By Sigurd Neubauer
“Our delegation to the Maccabiah Games was larger than that of the U.S. Olympic delegation,” CEO of Maccabi USA Marshall Einhorn proclaims enthusiastically. Not only did the U.S. delegation of some 1,300 individuals attend the sporting event, which brings Jewish athletes from around the world to Israel every four years to compete, but President Joe Biden graced the event in July through his attendance of the opening ceremony.
How it all happened, Einhorn explains, was “a bit of good timing and luck.” The sporting event, which took place from July 14-25, coincided with Biden’s visit to Israel. He was in Israel from July 13-15 before traveling on to Saudi Arabia for talks with Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman Al-Saud. “Once Biden’s schedule seemed to be aligning, we began the planning process with Maccabi World Union and the White House,” he reveals.
200 people from the delegation were selected to meet with Biden, with the President telling them that “he was proud of us,” Einhorn recalls. “It was a very meaningful and historic moment as Biden stood next to his Israeli counterpart, Isaac Herzog, and Prime Minister Yair Lapid, while holding a Maccabi USA team hat that we had given him as a small token of appreciation.”
President Joe Biden, center. To his left, President Isaac Herzog and to the right, Prime Minister Yair Lapid
In a wide-ranging interview on Einhorn’s vision for Maccabi USA, the CEO says that Maccabi USA aims to create more opportunities for Jewish athletes to participate and compete in the sporting event.
This includes bringing new sports. In 2022, for the first time ever, a women’s ice hockey and rugby teams were added. Another first was a basketball and soccer team for girls under 16, respectively. “We feel strongly about getting more female athletes involved,” Einhorn says as he sees increased opportunities for their participation.
The new women’s teams did very well, with the girls basketball and soccer teams both winning gold medals. The U.S. women’s rugby and ice hockey teams won silver medals, he added.
Another new sport that Maccabi USA brought to the 2022 Maccabiah Games is women’s futsal, a version of soccer. Futsal is a form of small-sided indoor soccer. “It is played between two teams who each have five players on the pitch at any one time, with rolling substitutes and a smaller ball than soccer that is harder and less bouncy,” according to the Union of European Football Associations.
The U.S. women’s Futsal team won silver, Einhorn adds. As part of his vision for the Maccabiah Games, Einhorn not only wants to increase accessibility to the sporting event for men and women but also for Paralympians. With this in mind, Maccabi USA worked hard to ensure para basketball as a category, “something Maccabi USA takes pride in,” the CEO explains.
Beyond the games taking place in Israel within the four-year cycle, Maccabi provides opportunities two years after the Israel games. One sporting event takes place in Latin America and the other in Europe, both under the Maccabi umbrella. The next Pan American games will take place in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in late December 2023.
While the next European games have yet to be announced, the inaugural Maccabi Germany Winter Games will take place in Ruhpolding, Germany in January 2023. The U.S. delegation will compete in skiing, figure skating and snowboarding, among other winter sports. Einhorn sees the Winter Games as an additional opportunity for American Jews to connect with each other through a new set of sports.
Einhorn was hired to lead Maccabi USA just before the last Pan American and European games, which took place in Mexico City, Mexico and Budapest, Hungary in 2019. He was drawn to the job by his own passions for playing and following sports and for Jewish communal service.
With each new game, coupled with our goal of providing funding for hundreds of athletes by ensuring that their participation is affordable, this will have ripple effects on Jewish life and culture
On what it takes to make U.S. participation in the Maccabiah Games sustainable as athletes are typically required to pay their own way, Einhorn is working on establishing partnerships with organizations to raise funds to help provide financial assistance to those in need.
It also requires lots of fundraising over a multiyear cycle. “We need to raise over $8 million, which includes targeting many individuals and foundations for small and large donations. We are also trying to recruit professional and college-level athletes by covering their participation, which can be costly.”
“Our fundraising covers the European and Pan American games as well. We’re not immune from the economic trends over the past two years. Because things are getting more expensive due to the inflation, we need to raise more money,” Einhorn adds.
A key donor to Maccabi USA is Stuart Weitzman, a celebrated women’s shoe designer whose namesake brand was founded in 1965.
Weitzman is not only passionate about supporting the Maccabiah Games through a $5 million grant to match any donations to Maccabi USA up to $3 million, which is meant to support scholarships for athletes in financial need, but the philanthropist even won the bronze medal for table tennis during the 2022 games.
So far, Maccabi USA has raised $2 million while Weitzman has provided $4 million. In order to secure the remaining $1 million pledged by Weitzman, Maccabi USA has to raise $1 million by the end December 2022, Einhorn reveals.
Einhorn is optimistic about the future.
“It is a historic organizational moment for us. With each new Maccabiah, coupled with our goal of providing funding for hundreds of athletes by ensuring that their participation is affordable, this will have ripple effects on Jewish life and culture. We’re incredibly grateful to Stuart for his generosity,” Einhorn says.
Tennis remains one of the most popular sports within the Maccabiah Games. To help realize their goal of adding new sports, Maccabi USA hopes to add pickleball, which is becoming increasingly popular among seniors and players of all ages.
Returning to the subject of why the Maccabi USA delegation was larger than its U.S. Olympic counterpart, Einhorn says that it was because “we have a couple of other categories,” which include: Open category for 18-35-year-old men and women, respectively; one for Juniors, age 14-18 for men and women, respectively; and a Masters category for 35 and up for men and women, respectively. Additionally, there were five tennis players who were 80 years and older.
There was even one 85 year-old man who had requested a category for men his age, “but we were unfortunately unable to accommodate that request,” Einhorn says.
“To bring all of them to Israel for 2-3 weeks was quite a complex operation.”
Marshall Einhorn is passionate about athletics and Jewish communal life
The Maccabees – a group of warriors fighting the Syrian-Greek occupation in 139 BCE (3622) – represent heroism in Jewish history. Spearheaded by Judah Maccabee, the warriors liberated Jerusalem and lifted the Greek prohibition against practicing Judaism. The Hanukkah holiday is celebrated annually to commemorate the spiritual and military victories.
Judah Maccabee’s heroism is also celebrated by the great German baroque composer George Friedrich Händel (1685-1759) in his oratorio in three acts dedicated to the military leader. Its chorus remains one of the most beloved pieces within the classical music repertoire. Before that, the famous Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens’ (1577-1640) painted The Triumph of Judas Maccabeus, which has been immortalized in art history.
Fast forward to the twentieth century, when anti-Semitism began to surge across Europe and Jews were excluded from sports clubs, Judah Maccabee once again represented Jewish renewal.
U.S. Delegation to the Maccabi Games, 1932. Courtesy of Maccabi USA
In 1932, the first Maccabiah Games took place in what was then British Palestine. The games resumed in 1935, but the 3rd Maccabiah, which was originally scheduled for spring of 1938 was postponed until 1950 because of Europe’s march towards World War II followed by the Holocaust. It became the first Maccabiah to be held after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
Ever since, it has been organized every four years, with the exception of a five-year period between 2017 and 2022 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The sporting event takes place the year following the Olympic Games.
During the 1930s, European Jews were excluded from many sports clubs
We’re incredibly grateful for Stuart Weitzman's generosity: Einhorn