Budapest, Hungary – On Tuesday evening, Hungarian president János Áder officially opened the 15th European Maccabi Games in front of thousands of spectators at Budapest’s Új Hidegkuti Nándor Stadium.
The flame was lit by Hungarian chess grandmaster Judit Polgár, often considered to be the strongest female chess player of all time, and 98-year-old Hungary-born Israeli gymnast Ágnes Keleti, the oldest Olympic champion alive and one of the most successful Jewish Olympic athletes of all time.
During the event, a rabbi recited the Yizkor mourning prayer, mentioning Jewish athletes who were murdered in the Holocaust and adding that “all of us are here now is proof of Jewish continuity in Europe, we are symbol of ‘an yisrael chai’ – the people of Israel live, and thrive, and tonight we are celebrating this.”
All together, 2,311 Jewish athletes from 42 countries have gathered in the Hungarian capital to take part in this year’s edition. With 180 athletes, Israel sent its largest ever delegation, followed closely by the United States, with about 150 athletes, France, South Africa and Germany.
Marathon runner Peter Hajdú, 65, ran 530 kilometers from Prague over 10 days to attend Tuesday’s opening ceremony.
The central venue of the Games will be the Ludovika Campus in the Orczy Gardens where daily awards ceremonies will be held, as well as exhibitions, concerts and film screenings. The Games will last until Wednesday.
It is the first time since the first European Maccabi Games in 1929 in Prague that Central Europe hosts the event.
The largest Jewish sports event in Europe, the European Maccabi Games are held every four years, two years after the World Maccabiah Games in Israel, often referred to as the “Jewish Olympics”. The previous edition was held in Berlin. It was the first time since World War II that Jewish athletes from all over Europe competed on the territory of the former German Reich.