live here.”

UK Prime Minister David Cameron called the Maccabiah Games “a tremendous force for good bringing Jewish people together from across the world. As we saw in the Olympics in Britain last year, sport has a unique capability of bringing people together.” For US President Obama, “[These games] are a great reminder of how sports can bring people together, and also a great example of friendship between nations, especially between Israel and the United States.”

For many of the athletes, the Maccabiah Games are a family tradition. “Like my father, Maccabiah has been an important part of my life,” said Greg Small, an Australian participant.  “This is my second Maccabiah Games in ten-pin bowling, just like my dad. In fact, I’m wearing my dad’s bowling shirt.” The Indian delegation has two father and son pairs competing in the games as well. One such combination is Jitesh and Roshan Bangera, representing the Indian national team, who will play against their older brother Shailesh, who made aliyah and is playing for the Israeli team.

Even countries with small Jewish communities, such as the Bahamas, Guinea Bissau, Luxemburg, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Cuba, sent delegations to the Maccabiah. For Cuba, it was the first time that the country’s Jewish community participated. When the Cuban team was announced, they danced their way forward accompanied by 13 dancers. And for the first time in decades, Morocco sent a delegation to the Games, which along with Turkey was one of only two Jewish communities hailing from predominately Muslim countries that took part in the Jewish Olympics.

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By Rachel Avraham, staff writer for United With Israel