After the establishment of the first Jewish gymnastic club in Istanbul in 1895, Jewish sporting clubs quickly spread across Europe and the rest of the world.
These early clubs were gymnastic clubs which promoted physical fitness but soon body-building and competitive sports, such as swimming, athletics, tennis and, in Australia, cricket, became popular.
In Melbourne, the history of AJAX and Maccabi is interwoven with the former roof body, the Judaean League. The leaders and founders of the League were Les Abrahams, Maurice Ashkanasy and Ben Abrahams.
Over the years, club memberships have ebbed and flowed. The Gymnasium once had 350 members. The Swimming Club, under the Presidency of the late Arthur Maver, had over 400 members. During Hans Licht's stewardship, Tennis had over 300 members in St. Kilda (and a waiting list to join), and nearly 250 at North Eastern Jewish Tennis Club with Clive Fredman and Ben Alexander.
Many of our community leaders were members of, and competed for, AJAX and Maccabi Victoria. To name just a few, Judges Merkel, Goldberg and Wodak competed in football, tennis and hockey; businessmen, the late Richard Pratt was in football and swimming, and David Mandie was in cricket and football; and politicians, the late Baron Snider and Walter Jona, were members of the Tennis Club.
Today, Maccabi Victoria is the largest Jewish organisation in Australia with 23 clubs and over 4,200 members.