Bearing the Torch – Part 2 of 2, by Ken Kovacs

July 26, 2012 § 1 Comment

Here is Ken Kovacs’ piece on remembering the Munich Massacre.  He is a Pastor at Catonsville Presbyterian Church.  The piece also appears in The Catonsville Patch.  It was a pleasure to work with him, and an honor to be his partner in writing about this important event in our history and how to heal.

As Aliza Worthington reminds us, this summer marks the 40th anniversary of the “Munich Massacre.”  I was seven years old when it occurred. I vividly remember watching the images on television coming from the Olympic village.  Members of the Palestinian terrorist group, “Black September,” killed two members of the Israeli delegation and took nine other Israeli athletes and coaches hostage.  The nine were then eventually murdered as well.

It is unfortunate that this coming week, as athletes and coaches and all lovers of sport (as they say in the United Kingdom, always in the singular) gather in London for the 2012 Olympics, there will be no official remembrance of this tragic loss, no memorial, not even a moment of silence.  As Aliza shared, there have been repeated requests over the years, each time it’s been denied by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

On this Friday, at 11:00 a.m. (GMT), the same day as the opening ceremony there will be a commemoration held in Trafalgar Square, in the heart of London.  However, it won’t be organized by the IOC.  “Everybody is welcome, regardless of colour or creed,” the organizers claim.  It won’t be a political rally for Israel.  It’s designed to publicly commemorate the murder of the eleven athletes, “to remind people that this atrocity occurred and to honour the memory of those who were killed – something the IOC has refused to do.”

NBC news Sports anchor Bob Costas plans to have his own on-air commemoration during the opening ceremony.  He also plans to mention the IOC’s denial when the Israeli athletes enter the Olympic Stadium.  On Tuesday this week, the Washington Post weighed in with a critique of the IOC.

The IOC claims the games are apolitical, they are celebratory in nature, they are expressions of unity, of nations coming together despite their differences to unite the human spirit around something of a shared passion, namely athletic training and competition.   Still, the Olympic games, as everyone knows, have always been about more than the games. There’s always a political subtext to them – this was especially so during the Cold War.  Denying all of this doesn’t change the reality; it actually distorts reality, turning the Olympics into something fantastical and imaginary and out of touch with human experience.

I’m particularly struck by the IOC’s policy of denial with regard to the Munich Massacre – nothing, not even a moment of silence.

In talking about this issue with Aliza, I had an image of the IOC taking the whole affair and placing it in a dark room and throwing away the key. It was the image of the IOC taking the whole affair and throwing into shadow, into the dark.  If it’s in the dark, you can’t “see” it.”  If you can’t “see” it, then you don’t have to acknowledge it.  If you don’t talk about it, it didn’t happen.  If you don’t recognize it, then you don’t have to deal with it, don’t have to come to terms with what transpired.

What is true personally is also true collectively:  a lot of damage is done when we are caught in the grips of denial.  Yes, facing the truth, facing the light can be painful.  It’s easier to avoid the truth, avoid the light.  We often think, “out of sight, out of mind,” but this simply isn’t true.  That which is denied continues to have a hold on us, even when we don’t “see” it.  Denial never serves us well and it can be very destructive – for individuals, families, and communities, even nations.   What is being denied continues to exert influences over our conscious lives, often unconsciously – which is rarely a good thing.

A contrasting image came to mind: the Olympic torch, the flame, a symbol of light.   As I played with this image, I had a thought:  Here’s an opportunity for the IOC to extend some light into a dark corner of our past, but it chooses not to do so.  How ironic.

In the Olympics of ancient Greece, a flame was ignited by the sun and kept burning throughout the games.  It commemorated the time when Prometheus stole fire from Zeus and gave it to humanity.  Fire is a spark of, an offspring of the sun and therefore a manifestation of divinity.  The fiery torch was a reminder that Prometheus enabled human beings to participate in “all things divine” and encouraged human beings to become like the gods themselves.  The Olympic torch is the light of the gods given to enable and ennoble human beings to strive for something beyond themselves.

