Over the last few days, I have been reflecting on the news of the attacks of last week, one an act of terrorism in Bulgaria, the other, in Aurora, Colorado, an apparent expression of the inner turmoil of one young man who now claims that he has no memory of his violent and murderous rampage.
I have also been listening intently to all statements leading up to the opening of the Olympics regarding the request for a moment of silence in memory of the Israeli athletes who were murdered by members of the Palestinian Arab Black September movement 40 years ago.
And, I went to see the movie, “The Dark Knight Rises” this week in order to gain the perspective of director Christopher Nolan on how we can make order out of chaos. Nolan’s Batman/Bruce Wayne began the movie devastated at past events that left his Batman persona in disgrace. He had taken responsibility for murders committed by the late district Attorney Harvey Dent. Dent had almost succeeded in his plan to take vengeance on everyone who had a hand in the death of his fiancée Rachel Dawes, until Batman stopped him. Rather than subject Gotham City to the truth of a good man gone bad, Police Commissioner Gordon went along with Batman’s plan to sustain a lie. He supported for 8 years the observance of an annual memorial to Dent’s supposed legacy of tough justice and courage. New laws that put more criminals behind bars restored order to the city, but the chaos of Harvey Dent’s turn from goodness to evil was lurking under the surface. Lawlessness eventually emerged with full force, and only the return of Batman would give Gotham City even a slight chance to overcome new threats to its very existence.
The occurrence of an annual memorial event based on false premises in “The Dark Knight Rises” made me realize that the Jewish community has a great deal to teach the world about mourning and memory. Tomorrow night begins Tish’ah B’av, which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temple in Jerusalem. Actually, the ninth of Av begins at sunset tonight, but we don’t observe a day of fasting and mourning on Shabbat. Why is it that we have marked this somber anniversary for so many centuries? Jerusalem became, as one passage in a Reform prayerbook declared, “the capital city of our souls.” The rabbis saw the Holy of Holies in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem as the spiritual center of the universe. Our daily, Shabbat and holiday prayers highlight the central place of that city in our heritage. Jewish sources state that the Second Temple was destroyed by “baseless hatred.” This is the type of hatred that persists even when the reason for one person’s animosity towards another person is removed, when acts toward rectification and apologies have been offered but have no effect. At that point, when one person continues to hate with no reason, because he or she feels that only his or her feelings are what count, mutual respect and compassion disappear. What may endure is at least a small measure of societal chaos, because what could be set right will never reach a satisfactory resolution. When we observe Tish’ah B’av, we mention the claim that baseless hatred was rampant among the Jews at that time in order to lead us now from chaos to order, from undirected grief to shared memory. The hope is that, in our common recollection of a tragedy, we will, in OUR time, find unity.
Family members of the Israeli athletes have been calling for years for a moment of silence to recall their loved ones who were murdered in the Olympic village in Munich in 1972. One reported recently that an Olympic official told her 16 years ago that any moment of silence also needed to mention the Palestinians members of Black September who died in Munich. What we have heard this year is that a moment of silence would “politicize” the games. Yet, the Israeli athletes went in peace to Munich in 1972 to compete with their colleagues from around the world. The members of Black September are said to have not cared about their own lives, only about the release of their comrades from Israeli prison, marring the spirit of peaceful competition that should always pervade the Olympics. They may have had a political point based on their own views, but their choice of when and how to make it has reverberated through the decades since as a shattering of the hope that the international games can truly reflect peace.
So it has been reported that Palestinian Olympic Committee chair Jibril Rajoub has written to the International Olympic committee thanking the members for refusing to allow a moment of silence. He said that the request for such a moment was “racist,” and added: “Sports are a bridge for love, communication and the spreading of peace between nations and should not be used for divisiveness and the spread of racism.” The Palestinian authority, in 2010, honored, with a military funeral, Amin Al-Hindi, one of the planners of the Munich Olympics attack on the Israeli athletes.
Perhaps we have come a long way since 1972, but perhaps the steps toward “peaceful competition” have gone backwards to the point where politics can never totally be removed from the Olympics. It is more than ironic that the very group that perpetrated the act is now declaring a moral high ground, stating as their view the very reason - “sports are a bridge for love and peace” - why the 1972 massacre should never have happened. It feels like justice is topsy-turvy and that chaos is gaining a greater foothold in a world that needs justice and peace.
It was reported this morning that the Lebanese Judo Olympic team, which was practicing right next to the Israeli team, said that they would not continue until a barrier was erected so they wouldn’t have to look at the Israelis. Their request was granted and a temporary wall was put in place.
This is not the world that we want, I am sure. The familiar words of Hinei Mah Tov from Psalm 133 are still with us as a goal and as a beacon of unity. But even with those words, Martin Samuel Cohen explained, in his commentary on the Psalm, that it probably should be translated, “How good and how pleasant it would be” when people dwell together in unity. How good indeed it would be to know that the athletes marching into the stadium for the opening ceremonies at each Olympiad could truly see each other as brother and sister. So many people in the world have focused on one word in the phrase “Israeli athlete” rather than the other. It is the word ATHELTE that should be considered first, because it refers to a human being who has developed a skill in a particular sport and is willing to put his or her ability on the line alongside other similarly skilled athletes from all over the world. We do have a certain sense of wanting OUR nation to win as many medals as possible, but we like to hear stories of the people of all nations who have made the Olympic Games a sports spectacle to behold. The remembrance should be in the statistics and not in the incidents of disrespect, disruption, or political hatred that, sadly, find their way onto the field of competition.
So let us take a moment of silence of our own tonight to remember the Israeli athletes who died without their hopes of competition realized. Let us pray that peace will find its way to win over hatred and chaos not only on the field but throughout the world in the times between the many Olympiads to come.