Remembering Israel’s athletes on their yahrzeits
By Gary Rotto
SAN DIEGO — The question is “How should the International Olympic Committee commemorate and remember the slaying of 11 Israeli Olympic Athletes at the Munich Olympics?”
The conversation has focused on one answer, which, of course, is not the question, but only one answer. Whether on Facebook or via the petition campaign at Change.org, the only answer forwarded has been to have a moment of silence at the Opening Ceremonies.
I agree that the Munich 11 should be remembered at not only this but other Olympic Games, but I disagree that the moment of silence at the Opening Ceremonies is the right venue. There are only two connections that I see: that they were killed in Europe and that they were Olympic athletes. Usually, when a tragedy occurs in sports, those who died are remembered at the very next event. But this is 40 years later. And they were not killed in London. And it was not on this date. But they should be remembered.
Writing in The Guardian, Danny Ayalon notes that the IOC has held a moment of silence for someone who died. In February 2010, Georgian Nodar Kumaritashvili, an Olympic luger, lost control of his sled during a training run on the Olympic course in Whistler, Canada. The IOC held a moment of silence in his memory at the Opening Ceremonies of the Winter Olympics just days after his death. But this was at the next ceremonial occasion. If the IOC continues to have a moment of silence for Kumaritashvili at subsequent Winter Games, then yes, they should commemorate all athletes who died while attending the competition. But I doubt they will continue with a regularly scheduled tribute to Kumaritashvili.
Before Ayalon’s involvement, the request for a formal moment of silence had come from the families of several of those Israeli athletes who died in Munich, including Ankie Spitzer, the wife of Andrei Spitzer. The Rockland, NY JCC has helped to take up the cause with an online petition. And they should be commended for bringing the memory of the Munich 11 to the forefront of public awareness with their website, Munich11.org.
With the IOC, formal requests must come from the member organizations. I have read of support for the moment of silence from President Obama, Secretary Clinton, former Governor Romney, and officials of Germany, Canada and Australia. But I have not read of the Israeli Olympic Committee or any other Olympic Committee petitioning the IOC for such a tribute. In fact, Israel’s representative to the IOC, Alex Gilady said that he would not support such a request. Gilady was the deputy team leader for the Israeli television delegation that covered the 1972 Olympics.
As a graduate student, I worked for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee in the USC Olympic Village. It was a wonderful experience, being in the village, working directly with coaches, Olympic Officials and athletes. My position was of a training scheduler for basketball. So the officials of the teams would come to me to find out with facilities were available at the times they needed and to book that venue. But besides the spirit of sportsmanship and hope that I could experience while walking around the village and interacting with the athletes, as a Los Angelino, I experienced the great disappointment that not a single International Olympic Committee member attended the community’s memorial to the slain athletes at LA City Hall. And this was the compromise memorial as the IOC would not allow a plaque to be placed at the LA Coliseum before or during the 1984 Olympics.
The IOC has a sorry past history with regard to the tragedy that it has had to deal with over these years – from the appropriate address by then IOC President Avery Brundage making little reference to the murdered athletes during the memorial at the 1972 Olympics to the lack of IOC presence at subsequent commemorations.
The other day, current IOC President Jacques Rogge, London Olympic Organizing Committee chairman Sebastian Coe, London Mayor Boris Johnson along with other British government and IOC officials, held a moment of silence at the Olympic athletes’ village. That’s the first time that such a commemoration has ever happened. With more notice and wider attendance by IOC members, it’s a fitting tribute.
The IOC should have a commemoration in the athlete’s village as was done earlier this week – at each and every Olympics. It was at the athletes’ village that the athletes were abducted so this is a fitting place for a tribute. But that event should be a more public tribute with media coverage and all IOC members should be required to attend.
Another possibility would be for some ceremony to be held each September on the occasion of the Israeli athletes’ yahrzeit. I recognize that the sporting competition usually is not held in September. But it is the yahrzeit of the athletes, coaches and judges and a fitting time to remember those who took the Olympic Oath.
While the massacre devastated the Israeli Olympic Committee and team, the team rebounded and Israeli athletes, coaches and judges continue to participate and excel. Not unlike the literary Phoenix – to be reborn and thrive — the Israeli National Olympic Committee has been renewed and strengthened since that tragic time. And is this not one important aspect of sport, to rise above any obstacle and to be able to compete in sport in the spirit of sportsmanship? Such an event can demonstrate the true Olympic Spirit.
For all of us, we can recite this prayer tonight (Friday, July 27) that the Chief Rabbi of London has authored:
We, the members of this holy congregation,
Together with members of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth,
Join our prayers to the prayers of others throughout the world,
In remembrance of the eleven Israeli athletes
Brutally murdered in an act of terrorism,
At the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich,
Because they were Israelis,
Because they were Jews.
At this time in the Jewish year,
When we remember the destructions of our holy Temples,
And the many tragedies that have befallen our people throughout history,
We mourn their loss
And continue to protest against those who hate our people.
We pray to You, O God:
Comfort the families and friends of the Israeli athletes who continue to grieve
And grant eternal life to those so cruelly robbed of life on earth.
Just as we are united in grief,
Help us stay united in hope.
As we comfort one another under the shadow of death,
Help us strengthen one another in honouring life.
The Olympic message is one of peace, of harmony and of unity,
Teach us, Almighty God, to bring reconciliation and respect between faiths,
As we pray for the peace of Israel,
And for the peace of the world.
May this be Your will and let us say: Amen
אֲדוֹן הָעוֹלָמִים זְכוֹר אֶת נִשְמוֹת
דוד ברגר (David Berger)
יוסף גוטפרוינד (Yossef Gutfreund)
משה ויינברג (Moshe Weinberg)
אליעזר חלפין (Eliezer Halfin)
מרק סלבין (Mark Slavin)
יוסף רומנו (Yossef Romano)
קהת שור (Kehat Shorr)
אנדרי שפיצר (Andre Spitzer)
עמיצור שפירא (Amitzur Shapira)
יעקב שפּרינגר (Yakov Springer)
זאב פרידמן (Ze’ev Friedman)
Rotto is a freelance writer based in San Diego. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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