Historical Facts on the Maccabiah Games

Maccabi USA (MUSA), the sponsor of the USA Team to the World Maccabiah Games, evolved from a dream shared by founders Harry Henshel, Charles Orenstein, Edward Rosenblum and Harold O. Zimman.  Established in 1948, mere weeks after the establishment of the Jewish Homeland, these four men embarked on a dual Mission to help Israel develop as a nation through sports and to promote fitness and athleticism among Jewish youth.  Subsequent Presidents – Bob Spivak (1981-2001), Toni Wortman (2002-2009), Ron Carner (2010-2017) and Jeff Bukantz (Present ) proudly carried the organization to further growth.

The organization, originally named the United States Committee Sports for Israel, realized its early goals with Israel’s official recognition by the International Olympic Committee, paving the way for Israel’s participation in the 1952 Olympic Games.  MUSA then began to develop projects which focused on creating a heightened sense of Jewish identity, strengthening Jewish bonds and developing strong feelings of solidarity with Israel.

Today, over 60 years after its inception, Maccabi USA remains dedicated to enriching the lives of Jews through athletic, cultural and educational programs.  Hundreds of volunteers work tirelessly to promote a wide variety of Maccabi USA programs to assure that the organization remains relevant to Jews in the United States, Israel and throughout the Diaspora.  Maccabi USA is the official sponsor of the USA Teams that participate in the World Maccabiah Games, the Pan American Maccabi Games, and other international Maccabi events, and is one of the partners of the JCC Maccabi Games.

Maccabi USA was designated by the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) in 2013 as one of its Multi-Sport Organizations.  The organization is also an adjunct member of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and one of 55 territorial representatives of Maccabi World Union, the international governing body of the Maccabi Movement.

Maccabi World Union

Founded in 1921, Maccabi World Union (MWU) is a Jewish, Zionist, non-political organization.  MWU and the Maccabi Movement are dedicated to the furthering of Jewish education and sports as well as the promotion of Jewish identity and traditions through cultural, social and educational activities for all ages.

Headquartered in Ramat Gan, Israel, MWU spans six continents, with more than 450,000 members in 75 different countries worldwide.  MWU is the largest international Jewish membership organization in the world with more that 60% of its constituents under the age of 30, highlighted by its Maccabi Young Leadership (MYL).

The name Maccabi personifies the ancient spirit of Jewish strength and determination, demonstrated by the Maccabees, who fought to defend the spiritual rights and sovereignty of the Jewish People.  The Maccabi Movement is a living expression of Jewish identity, Jewish continuity and the will to survive.

The Maccabiah Experience

They come from all over the World to the State of Israel.  For three unforgettable weeks, Jews of all ages and backgrounds convene to share their culture, history and values.  And they come to compete.

These Jewish travelers are athletes who gather for the World Maccabiah Games, an Olympic-style competition that is among the top international sporting events in the world.  There is something magical about the Maccabiah Games, a certain feeling that touches the heart and soul of everyone who participates.  It’s not a feeling that abruptly fades away at the conclusion of the competition.  Rather, it lasts a lifetime.

The Maccabi Movement, named for Judah (The Hammer) Maccabee, was initiated in 1895 when the first all-Jewish Maccabi Gymnastics Club was formed in Constantinople.  By the end of World War I, more than 100 Maccabi-style clubs existed in Europe.  The first Maccabiah Games, featuring 14 countries and 390 athletes, was held in 1932.  World events forced the delay of the third Maccabiah Games, scheduled for 1938, until 1950.  The Maccabiah Games have been a quadrennial event since 1953.  In 1989, motivated by the leadership and vision of Bob Spivak and Alan Sherman, MUSA introduced the concept of a pre-camp, which added cultural and educational programs to enhance and enrich the Maccabiah experience for Open and Juniors athletes.  In 2009, the four-day Pre-camp program, now known as ISRAEL CONNECT, was extended to seven days and included visits to the Western Wall, Yad Vashem, Masada and other important historical and cultural sites, a Jewish Identity Seminar and the opportunity for all Team members to become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah.  This experience helps to develop a sense of Jewish awareness and Jewish pride and creates a lifelong connection between the athletes and the State of Israel.  Numerous athletes have described ISRAEL CONNECT, our signature program, as the highlight of their Maccabiah experience, and this program has become so successful that other countries now offer a similar program to their athletes.

Maccabi USA sponsors USA participation in this athletic, cultural and educational extravaganza.  Maccabiah Games participants include Basketball stars Ernie Grunfeld, Tal Brody, Danny Schayes and Dolph Schayes, past WNBA President Donna (Geils) Orender; Golfer Bruce Fleisher; Gymnasts Mitch Gaylord, Aly Raisman and Kerri Strug (15th Games Honorary Chair); Rower Don Spero; Swimmers Anthony Ervin, Scott Goldblatt, Lenny Krayzelburg, Jason Lezak, Garrett Weber-Gale and Mark Spitz; Tennis pros Brad Gilbert and Dick Savitt.

Through a program known as Yachad – Hebrew for “together” — every member of the USA Team raises money in support of the Maccabiah. This “shared commitment” program has been implemented to ensure the continued success of the Maccabiah Games.


2017- 20th Maccabiah Games featured:

  • A 1,131-member USA Team, representing 42 states and the District of Columbia, joined by over 9,000 athletes from 80 countries
  • Competition in 31 sports, 59 teams featuring American athletes.  New sports included Lacrosse and Chess
  • USA participation in four categories: Open, Juniors, Masters, and Juniors/Youth, plus Wheelchair Basketball
  • The USA Delegation participating in ISRAEL CONNECT, a pre-competition educational program that included educational seminars and touring throughout Israel with Team Rabbis Daniel Greyber and Tina Sobo, both of whom were Maccabiah Swimmers. For the first time the educational program reached a new level when we worked with Stand With Us on the Hasbara component of the experience emphasizing the relationship between the US and Israel
  • The continuation of Lev L’Lev, our highly successful Tzedakah program, through which USA athletes interact with Israeli children at various institutions including an Arab Village when we provided eyeglasses.
  • More than 220 members of the USA Maccabiah Team participating in the Phyllis Magerman B’nai Mitzvah
  • The USA Delegation earned 95 Gold, 129 Silver and 147 Bronze medals
  • 100% participation by the USA Team in our shared commitment program, Yachad, raising funds for the Maccabiah and helping Jewish athletes from around the world