The Olympic flame first appeared in modern Olympics in 1928 when the games gathered in Amsterdam.  At the Berlin Olympics in 1936, the torch became a propaganda tool of the Nazis.  Devious masters of ritual and the symbolic that they were, the Nazis “stole” the image from Prometheus to help fuel the flames of their devilish destruction in Europe.  “Sporting chivalrous contest helps knit the bonds of peace between nations,” Adolf Hitler declared.  “Therefore may the Olympic flame never expire.”

The Olympic torch relay was first introduced by the Nazis for the Berlin games. Carl Diem, organizer of the relay, said, “The Olympic torch is designed to shine through the centuries, a signal of peaceful understanding between nations, with the aim of arousing more and more enthusiasm for the ideal of humanity.”  The flame was lit in Olympia, Greece, and then relayed through Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Germany. In two years, the Nazis reversed the path of the torch, relaying its own hellish fire of destruction, starting with the Anschluss into Austria in 1938.

Juan Antonio Samaranch, the president of the IOC from 1980-2001, said that the Olympic Games, “Pay tribute first and foremost to the athletes. By demanding the best of themselves they encourage us to excel; by reaching the limit of their capabilities, they push back the limits of mankind.”

The IOC is missing an opportunity to shed some light into a dark corner of its past, as well as a dark corner of the human past.  It was not only a loss of Israeli citizens forty years ago; it was a human loss, a loss for humanity.  The IOC has an opportunity to help us “push back the limits of mankind” by modeling a way for humanity as a whole to respond with “the better angels of our nature.”  It’s an occasion to be angels of light, bearing the torch into the dark places in the world. It’s an opportunity to model for the world a different way, a better way of being human.  The IOC’s intentional act of denial hinders an expression of much-needed humanism in our day and obstructs an opportunity to bring healing to the wounds of the past.

“The sole purpose of human existence,” the Swiss psychoanalyst C. G. Jung claimed, “is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”   May we have the courage to do so.


Doing the Right Thing – Part 1 of 2

July 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

“Imagine those poor guys over there. Every five minutes a psycho with a machine gun says, ‘Let’s kill ’em now,’ and someone else says, ‘No, let’s wait a while.’ How long could you stand that?”

So asked Frank Shorter, an American long-distance Olympic runner.  It was a good question, and it wasn’t hypothetical.  He was talking about the Israeli athletes and coaches taken hostage in a nearby building in the Olympic Village.  The year was 1972, and it was the first time since 1936 the Olympic Games were held in Germany.

This summer marks the 40th anniversary of the “Munich Massacre,” wherein members of the Palestinian terrorist group, “Black September” scaled the fences of the Olympic village, killed two members of the Israeli delegation, took nine other Israeli athletes and coaches hostage.  Ultimately they slaughtered those nine hostages as well.

Professor Deborah E. Lipstadt puts the event in historical context very clearly in the article, “Jewish Blood is Cheap.”   In it, she calls the International Olympic Committee (the “IOC”) on the carpet for refusing to honor the memories of the slain athletes with a moment of silence during this summer’s games.  This is not a new request.  Families of the victims have made the same request over the course of many years, and have always been rebuffed by the IOC.

She makes a strong argument against their official excuses.  One reason given by the IOC for the refusal is that the games are apolitical and should remain that way.  (The IOC held a moment of silence in 2012 for the victims of 9/11 – as political a slaughter as you can imagine.)  Another reason given is that the games should be a celebratory event, not marred by something so somber.  (The IOC held a moment of silence in 2010 for an athlete who died during a training exercise.)  She is left to sadly conclude that the only logical reason for the refusal is that the victims were Israelis and Jews, and it isn’t considered worth risking offending countries who are against Israel’s policies by honoring their memories.

As often happens, Jewish people I know and don’t know are taking matters into their own hands.  They are asking their rabbis to read the names of the 11 slain Israelis on their yartzeits (anniversary of their death) before reciting kaddish.  Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks composed his own prayer to commemorate the deaths of these athletes, to be read in synagogues across the country on July 28th.  You can find the prayer and his article here.  A commenter on Professor Lipstadt’s article tells of an event being organized to take place in Trafalgar Square in London.  “(A)n informal gathering of people to honour the victims of the Munich massacre, to make the kind of public statement that the IOC should be making in the opening ceremony for the Games but which it refuses to do.”  He goes on to emphasize that the event would be “non-partisan, non-confrontational and non-controversial. No flags. No banners. No shouting slogans. No singing. No speakers. Just a dignified gathering of people…”  The crowd plans to have a moment of silence, then recite the kaddish and sing Hatikvah – the Israeli national anthem – the entire demonstration taking no more than five minutes from beginning to end.

