First Maccabiah Games Open in Tel Aviv

March 28, 1932

The first Maccabiah Games, an international Jewish Olympics, opened in Tel Aviv. Three hundred and ninety Jewish athletes from eighteen countries (some sources say fourteen or twenty-one countries) participated in the first games.

The mayor of Tel Aviv, Meir Dizengoff, opened the games by riding through the streets of the city on a white horse. At the opening ceremony, 120 carrier pigeons (10 pigeons for each of the 12 tribes of Israel), whose mission was to send to the world news of the opening of the first Maccabiah games, were released.

The games were a culmination of a growing movement of Zionist sports clubs, which began in the late nineteenth century in Europe and grew after the Fifth Zionist Congress, where Max Nordau coined the phrase Muskle Judentum (“Muscle Judaism”). By the Sixth Zionist Congress in 1903, an international federation of Zionist sports clubs was established which would become the Maccabi World Organization. In 1930, the Organization had approximately 40,000 members in 24 countries. An emphasis on physical education became a key motivator for many young Jews to become involved in the Zionist cause.

Like the Olympics, the games are held every four years in Israel.  In the summer of 2013, the 19th Maccabiah games were held with 9,000 athletes. The Maccabiah games are the third largest sporting event in the world after the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup.

To see a brief, silent video of the 1932 games by The Spielberg Jewish Film Archive at Hebrew University, click here: