Max Nordau is kvelling from the great weight room in the sky. The Zionist father of the Maccabi games dreamed of Jews, with rippling muscles and athletic talent who would dispel the old stereotype of physical weakness and give rise to a “new Jew.”
The Sunday evening welcome party of the 18th Maccabi fulfilled Max’s dreams many times over, with Jewish athletes from all over the planet partying hard at the Kfar Maccabiah in Ramat Gan and showing the results of their conditioning.
Tel Aviv has a huge youth culture, and the Maccabiah athletes fit right in. Thousands of them took over the extensive park grounds, exchanging T shirts, eating Chinese food (go figure) , flirting, dancing and sizing up the competition.
A huge soundstage with a DJ and light show kept the crowd stirred up. A female pop trio sang Israeli folk songs redone as electronica followed by a well-intentioned but ragged “tribute to Michael Jackson” by a troupe of dancers who could have used a little more rehearsal time. For the final act, singer/dancer Michal Amdurski covered Olivia Newton John’s “Let’s Get Physical” with no apparent irony.
It is amazing to see so many Jews from so many different places. It’s great to hear German spoken by members of that delegation attired in their punning “Love Isreal” T-shirts. It’s amusing to see softball players from a South American nation with long unpronounceable Eastern European names stitched across their polo shirts smoking cigarettes and looking like they could also be competitive in a hot-dog eating contest—definitely not meeting Max Nordau’s approval .
And who knew Finland has so many Jews? There is even a delegation from Palau. I asked a blond blue-eyed Spanish athlete how many his country sent. When I responded that 76 seemed like a big number for Spain, he said that they have a large Jewish community—15,000. “Not so many,” I replied. “Well, the Inquisition really did us in,” he replied.
Brazilians, Russians, Lithuanians, Hungarians, Brits, Mexicans, Belgians, Argentineans and Dutch. With over 5,000 athletes from 90 different countries, at times it seems a little like the “Jew N.”