I’m left wanting to be proactive, and asking myself, “Why accept asking only Jews to honor their memories?”  Why not continue to reach out to non-Jews as well, as the organizers of the Trafalgar Square demonstration are doing? Baltimore has a long history of interreligious cooperation and support.  I wrote my thesis (*cough*) years ago on the topic of Baltimore’s Catholic community’s response to Nazi Europe.  While taking pains not to minimize the anti-semitism that existed, I found many expressions of support in the Catholic community for Jewish refugees.  I found other examples of Catholic public expressions of outrage at Hitler’s policies.  Baltimore also had a very strong chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews – a group that formed after World War I in response to hate groups that were popping up.

As recently as last May, The Baltimore Sun ran an article about an Amahdi Mosque being built in the middle of Pikesville – the heart of Baltimore’s Jewish community.  “Jewish community leaders say they are trying to show the Ahmadi congregation that Pikesville will welcome them. After some people expressed fears about the mosque, neighbors reached out to the Muslim group and encouraged members to introduce themselves to people who live, work and worship nearby.”  According to The Sun, the behavior of both groups was high-minded, mature and kind.

Yet in the middle of July – in the year of 2012, a suicide bomber leaned into a busload of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, and detonated.  32 people were hospitalized, seven people were killed.  Five of those were Israeli – one was a woman pregnant with her first child.  One was the bomber himself, and the last was the Bulgarian bus driver.

Within 48 hours of the Bulgarian tragedy, a shooter opened fire in a movie theater in Colorado, killing 12 and wounding 50.  I don’t know the killer’s motivation, but regardless, it was a calculated, brutal act of terror.

I know I wouldn’t hesitate for a nanosecond to honor ANY of these victims with a moment of silence.  It wouldn’t make one bit of difference what race, religion or ethnicity the victims were.  Victims of terrorism deserved to be remembered.  Their memories deserve to be honored.  Their families deserve to be comforted.  I consider any act of terrorism a HUMAN tragedy to be mourned – a direct assault on HUMANITY.  The IOC seems not to.  Its refusal to hold a moment of silence over the 17-day course of the 2012 Olympics for Israeli Olympians slain DURING THE OLYMPICS of 1972 is nothing short of shameful.

Full disclosure – if you didn’t already know – I am Jewish.  As an act of faith (no pun intended), I reached out to Ken Kovacs – respected pastor of Catonsville Presbyterian Church and fellow Patch blogger.  He agreed to partner with me in writing about this topic.  His take on the IOC’s position will appear in the next few days.  As I pass the torch (pun intended) on this IOC issue to him, it’s fitting to point to a September 1972 Sports Illustrated article written by Kenny Moore – a long-distance runner in the 1972 Munich Olympics.

In his account of the hostage-taking, subsequent killings and their aftermath, he tells of a fellow American athlete named Tom Dooley.  In discussing whether or not the Games will continue after the murders, he asserted that they would go on – but for all the wrong reasons – financial, political, etc.  Mr. Moore asked him what the right reasons were.  Mr. Dooley responded, “Just one. To stay together. Who wins or loses now is ridiculously unimportant, considered against these men’s deaths. But we have to stay together.”

If you are so motivated, you can sign this petition at asking the IOC to honor the memories of those massacred in Munich forty years ago with a moment of silence.

Is There No Way to Win?

July 18, 2012 § 10 Comments

Stop the madness.

I would love to get Anne-Marie Slaughter and Marissa Mayer in a room together.  They could commiserate about how their personal life choices are the subject of such public scrutiny and criticism.  They could play a drinking game wherein every time someone cheers for them to succeed they take a shot.  Every time someone insists they’ll fail (or has already failed) they take two shots.  Before you know it, they’d be sitting back-to-back on the floor, totally blitzed and eating pizza and giggling at crazy cat videos on YouTube.

