Maccabiah is one of the biggest and most famous productions that Israel has to show for, but on July 14th, 1997, this production turned into one big horrible catastrophe.
A little background
The Maccabiah Games are an international multi-sport event, that takes place in Israel every four years. The games feature only Jewish athletes, from all around the world. We guess you can call it the Jewish Olympics.
The individual that came up with the idea of the Maccabiah Games was Yosef Yekutieli, a Jewish sports philanthropist from Belarus. His dream of an all-Jewish sports event came to life, and in 1932, after the World Maccabi Congress received his idea, the first Maccabiah Games were held right here in Tel Aviv. Since 1950, the Maccabiah Games have been takings place every 4 years, including in 1997.
The doomed year
1997 was not an easy year in Israel's history. Many horrible events occurred: a double suicide bombing in the Mahane Yehuda Market, the Shayetet Disaster, the triple suicide bombing on the Ben Yehuda Midrehov, the Ason HaMasokim (helicopter disaster), and much more. On the 14th of July that year, another disaster joined the awful list - Ason HaMaccabiah.
At 20:00 that day, the athletes' expeditions were making their way to the Ramat Gan Stadium. In order to shorten the way from the Yarkon to the stadium, a transient bridge was built over the Yarkon River. The bridge couldn't stand under the weight, and it collapsed as the athletes were crossing. Most of the Australian delegation (373 athletes) and part of the Austrian (51) fell into the river, as a result of the collapse.
The Yarkon river is the biggest coastal stream in Israel, but it is also one of the most polluted in the country. The collapse of the bridge caused the toxins to come up from the bottom to the surface, which caused extra health problems to the people that fell in.
Four athletes died and 69 were injured. The most famous injured athlete was Australian Sacha Alterman, who had to undergo over 30 operations. Just three years later, she was able to run and carry the Olympic Torch for 400 meters, in the Sydney Olympics.
Five people were charged and found guilty of causing death and injury by negligence and were sentenced to varying amounts of prison time and community service.
The families of the deceased and most of the injured athletes sued Maccabi World Union for damages and reparations. The court awarded them with around 20,000,000 dollars in respirations, two-thirds to be paid by the insurance company, and the rest by the Israeli government.
In 2005, the Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan municipalities built a permanent bridge on the spot, named the "15th Maccabiah Bridge", and a marble commemorative plaque was placed near it.
In conclusion, the Maccabiah Disaster was one of the worst Israel has been through, as it compromised many of the country's international ties as well as the loss of lives and injuries.
Hopefully, the lessons were learned from this tragic event, and nothing like it will ever happen again.