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25 years on, Australia remembers the Maccabiah Bridge collapse

25 years on, Australia remembers the Maccabiah Bridge collapse

Australian Jewish News – A preventable and unforgettable tragedy struck the Jewish community 25 years ago when a pedestrian bridge collapsed on Tel Aviv’s Ramat Khan grounds, carrying nearly 100 members of the Australian Maccabiah delegation.

On July 14, 1997, when the team presided over the opening ceremony of the Maccabiah Games, what should have been a joyous occasion turned into a moment of panic and devastation.

Few will forget the horrific images of people plunging into the Yarkon River, rushing through the murky waters, or being dragged out of the water and onto the debris of the bridge.

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Greg Small, 37, Yetty Bennett, 50, Elizabeth Sawicki, 47, and Warren Zines, 56, were unfortunately elected in their prime. Dozens of athletes and officials were injured.

Many in the hospital had to fight infections caused by a fungus found in Yarkon’s toxic water.

Young tennis player Sasha Eldemann, then just 15, was in a critical condition for two weeks and underwent countless surgeries in the six months following the tragedy.

Despite the shock and grief, the team decided to stay in Israel and compete in honor of their fallen teammates.

Tom Goldman, then president of Maccabi Australia, said: “I was proud and inspired by the strength, courage and pride shown by our competitors to play and compete in these Maccabi Games. We are indebted to the many members of the Australian delegation who risked their lives to save others in this tragedy.

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As the Australian Jewish News described it at the time, the ‘Mourning Games’ were halted for 24 hours of mourning, and despite the shock Australia won an era-record 60 medals.

Now, 25 years later, survivors vividly recall the moment the bridge began to crumble – a sound they mistook for gunfire – and helicopters flying overhead, the devastating situation that followed.

And the inauguration of the 21st edition of Maccabiah today is very exciting. ThursdayToday marks 25 years since the bridge collapsed.

Australia sent 560 athletes this year, the third largest after Israel and the United States, and the entire contingent attended a memorial service earlier in the week to honor the four victims and their families.

Wearing 1997 tribute T-shirts, they quietly crossed the Yargon River and laid wreaths near a memorial.

Reconstructed Maccabiah Bridge, Ramat Gan. (Ori/Wikimedia Commons)

Most of the athletes in the current delegation were not born during the tragedy. Maccabi Australia chairman Jeff Shear closed his eyes and told them “Imagine the feelings of hope, excitement and anticipation the Australian team felt on the evening of July 14, 1977… just like you”.

“Imagine, if you can, the tragedy when a bridge that was supposed to be a ritual collapsed,” he said.

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