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Maccabi World Union is the oldest continuously active Zionist organization

“Muscular Judaism”


Theodore Herzl spoke of the need to reclaim the physical Jew. At the Second Zionist Congress in 1898, Herzl’s chief lieutenant, Max Nordau, called for the need to develop what he termed “muscular Judaism”. Nordau contributed greatly to the idea of the New Jew, a total transformation of the frightened Jew of the ghetto. 

The essence of the New Jew was physical training through sport, gymnastics and clubs.

In the last years of the nineteenth century and the opening years of the twentieth, a number of Jewish sporting clubs began to develop, especially in central Europe. They had names that echoed great heroic moments and characters from Jewish history such as Maccabi, Bar Kochba, Shimshon (Samson) or names that evoked power and heroism-  HaKoach (Strength), Gibbor (Brave) and Gevurah (Heroism).


Maccabi Expands

speerwerfer herbert sonnenfeld galleryimageAt the fourth Zionist Congress at Basle, in 1903, the foundations of the Union of Jewish Gymnastic Clubs, the basis of the future Maccabi organization, were laid. From the outset, the clubs emphasized physical development in service of the Jewish nation. With time, they crystallized into the Maccabi Federation with dozens of affiliated clubs and this formally became the World Maccabi Union in 1921, with headquarters over the next decades in a number of European cities.

At the same time, Maccabi was developing as an organization in Eretz Yisrael. In 1912, the Israeli federation of Maccabi was formed and Maccabi became the central sporting element in the country.


The Maccabiah is Born

The idea of organizing a Jewish Olympic Games - the Maccabiah - had been thrown around over the years but the first concrete initiative was made in the late 1920s by Yosef Yekutieli, one of the heads of Israeli Maccabi and a founder of the Israeli Football Association. Yekutieli had specific aims for the games:

  • The development of Jewish culture – both physical and spiritual.
  • The development of Jewish sport - Jewish athletes were not just part of their home countries but part of the Jewish people as a whole.
  • Emphasis of Eretz Yisrael as the center of the Jewish world.
  • The strengthening of the Maccabi movement.

His proposal was accepted in 1929 and in 1932 the first Maccabiah was held.

For 125 years, Maccabi has focused on creating sound Jewish minds in healthy Jewish bodies. Through sports and informal education, we promote Jewish peoplehood and unity to ensure a bright Jewish future with Israel as the center of Jewish life