Maccabi South Africa’s origins date back to 1934 when Ian Maltz made enquiries about the 1st Maccabiah and indicated the desire of South Africa to participate in the 2nd Games. He convened a meeting on 4 November 1934 at the Carlton Hotel in Johannesburg and invited many prominent Jewish and non-Jewish personalities. A committee was formed under the chairmanship of Norman Lurie, and a second Committee was established in the Cape, chaired by Archie Shaksnovis. As a result of these efforts, on 5 March 1935 a team of 19 South African athletes left Johannesburg to compete in the 2nd Maccabiah in Palestine.
The result of this memorable trip was the establishment of the Johannesburg Maccabi Association who held its first General Meeting in March 1936. Norman Lurie was elected President, with Ian Maltz as Chairman and Abe Hyman as Secretary. The organisation needed its own grounds and Balfour Park came into being, which gave impetus to the formation of scores of Jewish sports clubs from Cape Town to Salisbury.
WW2 resulted in a lapse of 15 years before the 3rd Maccabiah were held in 1950. The SA team performed with distinction and placed 3rd overall. In March 1951 the National Maccabi movement was formally constituted and its inaugural meeting was appropriately held at Balfour Park where Ian Maltz became the first Chairman. Also present at the meeting were Louis Gecelter and Arthur Goldman who became Chairmen in 1967 and 1972 respectively. The organisation was later incorporated as a department of the SAZF.
When the Council was established it accepted the aims and objectives of the Maccabi World Union and its Constitution was based on that of MWU. The immediate task of the new Council was to establish Maccabi Associations in the provinces. Western Province was one of the first to be established, followed by Free State and then the four Transvaal areas and remaining provinces. The national headquarters was based in Johannesburg.
Maccabi South Africa has been deeply rooted in the community for over 80 years and has participated in every Maccabiah since 1935. Team SA has performed with distinction, from the Junior age group (launched by MWU in 1985) through to Grand Masters, and has featured many Springbok and Protea Jewish sportspersons. In addition, numerous Goodwill Tours and events between SA and Israel have taken place across numerous sports, as well as visits by Israeli National sports teams.
The organisation has been particularly active in the new millennium: In 2003 Maccabi SA accepted an invitation to participate at its first Pan American Games in Chile, followed by Buenos Aires in 2007, Sao Paulo in 2011 and again in Chile in 2015.
At the 1993 Games, Team Maccabi SA competed in 22 sports, winning 94 medals including 27 golds, all the highest totals to date for SA. In 2013, Maccabi SA sent its largest ever delegation of 378 athletes to the 19th Maccabiah, together with an estimated 300 supporters. A significant 65% of athletes were under 25 and 21% were female. Team Maccabi SA was also the biggest delegation from the diaspora relative to the size of the community and incorporated a small delegation from the ”lost communities’’ of Mauritius and Zimbabwe. The SA athletes performed admirably and won 44 medals, including 12 golds. Overall, Team Maccabi SA came 5th in the Open category, 6th in Masters and 7th in Juniors.
To date, Team Maccabi SA has sent 3486 persons to attend 19 Maccabiah, winning a total of 827 medals, including 288 golds.
In 2015 Team Maccabi SA successfully competed at its first European Maccabi Games, bringing home 10 medals.
Maccabi SA administrators are also respected internationally where they play an influential role on the MWU Executive. Jeanne Futeran, Maccabi SA Chairwomen from 1993-1997, was appointed Maccabi World Union Vice-President and then President in 2001, the first women to hold both positions. In 2009 Jeanne received the Yakir Award for outstanding services to Maccabi. Maccabi SA President Mervyn Tankelowitz (2010 – 2019) serves on the Yakir Award Committee and himself received the Yakir Award in 2013.