by Asher Weill
A central square in the capital of the Galilee, Upper Nazareth, was dedicated Wednesday evening in the name of the 11 Israeli athletes murdered at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972.
The event, marking 40 years since the tragedy, launched Limmud FSU “Olympics,” an educational program for Russian speakers taking place in Upper Nazareth on Thursday and Friday. Nearly 1,000 participants are registered, including 150 Jewish young people from the FSU who are currently in Israel on a Masa program run by the Jewish Agency.
Mayor Shimon Gafsou said, “We are proud to be partners in this project, which combines education, culture and sport, together with basic qualities of Judaism, heritage and education. Our city is one of immigrant absorption: more than half of our population are new immigrants from the former Soviet Union and we see the Limmud festival here as a symbol of the enormous contribution of these immigrants to the city’s development.”
The founder of Limmud FSU, Chaim Chesler, said, “We have launched Limmud FSU Olympics because we want to teach the younger generation role models for excellence in all areas, including sports. Half of the 1972 Olympic team were new immigrants from the FSU who chose to contribute Israeli society and Jewish life.”
Ilana Romano, widow of the murdered weightlifter Yossef Romano, said, “This is the first time a city square has been dedicated to the memory of the athletes. Moreover, we have had no contact with the Russian-speaking community before now and this is really important to us.”
Zvi Warshaviak, chair of the Israel Olympic Committee, noted that this event followed on the memorial ceremonies that were held in London during the recent Olympics and other ceremonies that will be taking place in Munich and in Paris in September, while 5 September has been set as Israel’s official day of Munich remembrance.
He pointed out that here there are two sides of the same coin — on one hand, the flourishing of sports in Israel and on the other, the tragedy of Munich. “The two will always be intertwined in our memories.”
He added, “The Russian immigration has played a major role in the development of sport in Israel and we have been particularly blessed with quality athletes who were brought up and educated in Russia.”
Limmud FSU “Olympics,” which began Thursday, was to continue uninterrupted through a “White Night” of study and entertainment until Friday morning.
Also in attendance was Ben Helfgott, a Polish-born Holocaust survivor who today serves as a vice president of the Claims Conference. Helfgott went on to become a weightlifting champion for England in the 1950’s. He is one of only two known Jewish athletes to have competed in the Olympics after surviving the Holocaust and is the recipient of three gold medals in the Israeli Maccabiah games (Helfgott represented the U.K. at these events). Addressing those present, Helfgott said, “As a representative of the U.K. Olympic team, I was the last one to meet with the Israeli team before they were murdered and my obligation for the future is to carry their memory. This is why I am with you today.”
The Limmud FSU program includes a separate program for children, a Beit Midrash for more traditional Jewish learning, a gala event with Israeli singer Sarit Hadad, a traditional campfire sign-along and disco party.
The launch was attended by Minister of Information and Diaspora Yuli Edelstein and Minister of Immigrant Absorption Sopha Landver and was the joint initiative of the Upper Nazareth Municipality, the Israel Olympic Committee and Limmud FSU.
This article contains additional reporting by Dan Brown.