From 1985 and 1990, respectively. (William Davidson Archive of Digital Detroit History)

Many Detroiters have excelled in both the Maccabiah and Maccabi Games over the years.

We are in the midst of a great summer for Jewish sportsmen and sportswomen. The Maccabiah Games for Israeli and Jewish athletes from around the world were held in Jerusalem, July 14-27. The Maccabi Games for young Jewish athletes follows and will be held July 31-Aug. 5 in San Diego.

By the way, the name for both sets of games is derived from that of the ancient Jewish warrior, Judah Maccabee. 

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
Alene and Graham Landau Archivist Chair

First held in 1932, this year marks the 21st Maccabiah Games in Israel. Known as the “Jewish Olympics,” the games are held every four years and are considered the second largest sports event in the world in respect to the number of participants. An estimated 10,000 athletes from 60 different nations participated in the 2022 Maccabiah Games.

This year’s games were also special for another reason. For the first time in history, a U.S. President — Joe Biden — attended the games. Biden did so with the current Prime Minister of Israel Yair Lapid and Israeli President Isaac Herzog. This was a very positive moment for Israel as well as global Jewish communities.

Not to be confused with the Maccabiah Games in Israel, the Maccabi Games is the largest sports event in North America for young Jewish athletes mainly from around the U.S. and Canada (founded in 1982). Detroit has hosted the games several times, most recently in 2019, which was the last time the Maccabi Games were held. For a list of this year’s participants from Detroit, see Steve Stein’s article in the March 14, 2022, JN.

Indeed, research into the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History soon reveals that many Detroiters have excelled in both the Maccabiah and Maccabi Games over the years. I found many interesting reports; 528 pages cite the Maccabiah Games, and 1,116 pages cite the Maccabi Games. That’s a lot of stories about a lot of fine athletes. In fact, too many to name in this “Looking Back.” 

Metro Jewish Detroiters seem to have excelled in tennis, to name just one sport. See the story on Esther Frank in the March 3, 1993, JN. Norm Pappas and Susie Jacob made the U.S. masters tennis team for the 1997 Maccabiah Games (March 28, 1997). Pappas came home with silver and bronze medals. Leonard Brose won silver medals in singles and doubles in the 1985 games. A superior athlete, Brose was inducted into the Michigan Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1988 (April 15, 1988).

And there are the coaches and leaders. For example, Karen Sklar Gordon was director of the JCC Maccabi Games in 2008 and chair of the 2014 games, both held in Detroit. In 1989, as an athlete, Gordon was a finalist for the women’s basketball team. In 2018, however, Gordon coached the team!

From 2009 and 2018, respectively.
From 2009 and 2018, respectively. William Davidson Archive of Digital Detroit History

Detroiters were at this year’s Maccabiah Games. J.J. Modell participated in the men’s masters division for golf, and Ryan Berke played hockey for the U.S. team (March 3, 2022).

In conclusion, let me say that Detroit’s Jewish community has been and continues to be well represented in the most important Jewish games in the world. The proof is in the Davidson Archive, and the stories about Detroit’s best are very good reading.   

Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.

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