History of Maccabi


As early as the 19th century, Jewish sports clubs were founded in Eastern and Central Europe.

The first club was the Israelite Gymnastic Association Constantinople founded in 1895 in Constantinople Turkey.

This club was formed by Jews of German and Austrian extraction who had been rejected from participating in other social sport clubs.

Two years later, haGibor was formed in Philipople, Bulgaria and in 1898 Bar Kochba Berlin was founded. These clubs set the foundation for many other sporting clubs to be formed, many started using the names “Bar Kochba” or Hebrew names such as “Hakoah”

One of the basic premises behind the founding of these clubs was Jewish Nationalism. The concept was that Jews were not only a religious entity, but also one based on a common historical and social background and having special cultural concepts that needed to be protected.

An important milestone in the formation of the Jewish sport movement occurred at a meeting of the permanent committee of the Second Zionist Congress held in Basel in 1898. Dr. Max Nordau made an impassioned plea for “Muscular Judaism” noting that

“We Jews possess an exceptional gift for physical activity. It may by that this will appear paradoxical since we have been accustomed for generations to view ourselves in the mirror which our enemies have held up to so, and to discover any number of physical blemishes. It is true that our muscles have been weakened and that our attitudes and postures are not always satisfactory… but when Jews do engage in sport their defects vanish, their postures improve, their muscles become strong and their general health gets better”.

Following Nordau’s call, many clubs were quickly organized and they became the foundation for a collective belonging. The first clubs were mainly based on gymnastics.

In 1900 the first newsletter dedicated entirely to Jewish sport, Die Juedische Turanzeitung was published.

In the first issue the editors published a stirring declaration calling for the community to “strengthen our fast disappearing sense of belonging and to lift up our assertiveness. They called for a need “to counter courageously a resurgent anti Semitism and to foster a national feeling and in front of the world recognize our Nationality.”

Bolstered by the newspaper’s daring proclamation, the numerous Jewish gymnastic clubs banded together in 1903 under the umbrella organization of Die Juedische Turnerschaft (Jewish Gymnastic Association) with headquarters in Berlin.

The constitution of Die Juedische Turnerschaft permitted membership to every Jewish gymnastic club that accepted that “the aim of the society is to foster gymnastics as a medium to build up physical fitness as part of the Jewish National Idea.”

In 1906, the first Jewish Gymnastics club was formed in Palestine. Over the next 6 years many more clubs were formed and by 1912, all of them joined the Maccabi Federation of Israel.

That same year, the first relations were established between them and their European counterparts, when a decision was taken at the Maccabi Conference in Berlin to begin group trips to Palestine.

In 1912-13 a group of gymnasts and students from Europe went to Israel and participated in a gymnastics festival held in Rehovot. One of the clubs that participated at the sports festival was the Jaffa based club Rishon L’Zion – (Which later became Maccabi Tel Aviv)

In 1927, the Hakoah club in Vienna won championships in water polo, football, hockey, swimming, fencing and wrestling. This club toured America around this time and was responsible for the awakening of Jewish athletic pride and the subsequent establishment of Jewish sports clubs in North America.

The development of Jewish sporting clubs continued to gain momentum and at the end of World War 1 – there was strong support for the formation of the Maccabi World Union. 

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