Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Drawn to Israel for Maccabiah Games

The New York Times, By Dina Kraft (11/7/2009)
Jason Lezak said it was easy to choose to swim in the Maccabiah Games instead of this month’s world championships in Rome...
Lezak provided a highlight of the Beijing Games last summer with his photo-finish victory as anchor of the United States’ 4x100-meter freestyle relay helping Michael Phelps’s bid for eight gold medals. The 6-foot-4 Lezak out-touched Alain Bernard of France by 0.08 of a second with the fastest split ever, 46.06 seconds.
This year’s gathering will include almost 8,000 athletes from 56 countries. Organizers say this is the second-largest worldwide event after the Olympics. Along with international Jewish athletes, Arab citizens will also compete as members of the Israeli team...
He said that the draw of the Maccabiah Games was not simply athletic, but they also gave him a chance to visit Israel for the first time and to learn more about his Jewish roots. He toured Israel with the rest of the 900-member United States delegation, bobbing in weightless wonder in the Dead Sea, learning the history of the ancient desert Jewish fortress of Masada while walking among its ruins, and exploring Jerusalem’s Old City.
Lezak said he was especially moved during a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. Relatives of his grandfather were killed by the Nazis.
“To be there and see the videos and the testimonials is horrifying,” he said. “It’s hard to believe such things happened.”
The Maccabiah was founded to encourage Jewish participation in sports and strengthen a sense of Jewish identity. The first Games were held in 1932 in what was then the British mandate of Palestine. When they reconvened in 1935, many of the European athletes remained behind, seeking sanctuary from Hitler’s rise...