ISRAELThe 18th Maccabiah Games opened in Israel on Monday with some 7,000 competitors from 65 countries set to take part in a 12-day sporting extravaganza.

The organisers say it is the third-largest sports gathering in the world behind the Olympics and the University Games. You might have thought the world would take notice, but it barely even attracts interest among the vast majority of Israeli sports fans.

The event that was founded in 1932 was originally intended not only for pure sporting ends but as a way for Jews to circumvent immigration restrictions imposed by the British Mandatory rulers of Palestine.

For decades, mainly during times when sport was largely an amateur pursuit, the Maccabiah had merit as a gathering of top athletes and quite a few notables have taken part. The names of swimmer Mark Spitz, tennis player Brad Gilbert and gymnast Mitch Gaylord immediately come to mind as relatively recent top participants and the list of Olympic medallists and champions in big sports is not short.

But over the years, as Israel has established itself as a genuine competitor in international sport, the event has taken on much more the role of a jamboree for Jewish athletes from all over the world to express solidarity with Israel. It is also an event where young Jewish singles get the chance to meet an enormous number of potential future partners in a jovial environment.