A Message of Hope after Tragedy

Wednesday, July 17, 2013 11:00 AM

KKL-JNF Dedicates a Memorial to the Yarkon Maccabiah Victims

"Sixteen years ago, at this very spot, the bridge collapsed under the feet of the Australian athletes. This terrible tragedy is a trauma that remains with us to this day." KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler was speaking on Monday, July 15, at a ceremony at the Yarkon Park in Ramat Gan dedicating a memorial for Greg Small, Yetty Bennett, Elizabeth Sawicki and Warren Zines, the four Australian athletes who were killed on July 14, 1997, when a temporary bridge over the Yarkon River collapsed. Another 60 Australian athletes who were visiting Israel to participate in the Maccabiah Games were injured.

The memorial. Photo: Tania Susskind

"It was precisely at this point that the Australian community demonstrated grace and nobility by deciding to adopt the Yarkon River, to rehabilitate it and transform it," Stenzler continued. "With the help of its Australian friends, KKL-JNF has created constructed wetlands that purify wastewater near Kfar Saba before it reaches the Yarkon, built bridges and created biking trails. The Australian community supports KKL-JNF's cutting-edge biofilter projects, which harvest urban runoff and purify it. We are also working on the ANZAC trail in memory of the soldiers from Australia and New Zealand who fought here during World War I. In fact, the ANZAC soldiers crossed the Yarkon during that military campaign.

Efi Stenzler. Photo: Tania Susskind

"Today, you also crossed the Yarkon, a moving gesture in memory of those who met their deaths here sixteen years ago. By doing so, you have sent a message of hope for all of us. I can assure you that KKL-JNF will continue to support the Maccabiah and to care for the Yarkon River," Stenzler concluded.

The 19th Maccabiah is taking place in Israel on July 18-30th, 2013. Around 9,000 athletes from 72 countries are taking part in the games, and 20,000 tourists are in Israel to attend the event. The Maccabiah is the third largest sporting event in the world, after the Olympics and the Universiade, and this year's games are the largest Jewish-Zionist sports event ever held in Israel.

His Excellency Mr. Dave Sharma, the Australian Ambassador to Israel, noted that Tisha Be'Av would be observed in Israel in the evening, "a day of tragedy for the Jewish people. We are here to commemorate our own tragedy. Australia has a special place in its heart for sports, which brings out what's best about the Australian people. Greg Small's son Joshua is here today, following in his father's footsteps. I want to congratulate him for the strength to come here and honor his father's memory by participating in the games."

His Excellency Mr Dave Sharma

Moment of silence. Photos: Tanis Susskind

Ramzi Gabai, the acting mayor of Ramat Gan, said that the memory of the victims will always cast a shadow over the events. "Let us hope that the Jewish flame in our hearts and our common ideals will inspire us to future achievements and keep their memories alive."

Ms. Lisa Borowick, President of Maccabi Australian Delegation to the 19th Maccabiah: "Today we commemorate the sixteenth anniversary of the dreadful bridge disaster that took four lives. When tragedy occurs, you can either dwell in the shadow of the past or continue to write new chapters in the book of life. I was assistant manager of the team 16 years ago, and I decided to continue. Today, my fifteen-year old daughter is competing in one of the teams."

Mr. Harry Procel OAM, Head of the Australian Delegation to the 19th Maccabiah, asked everyone in the audience who was part of the Australian delegation sixteen years ago to stand: "Those of us who were here that night, our lives were changed forever. At the same time, we also look at the present. The Maccabiah Games are a unique expression of the spirit and of our love of Israel. I am both proud and humbled to be the leader of the 2013 Australian team."

Joshua Small

The bridge. Photos: Tania Susskind

Mr. Roy Salomon, Honorary President of the 19th Maccabiah, described the fateful night when the Australian team gathered to decide whether to go on with the games or to go home: "Tom Goldman asked for a show of hands, and the entire Australian team rose and clapped. They clapped not only to express their desire to continue the games, but also to honor their four teammates who died. We will never forget them."

The final speaker was Joshua Small, the son of Greg Small, whose words moved many in the audience to tears: "My life changed forever sixteen years ago. This is the second time I am here, participating in the bowling competition, and I'm wearing my father's bowling shirt. Thank you for honoring my father's memory and the memory of the other three Australian athletes who died with him."