|David Kirschtel, left, Ankie Spitzer, Ilana Romano, and Steve Gold, right, present IOC President Jacques Rogge with the petition. Delegation member Micki Leader took the picture.|
Last Friday night, I did something I had not done in a very long time on that day of the week. I watched television.
I wanted to see for myself what NBC sports anchor Bob Costas was going to do when the Israeli team marched in with the other delegations, so I turned on the television before I lit candles. In mid-July Costas had told The Hollywood Reporter that he would hold his own protest to commemorate the Israelis who had been murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympiad if the International Olympic Committee would not.
At that point, we all still felt there was a sliver of a chance that the IOC and its president, Jacques Rogge, would do the right thing and reverse nearly 40 years of refusal. That’s how long Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano, the widows of two of those Israelis, have been asking, on behalf of all the Munich 11 families, what if anything the IOC would do to remember their dead.
Of course, there was no surprise. The IOC did not suddenly halt the Danny Boyle spectacle for silent commemoration. To his credit, when the Israeli team marched in, Costas did speak about what happened to the Israelis in 1972, and that the IOC has refused to grant any kind of commemoration during the opening ceremony. Still, he stopped short of protest.
Private off-site commemorations are poor substitutes. As Spitzer says, the Israelis who died were not “accidental tourists.” They came to the Olympics to compete. They were there for the same purpose as thousands of other athletes who went home on their own two feet. What happened to the Israelis – taken hostage, tortured, then brutally murdered during a botched German rescue attempt – took place during the games, under IOC watch and (lack of) protection.
The XXX Olympiad that opened in London on Friday is on the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre and the 10th one to take place since members of the terrorist group Black September breached the Olympic fence and broke into 31 Connollystrasse, where the Israelis slept.
What was different this time was that the widows were not alone in demanding recognition. The world was there with them. And the only reason anyone else cared this time around was because of Rockland County’s JCC.
I’m not someone who usually bursts with pride or is particularly effusive with praise, but I cannot tell you how amazed I’ve been. No one ever imagined two years ago that this small JCC could turn a 40-year-old cause into an international issue. But JCC Rockland truly became, as the prophet Isaiah said of our people, “a light unto the nations.”
As editor of The Rockland Jewish Federation Reporter (now closed, but soon to be replaced by The Rockland Jewish Standard), I have been writing about this ever since David Kirschtel, the JCC’s chief executive officer, contacted Anouk Spitzer, who was only two months old when her father, Israeli fencing coach Andrei Spitzer, was murdered. This month, the JCC will host the Maccabi Games. While every JCC that hosts the games does something to commemorate the murdered Israelis during its opening ceremony, JCC Rockland’s board of directors wanted to dedicate its games to the memory of these athletes.
Anouk Spitzer passed the request along to her mother, Ankie, who was so impressed with the JCC’s interest that she has visited Rockland County twice. She plans to return for the opening ceremony of the Maccabi games on Aug. 12. Of course, at these games there will be a minute of silence.
For the longest time, this story was local, and it was mine. It took an online petition, which the JCC launched with Ankie in mid-April and that now has more than 111,000 supporters in more than 150 countries, followed rapidly with a story and an editorial in The Jewish Standard, to make any media outside this area pay attention to the 40th anniversary of the massacre and the pathetic wrong the IOC persists in maintaining. It was hard to see “my story” leave my hands, but I was glad the issue finally was getting its due. Today, if you google “Munich Olympics” and “petition,” you get more than 107,000 hits. Everyone from the Times of India to the Los Angeles Times has written about it, including nearly every Jewish press outlet in Israel, Great Britain, and the United States. Politicians from across the globe, including President Barack Obama, have fallen over themselves supporting it.
Two days prior to the Olympic opening, the two widows, Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano, together with the JCC’s Kirschtel, past president Steve Gold, and board member Micki Leader presented the petition to the IOC president. He again refused the request. In the face of that rejection, it was hard to keep in perspective how far they and the cause had come.
The poet Robert Browning once wrote, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,/ Or what’s a heaven for?” JCC Rockland may not have touched heaven, but surely this small Jewish community center, in New York’s smallest county, reminds us that if we just imagine that we can go beyond the ordinary, we really can achieve the extraordinary.
Marla Cohen is associate editor of The Jewish Standard and editor of The Rockland Jewish Standard.