Musings on Jewish Education and Jewish Living

Remembering the Munich 11

Much has been made of the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s decision not to recognize the 40th anniversary of the Munich 11 – Israeli athletes who were murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Olympic games in Munich – at the Opening Ceremonies.  Many called for the IOC to hold a minute of silence and petitions were circulated in Israel, in the United States and online.  I’ve even read articles alleging that this will never happen and why.

Now Canadian Member of Parliament, Irwin Cotler, has called on IOC president Jacques Rogge to remember the athletes at the London Olympics Closing Ceremonies on Sunday.  Cotler said the decision not to honor the fallen athletes with a minute of silence at the London Olympic’s opening ceremony was “as offensive as it is incomprehensible… Not only were the athletes killed because they were Israeli and Jewish, but that the moment of silence is being denied them also because they are Israeli and Jewish.”

To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure how I felt about a minute of silence during the Opening Ceremonies.  Had it occurred, I certainly would have honored it and participated.  However, I wonder if that would have been the appropriate time.

In fact, the refusal of the IOC to memorialize the Munich 11 has probably raised far more awareness and memory than their acquiescence would have.  For example:

  •  Bob Costas took the opportunity  to remember the 1972 Israeli athletes as the Israeli delegation entered the Olympic stadium.  “These games mark the 40th anniversary of the 1972 tragedy in Munich, when 11 Israeli coaches and athletes were murdered by Palestinian terrorists. There have been calls from a number of quarters for the IOC to acknowledge that with a moment of silence at some point in tonight’s ceremony. The IOC denied that request, noting it had honored the victims on other occasions.”
  •  Jacques Rogge led a surprise tribute to the Munich 11 in the Olympic Village on July 23, prior to the start of the Olympics.  This was the first time such an event was held in an Olympic village.
  • A memorial was held in London on August 6.  Ankie Spitzer, widow of one of the slain athletes, declared, “the dead deserved to be honored as Olympians in an Olympic context and not in the various places where memorials have been held,” including Monday’s event at London’s Guildhall.
  • Gold medal gymnast Aly Raisman, in interviews following her winning floor exercise, said, “If there had been a moment’s silence,” Raisman said, “I would have supported it and respected it.”  Performing to the music of Hava Nagila, Raisman told reporters, “Having that floor music wasn’t intentional.  But the fact it was on the 40th anniversary is special, and winning the gold today means a lot to me.”

So what are the “take aways” from all of this?  Judaism teaches us that Zikaron (Remembrance) is an important value.  We remember our dead at five specific times each year: on Yom Kippur, Atzeret-Simchat Torah, Passover, Shavuot, and on the anniversary of the death.  While it would have been appropriate and appreciated for the IOC to memorialize the Munich 11 at the Opening Ceremonies, ultimately it is not their responsibility; it is our responsibility as Jews to do so.

Also, I was so impressed with Aly Raisman’s poise and confidence as she held up her Jewish identity for the entire world to see.  I pray that our children, teens and young adults will wear their own Jewish identities as comfortably and as confidently as Raisman does and I wonder what we can do to ensure that happening.

What are your “take aways” and suggestions?

I would love to hear from you and invite you to join the conversation. If you are not comfortable responding here, please feel free to send me a private email at lgoldstein@beth-elsa.org

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Comments on: "Remembering the Munich 11" (1)

  1. Since I was only 7 years old at the time of the 1972 Olympics, the Munich games might have been just a faint memory. But I became involved in gymnastics at the JCC right after watching the games that year. The following year, the San Antonio JCC held a memorial dinner for the athletes & coaches murdered in Munich. They brought in some athletes that had competed in the ’72 Olympics, including US gymnast, Nancy Theis, as well as broadcaster, Jim McKay. Our gymnastics team was asked to do a demonstration with Nancy Theis, which was a great honor. That experience was one I will never forget, not just because I met olympic athletes, but because I will always remember what happened to those Israeli athletes & coaches.

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