Make way for Maccabiah: an 85-year journey through the 'Jewish Olympics'

A brief history of the Maccabiah Games – from the inaugural event to their upcoming 20th anniversary

Maccabiah 9
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By Jennifer Greenberg |

Who could have imaged that the dream of a 15-year-old Jewish kid would one day become a reality. After the Eretz Israel Soccer Association was founded 85 years later, the Maccabiah games took shape and are still going strong thanks to the ambitions and intense efforts of Joseph Yekutieli. His nonstop lobbying laid the pavement for the organization, which facilitates the worldwide gathering of young Jewish athletes in Israel. With the 20th Maccabiah games coming up this July (2017), we thought we'd take you on an athletic journey through time, starting with the history of the very first gathering and ending in 2017. 

A brief history of Maccabiah

Maccabiah 1
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1st Maccabiah: 1932

  • The highlights: the U.S. team dominated in track and field, while the Egyptian delegation won every boxing match
  • The MVPs: Saul Moyal (Egyptian fencer who won top medals in all three categories), Sybil Koff (American track star who won gold in four events: the 100-meter race, high jump, broad jump and women’s triathlon)
  • The participating countries: Austria, Bulgaria, Great Britain, Danzig, Denmark, Greece, Lebanon, Lithuania, Latvia, Syria, Yugoslavia, Egypt, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Switzerland, Palestine, United States
  • The numbers: 390 Jewish athletes (including 60 from Arab lands), 18 countries
  • The stadium: construction of the Maccabi Stadium was completed on the eve of Opening Ceremonies
Maccabiah 2
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2nd Maccabiah: 1935

  • The highlights: as a result of the Second Maccabiah, Israel got its first swimming pool (50m long) in Haifa's Bat Galim neighborhood
  • The MVPs: Lillian Copeland (U.S. track and field star who won gold for discus, javelin and shot put)
  • The new countries: Italy, Belgium, Holland, Turkey, France, South Africa
  • The new events: judo, cycling, weight lifting, rowing, volleyball, sharpshooting
  • The numbers: 1, 250 Jewish athletes, 28 countries, 18 events
Maccabiah 3
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3rd Maccabiah: 1950

  • The highlights: the Third Maccabiah was the first to take place in Israel as an independent state
  • The MVPs: Edith Cohen Mintz (tennis player whose daughter was a member of the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team and granddaughter now plays for the Israeli all-star team), Eliezer Shpiegel (soccer)
  • The new countries: Canada, Argentina, Australia, India, Ireland, Finland, Sweden
  • The new events: handball, basketball
  • The numbers: 800 athletes, 20 countries, 17 events
Maccabiah 4
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4th Maccabiah: 1953

  • The highlights: the Eliyahu Savislotsky Medal for outstanding athlete of the Maccabiah was presented for the first time to Canadian wrestler Fred Oberlander
  • The MVPs: Angela Buxton (future Wimbledon champion), Shoshana Rivner (Israeli swimmer who won 2 gold medals)
  • The new countries: Zimbabwe, Brazil, Chile
  • The new events: table tennis, sharpshooting
  • The numbers: 892 athletes, 23 countries, 19 events
Maccabiah 5
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5th Maccabiah: 1957

  • The highlights: A permanent village was erected for competing athletes
  • The MVPs: Harold Brumber (South African sprinter who set records in the 100-meter and 200-meter races)
  • The numbers: 980 athletes (250 from Israel), 19 events
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