The Maccabiah Games, an international Jewish sports competition, began this weekend. The Games occur every four years, and began in 1932. The Maccabiah is the third largest sporting event in the world and under the supervision of the International Olympic Committee. It is a HUGE event with 10,000 athletes competing. But Israeli athletes perform in many different forums from World Competitions to the Olympics. With the Maccabiah Games underway, I wanted to take some time to honor some of Israel’s greatest athletes.
Gal Friedman was born in Hadera, Israel, and is a professional windsurfer. He won the bronze medal in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and then won bronze again in the 2001 European Championships in France. In 2002 he won gold medal at the World Championships in Thailand. In 2004, he won the Israeli National Championships, and later that year he won the gold medal in the Greece Summer Olympics. He was the first Israeli to ever win a gold medal in an Olympic competition. When he received the medal he dedicated it to the eleven Israeli athletes killed in the 1972 Munich Olympics. Gal Friedman was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2005!
Yarden was born in Kfar Saba, and raised in Netanya, Israel. She began practicing juda at the age of 6. Gerbi won the Israeli Championships in 2008 and again in 2009. Then she competed in championships, such as the Grand Prix Qingdao, the Warsaw World Cup, and World Championships in Tokyo. In December 2014, Yarden was named Israeli Sportswoman of the Year. In 2015, she won a bronze medal at the 2015 European Games. On August 9, 2016, she won the bronze medal at the 2016 Rio de Janerio Summer Olympics. Yarden Gerbi took part in the Opening Ceremony of the 2017 Maccabiah Games.
Or Sasson was born in 1990 in Jerusalem, Israel. He is a professional judoka. He began training when he was eight years old. In July 2009, he won the gold medal at the Maccabiah Games in Tel Aviv. In Feburary 2012, he won gold medal in the World Cup in Prague. He won two more golds in February 2013 in the European Open Tbilisi in Georgia and the European Open Warsaw. Or won the silver medal at the 2016 European Judo Championships. In the 2016 Rio de Janerio Summer Olympics, Or Sasson won the bronze medal! Even when others didn’t behave in the spirit of sportsmanship and the Olympics, he acted in very professionally and classy!
Yael Arad was born in Tel Aviv and began training in Judo at the age of eight. Within six months, she ranked second in Israel in her weight and age class. She won her first international title in 1984 at the age of 17, getting in 7th place in the world judo championships in Vienna. Arad won more medals in the European Championships in 1989, 1990, and 1991. She then trained in Japan to advanced her skill. In the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics, Yael Arad won the silver medal. She was the first Israeli to win an Olympic medal! She dedicated the medal to the Israelis killed in the Munich Massacre. A year later, she won gold in the European championships. She participated in the opening ceremony of the 1993 Maccabiah Games. Because of Yael Arad, judo is a popular sport in Israel. Today she is a sports commentator.
Shahar Pe’er is an Israeli tennis player, who has played internationally since as early as 2001. She began playing tennis at the age of six, and hasn’t stopped since! She competed throughout her service in the Israel Defense Force. Since Pe’er competed many different competitions from the Sony Ericsson Open, the Estoril Open, Wimbeldon, and the U.S. Open. In February 2009, she was stopped from playing in the Dubai Tennis Championships. Many other tennis players, including Venus Williams, condemned the United Arab Emirates for rejecting Pe’er’s visa. Andy Roddick, 2008 winner of the men’s singles, did not attend the competition in protest.
Omri Casspi was born in Holon, and raised in Yavne, Israel. He was drafted in the 2009 NBA draft, becoming the first Israeli to be selected in the first round of an NBA draft. Casspi is also the first Israeli to play in an NBA game. First Omri played for the Sacramento Kings before moving on to Cleveland, and then to other teams. He is director of the Omri Casspi Foundation, an organization sponsoring trips for basketball players and other celebrations to come to Israel. His goal is to show these participants what Israel is really like. He took part in the Opening Ceremony of the 2017 Maccabiah Games.
These are just a few of some Israel’s top athletes, who are performing and competing around the world. They are proudly representing Israel on many different fields and courts. Every year Israeli athletes are sent out to represent Israel, and now Jews from around the world are coming to Israel and representing their home countries. May the athletes perform well and have the best of luck!!!