IT’S official … following almost three months of individual and team sport trials over the summer, a 560-strong delegation of athletes has been selected to represent Australia at the 21st Maccabiah Games in Israel this July.
Head of the Australian delegation, Barry Smorgon, said he feels heartened that despite all the COVID-caused delays and hurdles to the planning process, “the community have shown faith” in big numbers, and can now look forward to an incredible Maccabiah experience.
“In March 2020, at the outbreak of COVID and the subsequent postponement of the Tokyo Olympics and the Maccabiah Games by one year, I couldn’t imagine that we would have such a large team going to Israel this year,” Smorgon said.
“Our outstanding volunteer- run Maccabiah management group has worked tirelessly for two years, and there is genuine excitement building from the athletes, now that their uniforms have been ordered, and they can see that Maccabiah will be going ahead.”
A replica of the Maccabiah torch will tour Australia in May, and other activities are planned to ensure the community can get behind the team.
The athletes selected include 153 in the junior and youth categories, 193 in open, and 133 in masters, plus there will be 50 coaches and team managers, and a support team of medical, media, and security personnel.
Australia will be represented by 45 teams in 20 sports, including the new disciplines to Maccabiah like 3x3 basketball, and climbing.
It is anticipated that up to 600 family members and friends will fly to Israel to cheer on the Australian team, and Australian Maccabiah VIP Supporter packages, ranging from seven to 14 and 18 nights, are available to book.
Sam Gamsu – head of Games Operations and Sport for the Australian delegation – visited Israel last month to meet the Maccabi World Union’s Games organising committee, and inspect the main sport venues and hotels the team will be using in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Netanya.
“Having inspected the facilities, I’m more than confident that these Games may be the best ever,” Gamsu said.
Remarkably, the 21st Maccabiah Games will be former National Soccer League star and Hakoah football legend Jonathan Pillemer’s ninth consecutive Games.
The 55-year-old made his first Maccabiah appearance in 1989 when he was 21, alongside his brothers Michael and Russel, and he went on to play for Australia another five times in the open men’s football team, and in the masters squad in the past two Games.
This July, he will play masters football again, and be accompanied by his two brothers for the fourth time. Both Tom and Zach, another nephew, will debut in the Open men’s football team.
Even though Pillemer played in hundreds of matches in his heyday in the NSL, for Charlton Athletic in the UK, for Hakoah in the NSW state league, and for Australia at the World Masters Games, the Maccabi NSW Hall of Fame member, and former Hakoah FC chair, regards playing for Australia at the Maccabiah Games “as the most special experience of all”.
“My greatest memory is making my Maccabiah debut – marching in the opening ceremony in Israel in front of 40,000 cheering people.
“It was 33 years ago, but it still gives me goosebumps.
“And the lifelong friends I’ve made through the Maccabiah Games, from across Australia and around the world, are truly special.
”His advice to everyone representing Australia at the 21st Maccabiah is “enjoy every moment – it’s an experience like no other”.