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Mark Spitz and Munich 1972

12/21/2021 05:19:45 PM


Rabbi Weill

Dear Friends,

Mark Spitz, the Jewish American Olympic swimmer, has been on my mind. In fact, I woke up this morning singing a made-up song about him.

Spitz won seven gold medals in the 1972 Olympics, held in Munich. His achievement was unparalleled -- until Michael Phelps came along.

Spitz’s ascent up the podium to receive his seventh gold medal occurred on the evening of September 4, 1972. Hours later, as he was returning from dinner, he walked right past the apartment in the Olympic village where Palestinian “Black September” terrorists were holding innocent Israeli Olympians hostage. They had already killed two. The other nine would be killed in a shootout at the Munich airport.

There is so much to this story, including the mind-bogglingly lax security and the fact that there were very likely people within the Olympic village who facilitated the terrorists’ easy access.

Authorities feared that Spitz may have been in danger, so they whisked him quickly out of Germany. He was first flown to London, where he posed for the famous picture of him – mustached and in a bathing suit – with the seven gold medals around his neck. He smiles in that iconic photo, but he remembers feeling that terrible incongruity of him, victorious, while eleven fellow Jews were dead. The terrorist attack in Munich has had an indelible effect on Spitz, who is now 70 years old. In an article in Ha’aretz 20 years ago, he said:

"It made me aware of my responsibility to acknowledge that, yes, I am Jewish. You know, before Munich, that issue hardly ever came up. I think most people knew I was Jewish but there were no consequences to it - I was a 22-year-old kid. … After Munich… I felt an obligation to affirm my ties as a Jew."

As the fiftieth anniversary of that horrific tragedy nears, may we all recognize that, despite our different beliefs and political opinions, we cannot sever our ties as Jews. May we rather affirm those ties – to the Jewish state, to our culture, to each other.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jeffrey Weill

Tue, April 23 2024 15 Nisan 5784