West Nyack – On the front lawn of the Jewish community center here, a plot of grass is set aside for a memorial, to be dedicated this summer, to the 11 Israelis killed at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. Inside the building’s front entrance, a large poster announces the status of a fundraising campaign that JCC Rockland is conducting in memory of the Munich 11. Further inside, T-shirts bearing the likeness of David Berger, an American-born weightlifter who was among the victims of Palestinian terrorists in 1972, are on sale.
Reminders of the tragedy that took place in Germany 39 years ago are evident throughout the JCC.
Which is intentional.
The JCC for the last year has spearheaded an international campaign (munich11.org) to keep alive the memory of the slain Olympians, and to encourage Olympic officials to include, for the first time, a minute of silence to the Israelis as an official part of the games.
So far, the campaign is closer to the first goal than to the second.
Through a yearlong series of 11 public events, the JCC, which will for the first time host a Maccabi Games competition next year immediately after the Olympics, is telling the story of the 11 Israelis and the act of terrorism that took their lives. The events include a gala dinner on June 12 in Suffern, a documentary that will be completed next year, and a Sept. 25 “Walk4Change,” part of the fundraising campaign (its goal is 11 million coins) that will benefit anti-hunger programs in Rockland and Israel. The September itinerary will feature the dedication of the memorial created by sculptor Eric David Laxman.
“We are simply doing the right thing,” says David Kirschtel, CEO of JCC Rockland. “As Jews, it is our duty to remember [the 11 Israeli Olympians], and just as importantly, make sure that the world does not forget them.”
Kirschtel says he has coordinated his Munich remembrance activities with Ankie Spitzer, widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer, one of the Israelis killed by the Black September terrorists.
He and Joel Zbar, president of the JCC’s board of directors, sent a letter in April to Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, requesting a minute of silence for the Munich 11 during the opening ceremonies of the London Games next year. “No life should be marginalized,” the letter stated. “Step forward and do what is just.”
The JCC has not received a response from Rogge so far, says Kirschtel, who has also contacted American Olympic officials.
Based on the IOC’s refusal to allow a minute of silence for the Israelis at past games, it is unlikely that such a memorial will take place in London, he says; local Jewish communities host a memorial, with the cooperation of the visiting Israeli delegation, as part of the games.