Monday, July 16, 2012

Moment of Silence at 2012 Olympics: Honoring the Munich Victims

THE INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE hasn't changed in the last 40 years. And
that is a sad fact.

In 1972, terrorists took 11 Israeli athletes hostage in the Olympic village; two were murdered on the spot, and eventually all of the athletes were massacred. While the world looked on in horror, the IOC shamelessly decided that the Games must go on; and after a short 24 hour hiatus, the Olympics resumed. As Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray said at the time “Incredibly, they're going on with it; It's almost like having a dance at Dachau.” Adding insult to injury, Avery Brundage, the President of the IOC, gave a shocking  speech at the memorial ceremony; Brundage stated that “the Games of the 20th Olympiad have been subjected to two savage attacks”

What were those two attacks? One was the attack on the Israeli athletes; the second attack was the “savage” international pressure that forced the IOC to remove the racist country of Rhodesia from the Olympics! This exceptionally offensive comparison shocked many around the world, and showed the IOC’s complete lack of concern about the plight of the Israeli athletes. The 1972 Munich Olympics have been an ugly blemish on the reputation of the IOC ever since.

Fast forward 40 years. You would think the IOC would be eager to somehow atone for its' offensive behaviour in 1972; but sadly, that’s not the case. When Ankie Spitzer, the widow of one of the victims of the Munich Massacre requested a minute of silence at the opening ceremonies to commemorate the 11 athletes, she was rejected.  It’s not that a moment of silence is unprecedented; it was done in 2010 for a luger who died in a practice run, and in 2002 for the victims of 9-11. As Ankie Spitzer puts it: “I have to call the baby by its name; the IOC’s refusal is pure discrimination.”

The IOC has shown a complete disregard for the 11 fallen Israeli athletes; we must not. If you haven’t yet signed Ankie Spitzer’s petition to the IOC, please do so. You can also e-mail the IOC, and tell NBC, the host of the Olympics how upset you are by the IOC’s behaviour. And instead of watching the Olympics day and night, make some time to watch the Oscar winning movie “One Day in September”, which documents how Olympic indifference and German incompetence contributed to the Munich Massacre.

But we must not forget the victims of the Munich Massacre. The famed 14th century German Rabbi Jacob ben Moses Moelin ruled  that instead of using traditional shrouds, one buries the victims of anti-Semitic attacks in the very clothes in which they were murdered (This ruling became the norm, and is cited in the Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 364:4). This dramatic change is done in order to upset the community; when a man is murdered in cold blood, we cannot shroud the injustice in innocent white cloth; rather, we must look the bloody horror in the eye, and feel a sense of outrage.

At the 1972 Olympics, the blood of the Israeli athletes was splattered all over the walls and floors of the Olympic Village. To this day the Olympic flag is stained with their blood.

We cannot ignore their deaths.

We cannot forget the IOC’s despicable behaviour, both then and now.

And most importantly, we cannot forget the names of these athletes, who perished because they were Israelis and Jews.

If the IOC will not spare even one minute for their memories, we must do it ourselves. The opening ceremonies take place on Friday evening in London; instead of watching, we should shut off the Olympics, read the names of the 11 victims, and observe our own minute of silence.

As you watch the Olympics, please stop watching for a minute and remember:

Yosef Gutfreund, Moshe Weinberg, Yosef Romano, Kehat Shorr, Amitzur Shapira, Andre Spitzer, Yakov Springer, Eliezer Halfin, Mark Slavin, David Berger, and Ze’ev Friedman
May their souls be bound up in the bond of life, and may they rest in peace. Amen.

Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz is a 40-something Orthodox Rabbi in Montreal. He blogs at Happiness Warrior. Follow him on Twitter at @RabbiChaim.