Need me to back up for a sec?  Okay.  I am talking about two women who have caused quite a stir in the last month or so:  Anne-Marie Slaughter, for leaving an extremely high-powered job in Washington, D.C. to be more present for her teen-aged sons and to return to her (merely) extremely demanding job as a full-time professor at Princeton; Marissa Mayer for taking an extremely high-powered job as Yahoo!’s CEO at the same time she announces she is pregnant.

These women can’t win for trying.  Anne-Marie Slaughter is honest and forthright about the toll such jobs take on a parent, and realistic about what is best for her family.  Marissa Mayer is brilliant and ambitious – much the way I imagine Slaughter was at the same age – and confident in her ability to manage an insane career with having a new baby (her first, by the way.)  Both are being cheered and jeered – just from opposite sides.

Prof. Slaughter faces criticism and condescension from her peers and fellow feminists for asserting that women can’t have it all.  She is being thanked by exhausted women who sacrifice for their kids, either by staying home with them or having a job, or both at the same time.

Ms. Mayer is criticized by women who are smugly saying “You think you’ll be back to work after 3 weeks?  You’ve NO earthly idea what is about to hit you,” and judgmentally saying “Fine, I guess if you never wanna see your baby and have him raised by strangers, go for it.”  She’s garnering praise from the same group criticizing Slaughter – “She’s the poster girl for having it all!  She’s the beneficiary of all we’ve worked for!  You GO, girl!”

Let me propose an alternative response to each.

To Anne-Marie Slaughter, I’d say, “You are a brilliant, incredibly accomplished woman.  You’ve shined a bright light on some of the real problems even successful working women face.  You’ve politely and respectfully asked millions of woman to step back and evaluate their choices and paths, without being judgmental of others who choose differently.  You should be supported and applauded as you make this transition out of public service and back into private education and a closer family life.  Use your considerable power for Good.”

To Marissa Mayer, I’d say, “You are a brilliant, incredibly accomplished woman.  You’ve shattered the glass ceiling in the heavily male field of technological innovation.  You’re about to have a baby.  You should be supported and applauded as you try to forge a workable balance between career and new motherhood.  Use your considerable power for Good.  (And if when the baby arrives, you decide you need more than three weeks of maternity leave, I hope you allow yourself the flexibility to take it.  I hope the those on Yahoo!’s Board of Directors collectively chuckle and say, ‘We thought you might need more than three weeks.  Take as much as you need and your job will still be there for you.’)”

To Yahoo!, I’d say, “Great job hiring the best person for the job, even though you knew she is pregnant.  Now’s your chance to make a high-profile and meaningful change to improve the lives of working mothers in your company, and set a real example.  Like my new friend at Lizrael Update insightfully advocates, help her show the world that Corporate America thrives when its families do.  You can do it.  Be like this guy, who pays his employees $7,500 to take their vacation time, and use it to really get away from it all.  Take care of your own.  Because seriously, people, today’s workplace culture and economic climate are not exactly cutting it.

Understandably, cries of classism permeate the discussion of both women.  For Prof. Slaughter, it’s “Sure – she has a CHOICE of picking the job that lets her spend more time with her kids.  Must be NICE.”  For Ms. Mayer, it’s “Sure, she can stay at her job – she’s a BAZILLIONAIRE, and can have nannies out the wazoo.  Must be NICE.”  No matter how justified the resentment, this attitude is toxic and counterproductive.  I wish it would stop.

People, you want these women to meet with success in whichever path they choose.  Here’s why.  We NEED women in high-power positions to succeed.  We NEED them to run for office.  We NEED them to have a seat at the table so they can advocate for a supportive workplace culture.  We want them to thrive so that they can put in place innovative policies that TRULY support a work/family balance that works for BOTH genders.  So they can fight for fairness in health care and family leave, and fight against discrimination in the workplace.  So that every woman, every family, can have at least a few healthy and fulfilling life options to pursue.  THAT would be true choice, would it not?

