Ankie Spitzer toured one room in Olympic village back in 1972 because she wanted to see where her husband was murdered. It was in that room where Andrei Spitzer and 10 other Israeli athletes were held hostage, and where some of them were killed during the Munich Olympics.
“Looking at the bloody chaos in that room, I made a vow,” Ankie Spitzer said. “I will never stop talking about this because what happened there was the total opposite of the Olympic spirit and I will have to remind the world what happened there so this will never ever happen again.”
In recent years, Ankie Spitzer gained quite a bit of help in making sure her husband and the rest of the Munich 11’s memories aren’t forgotten. Two years ago, the Rockland JCC board of directors voted to dedicate this year’s JCC Maccabi Games to the Munich 11.
On Sunday night, the Rockland-hosted JCC Maccabi Games officially kicked off with its opening ceremony, which drew over 5,000 people to the Eugene Levy Fieldhouse at Rockland Community College. Spitzer was on hand to speak about the group’s efforts along with relatives for two of the other athletes murdered in Munich. Weightlifter David Berger’s father, Dr. Ben Berger, and sister, Barbara Berger, were on hand Sunday night, along with Oshrat Romano Kandell, daughter of weightlifter Yossef Romano.
The JCC Maccabi Games bring more than 1,200 teenage Jewish athletes to Rockland for four days of competition in 12 sports. RCC will act as the main hub for the games, although competitions are taking place at various locations across the county. The athletes will have also night activities in the county and spend one morning volunteering.
“Maccabi athletes will meet and interact with other Jewish teens from around the country and the world, and they’ll come together not just as competitors, but as the largest group of community service volunteers Rockland County has ever hosted,” said Barry Kantrowiz, co-chair of the JCC Maccabi Games and former JCC Rockland president.
The athletes come to Rockland in 40 delegations from around the world, including Mexico, Canada, Israel, Great Britain, Venezuela, California, Ohio, Florida, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Illinois, Delaware, Michigan, New Jersey, Connecticut and New York.
“This evening, we also rejoice in those things that unite us: our religious and our cultural heritage, our family ties, our history, our Hebrew language and our peoplehood,” said Rabbi Berkman of the New City Jewish Center. “We are so, so very proud of the vitality and the strength and the creativity of our youth here. They are the embodiment of our most lofty dreams and the fulfillment of our collective hopes.”
In addition to the athletes, the stands at RCC were packed Sunday night with families and other supporters. Sticking out of the crowd of hundreds were flags from Great Britain, Canada, Israel, as well other locations.
Each delegation was announced as the athletes walked into the fieldhouse to loud cheers from the crowd. Many athletes from the international delegations carried flags from their home respective home countries.
But a big portion of the event Sunday night was dedicated to the Munich 11. Spitzer and the relatives of the other 10 Israeli athletes killed have been trying to get the International Olympic Committee [IOC] to have a minute of silence for their loved ones killed back in 1972, but it has yet to happen.
“This year’s Olympic slogan was ‘inspire a generation.’ That’s a powerful statement,” said Steve Gold, chair of the Munich 11 Minute Of Silence Petition. “But the [International Olympic Committee] failed to honor that pledge by failing to finally okay a minute of silence in honor of Munich 11 at this year’s opening ceremonies after 40 years of pleading by the Munich 11 families.”
Gold added that the petition they gave to the IOC before the 2012 games had more than 110,000 signatures, and world leaders, including President Barack Obama, voiced their support for the minute of silence.
“Maybe, at the London games, we did not get the minute, but let me assure you, we did not have silence either. For 40 years, we walked this long and lonely road by ourselves, but not anymore,” Spitzer said. “Two years ago, I came here to the JCC Rockland and the JCC decided to dedicate the Maccabi Games to the memory of our loved ones. They were the ones who initiated the petition on the internet, and through this petition the world woke up.”
Both Spitzer and Gold said they feel an anti-semitic feeling has led to no minute of silence in honor of the Munich 11. Spitzer added because of the petition and the work of the Rockland JCC, the memory of her husband and the 10 other athletes will live on in the younger generation, the current JCC Maccabi athletes.
“Our JCC Rockland, a little community, changed the world in the last few months,” Gold said. “We helped inspire a generation.”
Follow the games on Patch and at http://maccabi.jccrockland.org/