After 18 months of planning and preparing, and 18 years since Atlanta last hosted, the JCC Maccabi Games arrived with Sunday night’s opening ceremonies at Ameris Bank Amphitheatre.
The festivities began with a procession of more than 1,600 athletes from 33 different delegations across the U.S., and three international teams from Mexico, Panama and Israel. Each delegation marched proudly down the stadium behind their banner and sign in their team jerseys and shirts designed to represent their home communities.
Last to walk in was the hosting Atlanta delegation, the largest in Maccabi Games history, at more than 600 athletes. The group was led by Freddy Falcon, mascot of the Atlanta Falcons, and the Atlanta Drum Academy, who created an exciting atmosphere for the host team’s entrance.
The procession was followed by the singing of the American and Canadian national anthems by 11-year-old Atlanta native Angelica Hale, who has been featured on “America’s Got Talent” multiple times. Hannah Zale, another local artist, sang the “Hatikvah.”
The ceremony then transitioned to a reflective rendition of the annual tribute for the Munich 11 tragedy, which honored the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches that were massacred during the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich, Germany. Atlanta sand artist Joe Castillo used his storytelling through sand to illustrate the importance of remembering the fallen Jewish athletes of the past and how earlier sporting events differ from today, where Jewish athletes from around the world can come together to compete in a safe and open environment.
Olympic athlete Adam Rippon followed the tribute with a speech that went along with this year’s theme of the games, beyond sports. He told the athletes to remember the friends and memories that they will make this year, and what it truly means to compete and be a champion. “I am in a room full of champions,” he said.
At the end of his speech, he led an oath for Maccabi participants to follow during the games. Then it was time for games to officially begin and the opening ceremonies to end with the lighting of the Maccabi flame by Lisa and Ron Brill, honorary co-chairs of the games. They were joined onstage by Hale as she sang “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten.
This year’s opening ceremony was definitely memorable, showcasing that Atlanta and its Jewish community has the capacity and excitement to kick off such a huge athletic event.