RAMAT GAN, Israel - Some 7,000 Jewish athletes from 51 countries participated in opening ceremonies for the 18th Maccabiah, often referred to as the Jewish Olympics.
Ami Ortiz, the Messianic Jewish teen who survived a terrorist bomb planted in a holiday gift package last year, accompanied the athlete carrying Puerto Rico's flag in the opening ceremonies.
The Maccabiah, which has been held every four years since 1932, includes 31 different sports.
While the athletes hail from around the world, their Jewish heritage is the glue that bonds them.
"It's unbelievably beautiful to meet so many Jews from other countries," said Ernest Strul, 33, a soccer player from Germany.
Australian squash player Irvin Gordon, 58, said broadcasting the competition "to Jewish households worldwide" is "exciting."
"This is a meeting of a diverse group of Jews with different backgrounds and social cultures, but at the end of the day, when they go to the synagogue, they pray in the same language as I do," Gordon said.
The biggest group comes from Maccabi USA, with more than 900 athletes from 41 states competing in 28 different sports.
The American athletes range from age 15 to an 81-year-old tennis player who will compete in Grand Masters Tennis.
"The Maccabiah represents the very best of Jewish athleticism, Maccabia USA general chairman Ron Carner said in a press release.
"By combining top-level competition with a sincere dedication to Jewish ideals and the people and land of Israel, we are deeply proud to be representing the US in these historic Games," he said.