Months of preparation by Chabad as the 2015 Games open
It’s like nearing the end of a long marathon, with the finish line in sight.
After months of planning, preparing and organizing, Chabad of Berlin welcomed tens of thousands of people in town for the 2015 European Maccabi Games—wrapping tefillin with hundreds, hosting two impromptu bar mitzvahs, distributing brochures encouraging women to light Shabbat candles and handing out thousands of “Maccabi Games” kipahs on the first day alone.
With an estimated 2,300 participants from more than 36 different countries and thousands of spectators from around the world, the Berlin Jewish community in general and Chabad in particular have rolled out the official welcome mat. More than 45,000 Jews live in Berlin—out of a total Jewish population of 250,000 in the country as a whole—many of whom moved to the capital city from Eastern Europe, France, Australia, Israel and the United States.
Chabad’s presence at the games is due in large part to planning that began nearly a year ago by Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal, rabbi of the Berlin Jewish community and the head of Chabad of Berlin, and Rabbi Shmuel Segal, program director of the Chabad Jewish Educational Center in Berlin.
Because of the sheer number of people on hand, Chabad of Berlin enlisted the help of eight yeshivah students to manage some of the logistical operations, such as talking with participants, fielding questions, handing out informational materials and providing opportunities for people to perform mitzvahs. The students are among approximately 300 students, who fan across the globe—serving communities from California to China—as part of the annual Merkos Shlichus Roving Rabbis program.
Participants will test their skills in 19 disciplines, including basketball, swimming, field hockey, fencing, dressage, golf, table tennis, chess and more.
Symbolism Not Lost
The European Maccabi Games are held every four years—two years after the worldwide Maccabiah Games. European delegations send their best Jewish sportsmen and women to compete.
This year’s opening ceremony was held at the famed Waldbühne amphitheater, which was created for the 1936 Olympic Games and has since been rebuilt. It is the first time that the European Maccabi Games, which run until Aug. 5, are being held in Germany. The last Maccabi Games were held in 2011 in Vienna.
The fact that organizers are using sites that were built by the Nazis is not lost on the crowd; the symbolism is inherent.
Among those who participated in the opening of the games are descendants of Jewish athletes who performed at the 1936 Olympics. (Jewish athletes from Germany were not allowed to participate at the time, although some Jewish sport stars from other countries did.)
The relationship that has developed between Germany and Israel over the last five decades was also exhibited in the form of a youth orchestra, comprised of 50 musicians who performed during the grand opening. Half were Israeli; half were German. A Jewish band from Berlin also sang the official song: “Maccabi Chai.”
Within the framework of the opening ceremony, Rabbi Teichtal met with Israeli Vice Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior Silvan Shalom; World Jewish Congress president Ronald S. Lauder; and Alon Mayer, president of Maccabi in Germany.
Teichtal spoke with Lauder about his meetings with the Lubavitcher Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—to which Lauder expressed that “the Rebbe’s words are always with me.”
Shalom shared how moving it is that the Maccabi Games are taking place in the Olympic stadium in a country where today, young Jews are proudly displaying their pride and identity.
Together, they spoke about the vibrant growing Jewish life in Germany and the role of the games in changing the image of the German capital in the international community.
As Teichtal stated earlier this year: “We in Germany live in a free society, which recognizes the right of every individual to live a full and enriching lifestyle. In the 19 years that I have lived in Berlin, we have seen a Jewish renaissance that is still unfolding, and I have no doubt that it will continue to flourish, openly and proudly, with complete faith in G d.”
The games will continue through next week. Maccabi is hosting a major Shabbat program this week that Chabad is helping to prepare; some are even suggesting that it will break the Guinness World Record for the number of participants at a Shabbat dinner. (Chabad.org)