Maccabiah Games: Israel Hosts 'Jewish Olympics'

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Israel recently hosted the 19th Maccabiah Games, one of the world's largest international sporting events.
    
The games, also known as the Jewish Olympics, draw thousands of athletes while also helping create new ambassadors for the Jewish state. 

U.S. equestrian Rebecca Weissbard,19, was among the 9,000 Jewish athletes to participate. 

"To be riding in my homeland is amazing," she said. 

Held every four year, the games take place throughout the country and this year were hosted by Jerusalem for the first time.

"Well Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people and it's only natural that we have the Maccabiah Games, the Jewish World Cup if you'd like, to have them here in the capital," Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said.

It's the third largest international sporting competition in the world.  Participants from more than 70 countries took part in some 40 different events.

For the first time, equestrians competed in events such as Grand Prix jumping and dressage.  Riders from abroad had to compete on Israeli horses.

"The horse that I drew was special in a way. It had one eye," Weissbard said. "The day before the competition he walks out and he's not 100 percent sound. So they said 'try this Duval horse.' He's the reserve horse and we clicked immediately."

Her skill and that click won Weissbard the gold medal for jumping.

"The fact that she came out on a horse that's not hers, figured out that horse and was successful and won a gold medal, it's a big honor," Weissbard's dad, Eric, said.

The first Maccabiah was held in 1932.  They've been held regularly since then, except during World War II and the founding of the state of Israel.

More than 1,100 athletes came from the United States this time.  And American teams won the championship games in men's soccer and men's basketball, both times facing off against Argentina.

"We tried hard but they are great athletes and played a great game and we fall short, but just by a little bit, so we are happy," Argentinian player Fernando Garmin said.

The name Maccabiah refers to the Jewish family that overthrew a Syrian-Greek ruler some 200 years before Jesus. The driving force behind the games today is to expose Jewish people to Israel.

"We've accomplished our mission. We brought them to Israel to play sports, that's our hook but we got them here for a fantastic program," Ron Carner, the president of Maccabi USA, told CBN News.

"They learned about Israel," he said. "They learned what's going on and they can go back home and they can be the ambassadors at their universities and at their communities with their friends and family. So they can tell them what Israel is all about."

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