The USA Maccabiah Rugby team took home the silver medal at the 16th World Maccabiah Games in July. The Maccabiah Games is an Olympic-style event held every four years in Israel. Over 3,000 Jewish athletes representing over 50 countries compete in dozens of team and individual athletic events. In the 4-team rugby competition, USA was narrowly defeated 15-11 in the finals by South Africa.
The most important story of the Maccabiah Games was that the Games were held at all. Bombings by Palestinian terrorists in and around Tel Aviv, Netanya and other Games locations just weeks before the July event concerned Games organizers and participants of all countries. However, the Maccabiah host committees ensured that all security measures would be taken, and the leading delegations decided that the games should be held without delay. Unfortunately, many athletes from the US and abroad decided not to go, including the rugby teams from Argentina, Australia and the UK. Entire US teams bowed out, and numbers for all events were reduced. The US Maccabiah ruggers, on the other hand, were absolute in their resolve and commitment to the Games, as 22 selected athletes enthusiastically opted to participate.
The USA Maccabiah team included only 5 returning veterans from the 1997 side that won the gold medal. But with 9 USA Superleague players and an extensive preparation schedule, the team had high hopes for a repeat gold medal performance. Head coach Jim Calmas called the team to a 3-day camp in Austin on February 23-25 to gel the side. The long weekend focused on fundamentals and tactics, and culminated on the last day with a decisive win over a solid Texas Select side. After 3 months of fundraising, emails and other organizational efforts, the team worked on strategy and fine-tuning during a 2-day camp in Long Island, July 6-7. In the early morning hours on July 8, the team joined over 350 Jewish American athletes for the 11-hour flight from New York to Tel Aviv.
The primary purpose of the Maccabiah is to deepen and strengthen the connection between Jews around the world with the State of Israel. As such, the USA delegation arrived a week before the games to tour Israel, lodging at the K’far Maccabiah, a sports club located in Ramat-Gan, a suburb south of Tel Aviv. Each day began with a tough early morning training session, and after a quick shower and breakfast, the delegation loaded on to buses to tour the country until late in the evening.