When the Canadian delegation marches into Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem on July 6 to mark the official opening of the 20th Maccabiah Games, expect to see a few familiar faces in the crowd.
Josh Binstock, a six foot five beach volleyball star, will compete in his second consecutive Maccabiah Games, one year after representing Canada at the Rio Olympics. Among the women, Sasha Gollish will vie for a medal in track and field, after donning Canadian colours at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto.
Broadcaster Dan Shulman will be among the basketball players gunning for a medal and hoping to avoid injury, which took him out of the competition four years ago.
And pitcher Mark Bendahan will lead the Masters division softball team to Israel, just as he’s been doing since his days as an “Open” division athlete in the 1980s.
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Altogether, some 600 athletes, coaches, medical staff and administrative personnel will comprise the Canadian delegation, making Canada one of the top five Diaspora teams at the Games.
Held every four years and dubbed “the Jewish Olympics,” the Maccabiah Games brings Jewish athletes together from the four corners of the world, to compete in dozens of sports. Some 9,000 participants from more than 70 countries are expected to be in Israel for the two-week athletic extravaganza, making it the third largest sporting event in the world.
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As part of this year’s Games, Canada’s teen athletes will arrive in Israel a few days ahead of the Open (adult) and Masters (35+) athletes, to enjoy an “Israel Experience,” similar to Birthright, said Tali Dubrovsky, national executive director for Maccabi Canada.
The 250-strong Junior delegation of youngsters aged 15 to 18, will tour the country, while training and preparing for the Games, Dubrovsky said.
For many athletes, with only a peripheral interest in Jewish life, the Maccabiah Games is their entry into the Jewish world and it has influenced some to get in touch with their heritage.
One young athlete, following her first trip to Israel for the 2013 Games, returned home and had her bat mitzvah at age 17, Dubrovsky said.
Another youngster, who played on the junior basketball team and who hailed from a small town with no other Jews, enjoyed meeting Jews from around the world and became much more connected to his heritage, she said.
The Games also has a multiplier effect: not only do the athletes get exposed to Israeli culture, so too do many parents and other family members. Dubrovsky said Maccabi Canada has acquired 750 tickets to the opening ceremonies for family members. And based on previous experience, she expects a few hundred more will find their own tickets to the event.
The last time around, at the 2013 Games, Canadian athletes earned 83 medals, but with a smaller team this time around, it might be difficult to duplicate that number.
Maccabi Canada will send two Junior boys teams, one Junior girls team, an Open men’s team and a Masters team to the soccer competition.
Canada is also well represented in basketball, with two boys and one girls Junior teams, one men’s Open team and one Masters team.
Hockey will again be featured at the Games, but unlike in past years, when Canada has cruised to gold medal wins, the competition in 2017 will be held in Jerusalem, not at the Canada Center in Metulla. Canada will send three teams: one Open men’s team, a boys Junior team and a Masters squad.
Canada should also do well in beach volleyball, with Olympian Binstock joining forces with fellow national team member Aaron Nusbaum.
On the hard court, Maccabi Canada is sending a Junior girls volleyball team.
Other team sports with Canadian representation include boys Junior baseball, Open and Masters golf and water polo.
In the pool, Canada will be represented by 20 Juniors and 11 Open and Masters swimmers.
Albert Shoihet, a member of Canada’s national team, is a medal contender in squash.
Gollish, a bronze medal winner in the 1,500 metres sprint competition at the 2015 Pan Am Games, heads up the track team. Gollish is a Maccabiah veteran, having won the half marathon at the 2013 Games.
While Gollish is certainly a medal hopeful given her track record, participation by female athletes has fallen since the last Games, said Dubrovsky.
That has brought down the total number of the Canadian delegation to 600 from 700.
“Less women are staying in sports, so we were unable to fill a women’s basketball team and a women’s soccer team.
“In addition, there was not enough interest in cricket and rugby,” Dubrovsky added.