Dear Ray Rice, (A message on July 4th)

July 4, 2012 § 8 Comments

The first (and only) time I was ever in a room with you, I was unimpressed.  It was at Lardarius Webb‘s 1st Annual Bowling Classic.  This was an event he held to raise money for disadvantaged youth.  I was there because I bid on and won tickets at Casey Cares’ silent auction.  (Casey Cares is a wonderful local organization that does the little things that mean so much to children with chronic and critical illness and their families.)  I brought my two boys and three of their friends, and they were absolutely beyond thrilled to be in the room with so many Ravens players.  Including you.

Sadly, but understandably, you had layers upon layers of protection between you and any of the child fans who wanted to meet you.  As soon as you were spotted on one lane, bowling, it seemed like people swarmed and you practically sprinted to another lane to get away.  Yes, I know you did sign autographs and talk to some fans, but suffice it to say, the other Ravens players were much more…um…approachable and friendly.  I tried to steer the kids towards them, and their disappointment at not getting a chance to say hi to you was really assuaged by sweetness and warmth so many of the other players offered the kids.  I’m sure, though, that the people you actually did meet and interact with came away with amazing memories, which is awesome.  So, we shrugged the distance off to the difficulties of superstardom, and continued to root for you like crazy on the field.

I gave you a second look, however, when I started seeing people reposting your Facebook statuses taking a stand against bullying.  It’s something I consider pervasive and corrosive in humanity, and I was thrilled to see someone of your star power and talent taking the issue on.  My sister and I were bullied as kids, and I have many friends whose kids are dealing with it as well.  There is even one amazing girl in my neighborhood taking her own stand.  She was featured on local news here, and she’s using the power of social media to spread her message here.  My opinion of you did an about-face, and I immediately began following your fb page, and made sure to thank you there for all you’re doing – which is considerable and amazing.

Today, though – on July 4th – you make me sad again.  Here is what you said in your FB status:

“It’s sad that many Americans don’t even know the Pledge anymore. “One nation, UNDER GOD…” And if you have an issue with me posting this and capitalizing UNDER GOD, remember, because of today, you are FREE and have the absolute right to remove yourself from my page! Happy Birthday America!”

It’s not your devotion to the wording of the Pledge that’s problematic.  It doesn’t bother me that you capitalize “under God.”  I respect your feelings about that, despite the fact that those words weren’t even in the Pledge until the 1950s.  Sometimes even I include those words when I say the pledge, and sometimes I don’t.  My right.

What bothers me is your invitation, which really borders on a challenge, to remove myself from your page if I disagree with your message.  Why this attitude?  We see it everywhere.  “Learn the language or leave.”  “If you don’t like the government, move to another country.”  “Disagree with me?  Feel free to stop being my fan/friend.”  “Don’t like what I’m saying?  There’s the door.”

Are you that threatened by people who don’t agree with you?  Do you think it’s that threatening to me that you say something with which I disagree?  Do you really believe that differing opinions automatically become a wall between people?  I’m more optimistic than that.  I have more faith in myself and my fellow citizens than that.  I give us ALL more credit than that.  I see time and time again examples of people making agreements, staying friends, moving forward, and continuing to respect and love one another despite divergent or opposing opinions.

I’m not naive.  I know divisiveness rules.  I realize mixed marriages, political foes who are friends, hearts softened by having witnessed suffering may not be what makes the news headlines, but I see it every day, in all levels of humanity.  It’s not sexy enough to be splashed across the headlines, but it’s there.  There are even ways in which you, Ray Rice, are evidence of it.

So, no.  I don’t feel the way you do about the words of the Pledge of Allegiance.  I disagree with you about the importance of the words “under God” in the Pledge.  But neither is our diverging opinions a basis for which I would dissolve a friendship, however many degrees of separation there are between you and me.  So thanks for the invitation to leave, but I’m staying in the room.  Because it’s my room, too.  And because frankly, to me, THAT,  is what makes me beyond grateful and proud to be a citizen of this country.

Go Ravens!

And, Happy Birthday, America!

Where Am I?

You are currently viewing the archives for July, 2012 at The Worthington Post.

%d bloggers like this: