A recent article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz—Who is a Jew at the Maccabiah Games—illustrates the challenge for a rapidly diversifying Jewish population. With no set policy, the international Jewish Olympics taking place in Israel allows each country to determine “who is a Jew.” The US delegation allows patrilineal Jews:
“My father raised me as a Jew, I attended synagogue with him, and I regard myself as fully Jewish,” D.T., a Division One college basketball player, says. “I don’t think it’s right that some of the delegations exclude someone because one of their parents has another religion. We’re a shrinking people, and we should try to include as many people as possible.”
Argentina goes even further toward inclusion, allowing non-Jews married to Jews to compete:
The head of the Argentine delegation, Juan Balanofsky, said he does not inspect the religious background of each competitor. “We have 70,000 members at 47 Maccabi clubs across the country, and we think one of the best ways to keep young people and their families involved in the [Jewish] community and connected to Israel is through sports,” he says.
Considering it’s just sports, it seems odd that some countries like Australia and South Africa would adhere so strictly to matrilineal descent to determine participation, but we’re guessing they believe it has ramifications for Jewish life beyond the Maccabi Games. Unfortunately, they are drawing a black-and-white line in an otherwise gray world.
Take for example the Jewish State herself: “When it comes to the Israeli delegation, Jewishness is not a criteria: one of the first medal winners at the 17th Maccabiah was Asala Shahada, a female Arab swimmer.”