They slipped through the stillness of Munich’s Olympic Village an hour before dawn—8 shadowy figures, in a variety of disguises, with machine guns and hand grenades concealed in athletic-equipment bags. The 6’ 6” chain-link fence was easy to scale, and the doors of the building were unlocked, making the intruders’ task tragically simple. But this was the Olympics of openness, friendship and serenity, of the new German image, and for 10 days it had been a festive success. So it was excruciatingly ironic that the widely praised casual atmosphere played right into the hands of the 8 Palestinian terrorists as they made their way unchallenged across the 60-yard expanse from the fence to Building 31 on Connollystrasse, climbed to the 2nd floor rooms occupied by the Israelis, and re-enacted the darkest ritual of German history—the sharp and ominous knock on the Jews’ door.
The noise signaled the start of a long day’s journey into death. Some 19 hours later, 17 people had been slain: 11 Israelis, 5 of the Arab terrorists and one German policeman. And during much of that agonizing interval, the world watched in horrified fascination on live television…
What I have just read to you is from Newsweek’s lead story of the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games 1972. It has been 40 years since that tragic day, but as we have recently seen again and again, the threat of terrorism continues unabated as we saw last week in the suicide bombing that targeted Israeli tourists in Bulgaria and then the massacre at a movie theatre in Colorado.
How can we prevent such acts of terror? It’s hard to say. After all intensive security measures are taken, a madman or a terrorist might still succeed in breaking through. What we can do is remember the victims and such remembrances instill values that inoculate against acts of terror.
The International Olympic Committee chairman, Jacques Rogge, refused to allow for a minute of silence to remember the Munich 11 despite petitions and protests from all over the world—including England—and by Barak Obama and other world leaders. Yet Rogge and the IOC had no problem observing that exact same minute of silence for a Georgian luger killed in a crash just hours before the opening ceremony at the 2010 Vancouver Games. And during the opening ceremonies last night, I understand that there was a moment of silence for the victims of the 7/7 London bombings—which occurred 7 years ago the day after London was selected to host these games. There even was a wall of remembrance for them and Scottish singer Emeli Sande sang “Abide With Me” in their memory…but nothing for the 40th anniversary of the Munich 11! Rejecting such a moment of silence only legitimizes the terror.
NBC news, which is televising the games, also asked for a moment of silence for the Munich 11 and, almost in protest, did not show the memorial for the victims of 7/7 and cut to a prerecorded interview with Michael Phelps. Bob Costas warned the Olympic Committee that he would criticize them on the air during the opening ceremonies when the Israeli delegation entered. After noting that there was a moment of silence earlier in front of a small handful of athletes, Costas said, “Still, for many, tonight with the world watching is the true time and place to remember those who were lost and how and why they died.” After a 5-second pause, NBC cut to a commercial. That means that hundreds of millions of viewers observed the moment of silence despite the Int’l Olympic Committee (IOC).
The moment of silence controversy, the terror attack in Bulgaria and the massacre in Colorado all come together during the 3 weeks of mourning on the Jewish calendar leading up to Tisha B’Av which commemorates the destruction of both the 1st and 2nd Temples and every major tragedy that ever happened to the Jewish people. This is certainly a time when bad things happen—especially to us.
Somehow, these 3 incidents form a common theme that illustrates why the Jewish people still observe Tisha B’Av. Why has the IOC refused a minute of silence? Some have said that the IOC is intimidated by Muslim countries who certainly don’t want the world to be reminded in an official way of what Muslim terrorists did at Munich and what they have done since to innocents around the world. But I think it actually goes much deeper. I think they don’t want it as part of the opening ceremonies because what happened in the Munich Olympics 40 years ago is a reminder that the Olympics are not what they are supposed to be.
The members of the IOC have come to believe that promoting world peace, cooperation and harmony through sports competition is what the Olympics actually do. Maybe the Olympics should choose Kumbaya as their new theme song. This year the President of the IOC said: “Through the Olympic spirit, we can instill brotherhood, respect, fair play, gender equality and even combat doping.” Wow—that’s pretty good. The truth is that the IOC is better known for betraying the cause of world peace then it is for having promoted it.
