Millions of people around the world are expected to watch the opening ceremony of the London Olympics at 9 p.m. London time on Friday, July 27. While the ceremony is being promoted as a joyous event celebrating tradition, athletics, patriotism and the international cooperation of the world, for the Jewish community it will be a painful ceremony reminding us that after all these years the international community still considers Jewish blood to be cheap.
In 1972, 11 athletes representing Israel in the Olympics were murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the Munich Olympics. The family members of these victims have asked the International Olympic Committee to mark the 40th anniversary of their death with a minute of silence. Their request has been rejected. In contrast, when a member of the Greek team, Voula Papachristou tweeted a racist joke, she was immediately kicked off the team for her comments because such behaviour has no place in the Olympics.
How I wish the members of the IOC could also be "kicked off the team"! Their insensitivity to the victims and their families is hurtful and harmful.
"Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano presented their request to IOC President Jacques Rogge on Wednesday along with a petition with more than 100,000 signatures. Roggeagain denied the request.
Rogge held a minute of silence in memory of the murdered 11 athletes and coaches at a small ceremony Monday in the Olympic Village. The widows have said the gesture was not sufficient.
"We are outraged by the denial of the request, which comes not only from us but from so many people around the world," Spitzer said in a statement. "Our husbands were murdered at the Olympics in Munich. To observe a minute of silence in their memory would let the world know where the IOC stands in the fight against terrorism."
Organizers of the campaign for a minute of silence have called on attendees at the opening ceremonies on Friday to stand and hold their own minute of silence at the beginning of Rogge's speech."
The "just one minute" request has been callously rejected in spite of the fact that there is enormous support for their position. Both President Obama and Governor Romney have called for a minute of silence. They too have been ignored by the International Olympic Committee.
Yet, we cannot remain silent about this matter. Our voices of protest must only get louder.
The Olympics coincides with the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, the day known as Tisha B'Av, which commemorates the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70. Jewish liturgy also notes that Tisha B'Av is the day where we remember and mourn for the many tragedies that have affected the Jewish people in our history. Thus, every year in synagogue we remember that the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 and the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto both happened on Tisha B'Av.
The rabbis teach that whoever does not properly mourn for the destruction of the Temple will never merit to see it in its glory. The upshot of this rabbinic teaching is that if we do not properly commemorate the tragedies and violence that happened to our people we will not be able to move beyond that darkness and celebrate successes.
The lesson for the Olympic Committee is clear. You will not be able to fulfill the dream of using the Olympics as a source of peace and unity to the world if you blatantly disrespect the memories of the murdered Israeli athletes.
Thankfully, the rest of the world is not as insensitive as the Olympic Committee. Resolutions have been brought forward in both houses of Congress calling for a minute of silence. Bob Costas of NBC has spoken out on behalf of a minute of silence and he has promised to commemorate the victims in his own way. The students of Catholic University of America have also been extraordinarily supportive and have galvanized support in favour of a minute of silence.
Furthermore, the Jewish community around the world in a remarkable show of unity has promised to bring the memories of these 11 Jews into the liturgy of our prayer services this Shabbat and Tisha B'Av.
In England the liberal denominations have composed a special memorial Kaddish to be recited in synagogue this weekend. And in America the Rabbinical Council of America has asked all synagogues to commemorate the anniversary of this terror attack and memorialize the souls of the victims by reciting in synagogue a special prayer composed for the occasion by the Chief Rabbi of England, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. They recommend that the prayer be recited at the beginning of Shabbat services on Friday afternoon, which in Washington D.C. coincides exactly with the moment that the opening ceremony of the Olympics will be coming to a close.
If you are not going to be in a synagogue to recite this prayer communally, then I urge you to shut your televisions when IOC Chairman Rogge rises to speak. Instead of listening to his words, remember the murdered 11 and recite this prayer:
Almighty God: 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 11 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
By: David Berger,Yossef Gutfreund, Moshe Weinberg, Eliezer Halfin, Mark Slavin, Yossef Romano, Kehat Shorr, Andre Spitzer, Amitzur Shapira, Yakov Springer, Ze'ev Friedman.