The Maccabiah Games are a quadrennial athletic festival held at the permanent host country, Israel, and open to Jewish athletes from around the world. Known as the Jewish Olympics, the Games are second only to the Olympics in both the number of participating countries and of competing athletes.
Judah Maccabee was a legendary Jewish warrior who battled the ancient Greeks in what was then Palestine in 160 BC. In 1927, the Jewish movement that had been founded to promote better physical fitness among the Jews living in the ghettos of European cities adopted the name of this warrior as their symbol. The Maccabi World Union was later founded to promote physical education within the broader Jewish heritage. In the face of rising social pressures on European Jews, particularly in Germany and in the Soviet Union, the Maccabi World Union soon became a symbol of the worldwide Zionist movement and the drive to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Today, it is under the auspices of the Maccabi World Union that the Games are staged.
The first Maccabiah Games was held in Tel Aviv (in the former Palestine) in 1932. The Games resumed in 1950, following the disruptions caused by World War II and the subsequent founding of the state of Israel in 1948. As of 1957, the Games have been held in Israel every four years, the seventeenth edition taking place in 2005, with 50 nations and over 6,000 athletes participating. The Maccabiah delegation from the United States, a country with a large Jewish community, included more than 900 athletes. The Games have a format similar to that of the Summer Olympics, with track and field events, swimming, boxing, soccer, basketball, and volleyball competitions.
The Maccabiah Games are a member of the Olympic movement headed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). As with national Olympic organizing committees, the member countries of the Maccabiah Games have national Maccabiah organizations that direct the qualifying competitions for each Maccabiah Games in their respective countries.
Israel, the permanent home to the Maccabiah Games, is a country that has been in a state of war with a number of its Arab neighbors since its creation in 1948. The Games have been affected at various times by these regional tensions, but to a large degree, through a combination of comprehensive Israeli security measures and the fact that the Games are a demonstrably peaceful event, disruptive incidents have been few.