It wasn’t a gloved-fist salute from the medal stand, but Jewish-American gymnast Aly Raisman made quite a statement yesterday by winning a gold medal and invoking the memory of the Israeli athletes killed 40 years ago in Munich.
Raisman finished first in the women’s floor exercise, but she deserves to have another medal draped around her neck for having the chutzpah to face the world and do what needed to be done and say what needed to be said.
At the same Olympic Games where bigoted organizers stubbornly refuse to honor the slain athletes with a moment of silence, 18-year-old Raisman loudly shocked observers first by winning, then by paying her own tribute to 11 sportsmen who died long before she was born. And if that weren’t enough, she won her event with the Hebrew folk song “Hava Nagila” playing in the background.
“Having that floor music wasn’t intentional,” an emotional but poised Raisman told reporters after her performance. “But the fact it was on the 40th anniversary is special, and winning the gold today means a lot to me.”
Then Raisman stuck the landing
“If there had been a moment’s silence,” the 18-year-old woman told the world, “I would have supported it and respected it.” It was 40 years ago at the 1972 Munich Games that members of the Israeli Olympic delegation were taken hostage and eventually killed by Palestinian radicals. Executed in the massacre were 11 Israeli athletes and officials and a West German police officer.
The martyrs were remembered this week during a London ceremony filled with sadness and reflection. But not a peep about them has been said publicly in the one place where it counts — at the Summer Games on Olympic soil.
The International Olympic Committee and its president, Jacques Rogge, have refused to properly honor the dead, arguing that the opening ceremony wasn’t an appropriate forum for a moment of silence. But if the opening ceremony is good enough for James Bond and Mr. Bean, it’s hard to understand why it’s not good enough for 60 seconds of solitude.
“Shame on you International Olympic Committee because you have forsaken the 11 members of your Olympic family,” said Ankie Spitzer, whose husband, Andre, an Israeli fencing coach, was gunned down in the massacre.
“You are discriminating against them only because they are Israelis and Jews,” she went on. Rogge was an athlete himself at the very Games where the massacre took place, representing Belgium on the sailing team. “Even after 40 years, it is painful to relive the most painful moments of the Olympic movement,” Rogge said at an unaffiliated service before Spitzer spoke.
“I can only imagine how painful it must be for the families and close personal friends of the victims.” But by refusing to hit the pause button for a measly 60 seconds, Rogge and other organizers have committed a sin nearly as grave as denying there was ever a Holocaust. Were it not for young Aly and her wedding dance/bat mitzvah accompaniment, the Munich dead may have never gotten their due.
“I am Jewish, that’s why I wanted that floor music,’’ Raisman said. “I wanted something the crowd could clap to, especially being here in London. “It makes it even much more if the audience is going through everything with you. That was really cool and fun to hear the audience clapping.’’
Raisman’s eyes opened as wide as the gold medal she would win when the judges announced her score of 15.600 points after her mistake-free routine.
Her top finish was the first by an American woman in the Olympic floor exercise, and the win gave Raisman her second gold medal. Raisman admitted the 40th anniversary of the Munich Games made her “hora” gold even more special.
“That was the best floor performance I’ve ever done, and to do it for the Olympics is like a dream,’’ Raisman said.
Raisman did not go to the Games with the star power of her teammate Gabrielle Douglas or the résumé of world champion Jordyn Wieber, But those who know her best said she works as hard as anyone, and, more importantly, her heart is in the right place.
‘’I’m so happy for Aly,” Douglas, the first African-American to win the all-around title, said after the floor competition. “She deserves to be up on that podium.’’
“She is a focused person,” said Rabbi Keith Stern, spiritual leader of Temple Beth Avodah in Newton Centre, Mass., where the Raisman family are members.
“She’s very proud and upfront about being Jewish. Neither she nor her family explicitly sought to send a message. But it shows how very integrated her Jewish heritage is in everything that she does.” Stern said he remembers picking up young Aly from preschool, and never imagined she’d be some sort of megastar.
He described the US team captain as a big sister-type who is a mother hen to all her younger siblings. “I can’t wait to have her at the temple to talk about her experience,” he said. “I know her sister’s bat mitzvah is coming up, so maybe I’ll catch up with her then.”
Stern said that he, too, was stunned by the IOC’s refusal to hold a moment of silence.
“I’m happy to hear any other explanation,” Stern said. “But short of some racist grudge somebody is holding, I can’t figure out why it would be a terrible thing to do.” Stern said he watched the routine and was blown away. Even so, he said he is more proud of Raisman’s gold mettle than he is of the new jewelry around her neck.
“I have to say, the statement just warmed me to the very depths of my being,” Stern said.
He compared it to the iconic black-power, raised-fist protest made by track stars John Carlos and Tommie Smith on the medal stand at the 1968 Mexico City Games. “They’re not going to forget that,” the rabbi said. “I certainly won’t.” source – NY Post