by Rabbi Avi Katz Orlow
All across North America thousands of Jewish children are having fun, growing and building community at camp this summer. What would this experience be without Color War, Maccabiah, Yom Sport, Olympics? While Judaism can be rather heady and intellectual, this rite of summer brings Jewish life down to a more basic level. Being Jewish is not just something that happens between our ears, it is also manifest in our bodies. We wear our team colors, stay up all hours being creative, use skills we never knew we had, push ourselves individually and as teams, practice being leaders, and scream our chants the loudest. And we do all of this in an effort of being crowned the winners. While these games have their challenges, they help us see our peers in the state of nature. We play out dynamics in our smaller intergenerational camp team only to try to put these pieces back together the next day. We are only winners if there is a larger body to hold the tradition. There is a certain authenticity of human interaction when we see our peers in such extreme situations. In these Olympics we cannot just present our public persona; we see each other expressing a full spectrum of emotions (but only one color). Relationships forged in this holistic environment seem real and will last the tests of time. In these Olympics our youth learn teamwork, leadership, and how to compete all in the context of embodying a healthy community.
This evening is the opening of the 2012 Olympics Games in London. This year also marks the 40th anniversary of the “Munich Massacre” in which 11 Israeli Olympic competitors were killed by Palestinian gunmen who stormed into the athletes’ apartment and took them hostage. It is a shame that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) refuses to officially memorialize these martyred athletes. The IOC has fiercely resisted any attempt to officially commemorate the Munich Massacre during the Games itself, arguing that doing so would politicize what is meant to be an apolitical competition. It seems that their choice to not do anything is actually politicizing the competition.
The day after the death of the Israeli athletes Golda Meir, then Prime Minister of Israel, received the following message:
Dear Madame Prime Minister:
The heart of America goes out to you, to the bereaved families and to the Israeli people in the tragedy that has struck your Olympic athletes. This tragic and senseless act is a perversion of all the hopes and aspirations of mankind which the Olympic games symbolize. In a larger sense, it is a tragedy for all the peoples and nations of the world. We mourn with you the deaths of your innocent and brave athletes, and we share with you the determination that the spirit of brotherhood and peace they represented shall in the end persevere.
They were not just athletes, they were Jewish athletes. For the first time since World War II Jews were returning to German ground to compete on the world stage. We had been disembodied by the Holocaust and reborn in the State of Israel. It has been 40 years and we still mourn the death of our family members.
Last week I had the fortune of visiting Golden Slipper Camp in Pennsylvania. By their lake I saw the plaque pictured above, which reads:
DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF THE ELEVEN ISRAELIS
VICTIMS OF ARAB TERRORISTS, AT THE
OLYMPIC GAMES IN MUNICH, GERMANY
ON SEPTEMBER 5TH, 1972 – 26 ELUL5732
DAVID BERGER ELIEZER HALFIN KEHAT SCHORR
ZEEV FRIEDMAN YOSEF ROMANO MARK SLAVIN
YOSEF GUTFREUND AMITZUR SHAPIRAYACOV SPRINGER
ANDRE SPITZER MOSHE WEINBERG
DEDICATED BY MRS. RICHARD M. NIXON
OCTOBER 25th, 1972
Amidst all of the colored paint, banners, and chants of our mini Olympics at camp we take a moment to remember the fallen athletes of the 1972 Munich Olympics. The Nixons had it right. It is a tragedy for all the peoples and nations of the world and also our people. We mourn the martyrs and lift our heads up as proud embodied Jews.
Rabbi Avi Katz Orlow is the Director of Jewish Education at the Foundation for Jewish Camp.