London Jews Gird for Olympics Memorial

Community Plans Ceremony To Remember 11 Munich Victims

Cheers and Tears: Much of Britain is gripped by Olympics fever. For London’s Jews, the excitement is tempered by plans for memorials to honor victims of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre.
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Cheers and Tears: Much of Britain is gripped by Olympics fever. For London’s Jews, the excitement is tempered by plans for memorials to honor victims of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre.

By Miriam Shaviv (JTA)

Published July 02, 2012.
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“We linked it to the Paralympics,” she said of the international games held for disabled athletes after each summer Olympics. “The Israeli delegation will have a strong Paralympic team, and this makes sports accessible” to disabled people.

Other groups have focused on educational events. For example, the London Jewish School of Jewish Studies, which runs adult education classes, is offering sessions on whether the Olympian ideal is Jewish and “Who really won on Chanukah?,” while the United Jewish Israel Appeal has developed six workshops, including ones on the Munich massacre and Jewish ideas on strength that have been taken up by youth groups and schools.

The closest many community members will get to the Games will be on July 25, when the Olympic torch, which has been touring across the United Kingdom, will be carried through the heavily Jewish North-West London.

“Hopefully the community will have a good showing,” Mason said. “There is a genuine building of excitement.”

During the Games themselves, the community will open its doors to tourists, from abroad and from elsewhere in the UK, who wish to experience Jewish London. A website was set up by the Jewish Volunteering Network under the auspices of the Jewish Committee for the London Games that lists all major attractions, including kosher restaurants, synagogues and Jewish landmarks. It also has a section on the history of London’s Jews and a calendar of Jewish events connected to the Games.

Some 10,000 people already have visited the website since its launch in January, according to Es Rosen, the website manager and JVN regional development manager.

“We have no idea how many people we can expect, but when people go to an international city they often seek out Jewish tourist sites,” Rosen said. “The Olympics have tremendous potential for Jewish London.”

As the Olympic Village is situated in East London, the relatively small community there has taken on the role of catering to the Jewish needs of the Olympic teams.

Four local rabbis from across the denominational spectrum will join 186 other chaplains serving the athletes, delegation members, staff and volunteers. Rabbi Richard Jacobi of the Woodford Liberal Synagogue says he will be available for those looking “for a sympathetic ear from their own faith, or from faith in general,” in case of stress, a personal emergency or any other need. The pastoral team also is part of the contingency plans in case of a large-scale incident.

“Personally this is a once-in-a-life opportunity to be involved in something that presents London and British Jewry in the best possible light,” Jacobi said. “Many people think that London is dominated by anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and that is not the case. There is a degree of background radiation, but it certainly does not influence people’s lives on a daily basis. People enjoy being Jewish in London.”

Nevertheless, he adds, “The 40th anniversary of the Munich tragedy is also at the back of my mind. If anything were to happen, being part of the response feels very important to me rabbinically and personally.”

Many of his congregants are volunteering in the Olympic Village or as “hosts” posted at strategic points in London to help tourists. Like many other local synagogues, his shul will host two Shabbat services particularly aimed at visitors, and in the Olympic Village Orthodox and non-Orthodox services aim to alternate.

Finally, the East London communities plan to hold their own events commemorating the Munich massacre. One ceremony will be on the afternoon of Tisha b’Av, on July 28, and a religious service at Waltham Forest Hebrew Congregation will be in September. Jacobi says these events would have taken place even had the IOC agreed to hold a minute of silence.

“In the midst of everything else, a minute isn’t particularly long to appreciate what these events meant,” he said. “It is important that everyone had the opportunity to come together as a group, learn more about it and associate more with it.

“We think people – mainly Jewish but also others – feel it should be remembered. It’s part of Jewish and Olympic history.”


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