In 1936 they decided not to move the games from Berlin in spite of the Nazi takeover of Germany with at least 114 anti-Semitic laws instituted and the fact that 2 American Jewish runners were not allowed to participate. Then there was the decision not to stop the games after the 11 Israeli athletes were murdered in 1972. And let’s not forget that the President of the IOC from 1980 to 2001—Juan Antonio Smararanch was an avowed fascist. Then we had the 1980 Olympics awarded to Moscow despite their invasion of Afghanistan which was totally unprovoked—unlike the American invasion which came as a response to 9/11. In 2008 the games went to Beijing despite its gross human rights abuses and subjugation of Tibet. They talked about how if India and Pakistan can play cricket at the Olympics then the world should appreciate “the power of sport as a tool for peace.” Well I’m sorry to report to you that the relationship between India and Pakistan hasn’t really improved since they last played cricket in the Olympics.
The delusion that the Olympics are more than just a great sporting event—that somehow they are or will be a vehicle for better world understanding…for better communication between warring nations…for reduction in political tensions is typical of the world today. There are terrible and dangerous conflicts all over the world: chemical weapons in an unstable Syria, the rise of the Moslem brotherhood, the threat of nuclear terror from Iran. These problems need to be acknowledged and dealt with. But just like the Olympics wants to marginalize the 40th anniversary of the Munich Olympics Massacre—so too the world wants to ignore realities and forget the past because it’s just too painful and scary.
That’s how the world dealt with North Korea and now they are nuclear. That’s how the hostage takeover of the American embassy in Iran back in the Carter days was dealt with and look what Iran has become. That’s how the takeover of Lebanon by Syria was dealt with and now look at how strong Hezbollah is.
Just a few months before the Syrian civil war broke out Hillary Clinton was singing the praises of Syria’s President and telling Israel that this is a man they could make peace with and return all or part of the Golan Heights to. Israel knew better because Israel can’t afford to sit around and sing “Kumbaya” and ignore realities and truths. And as is almost always the case—Israel turned out to be right and our State Department is sitting there with its tail between its legs wondering how it got Syria and Egypt so wrong.
Why is it that Jews in general and Israel in particular often understand the world scene so much better than the airheads on the International Olympics Committee, the UN and the career diplomats in our State Department? You see, we have Tisha B’Av and they don’t. We still remember the destruction of the 1st 2 Jewish commonwealths along with their symbols of Independence—the 1st and 2nd Temples—which happened 2,000 and 2,500 years ago. We don’t try and sugar coat the past hoping that it will make the present sweeter. We remember what happened 2,000 years ago in Israel and what happened 70 years ago in Europe and the Olympics can’t find a way to remember what happened just 40 years ago under their watch?
We don’t think that if we did away with Tisha B’Av or if we said, “You know, all the Nazis have all died so we can stop observing Yom HaShoa,” that suddenly the threats against Israel will stop or that anti-Semitism will disappear. That would be delusional and in this world delusions result in death and destruction. Does the Olympic committee think that radical Islamic terror will disappear when they refuse to remember Munich at the opening ceremonies? It’s the opposite. By not remembering they make it easier for terror to grow and expand because only by remembering and being vigilant can we combat terror groups. What the International Olympics Committee does not understand is that by doing the minute of silence they would have actually made these Olympic Games more meaningful and more hopeful.
We are now completing 3 weeks of mourning. But after Tisha B’Av on Sunday we will be in the 7 weeks of consolation leading into Rosh Hashanah. We understand that hope of Rosh Hashanah—of a New Year—comes from the observance of Tisha B’Av, from facing reality, remembering your past and understanding it so that we can move forward into the future. The International Olympic Committee, the UN and most of the world today are living like Alice in Wonderland. They’re wishing for world peace and security, but being disconnected from reality and from the lessons of history, they’re not doing what is necessary to achieve it. What a moment of unity that moment of silence could be to express the infinite value of human life and the abhorrence of terrorists who target the innocent and mercilessly maim and murder in, of all places, an Olympic Village.
Recognizing the reality that was Munich, the only thing between another Munich in London or elsewhere is confronting evil. America has a Tisha B’Av on its calendar. It’s called 9/11! I hope we never become like the International Olympic Committee and fail to commemorate that moment as a lesson for our future.
Let us now rise for a moment of silence for the 11 Israeli athletes murdered in Munich 40 years ago followed by the memorial prayer Moley Rachamim. Their names are: Moshe Weinberg, Yossef Romano, Ze’ev Friedman, David Berger, Yaakov Springer, Eliezer Halfin, Yossef Gutfreund, Kehat Shorr, Mark Slavin, Andre Spitzer, Amitzur Shapira. T’hi nishmatam tz’rurot bachayim, “May their souls be bound up in the bond of life.” Amen!
Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis