Cloudy skies and light rain set the stage for a somber ceremony outside Congregation Ohav Shalom Sunday morning. A group of more than 50 people gathered to remember the 11 members of the Israeli Olympic Team who were killed by Palestinian militants during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany.
The ceremony included a moment of silence to observe the 40th anniversary of the deaths, something that did not happen during Friday’s opening ceremony for the 2012 Summer Olympics despite a petition signed by thousands encouraging such an act of remembrance.
The synagogue’s ceremony was held on Tisha B’Av, a day on the Jewish calendar set aside to recall and to mourn Jewish tragedies.
“We mourn these events of the past and we mourn the knowledge that violence and inhumanity still exist in our world. Acts of terror continue for our people, most recently just last week, when a busload of innocent Israeli tourists was blown up in Bulgaria,” Rabbi Rena Kieval told the crowd.
Those gathered for the event stood reverently in a half-circle in the synagogue’s parking lot, facing two flagpoles where an American flag and a Jewish flag hung limp on the windless day.
“We are here today to say that we care. We are here today to make an important statement that we are not apathetic,” Kieval asserted.
Rabbi Dan Ornstein said that the ceremony was a way to return a voice to those silenced by the 1972 attack.
“What we are doing is giving back the voice to the cause of peace, brotherhood and sisterhood throughout the world,” he said.
In the crowd were athletes and officials from the Albany-Schenectady JCC Maccabi team. The team competes annually in the Maccabi Games, an Olympic-style sporting event for Jewish teens.
Andrew Katz of Albany, the delegation head for the local team, said the memory of the 11 athletes who died in Munich is honored annually as part of the Maccabi Games.
Katz attended Sunday’s ceremony along with a number of the 19 athletes on the team. Noah Weinstock, 14, of Slingerlands was one of them. Weinstock, a basketball player, said that he didn’t understand how anyone could commit acts like the killings in Munich, but sees the occurrence as an opportunity for kids to learn from the past and to then find ways to make sure such tragedies don’t happen again.
Libby Post, president of the board of directors at the synagogue, said no one has ever given the slaying of the 11 Israeli athletes the recognition the awful event deserves. During the ceremony, she solemnly read the names of those who were killed.
“I think this has been part of the Jewish consciousness in the country for a very long time, but no one’s ever done anything,” she said. “There’s never been any sense of closure on it for anybody.”
She said she hoped Sunday’s short ceremony would help bring closure for some.
Along with a moment of silence, the event included readings, songs and prayers. It concluded with the Mourner’s Kaddish, which Kieval said was not about death, but about hope “for a time when the world will be healed and we will come together as one human race that does not allow or promote, ever, this kind of evil and violence to happen again.”
Iris Singer of Albany left the ceremony visibly moved.
“I was born in Israel,” she explained, “I have my family there and also my father was a Holocaust survivor, so I grew up with that whole arena of the sorrow and sadness, and then to grow up and to know that it’s still happening in this world today is very, very painful,” she said.
Michelle Sanders of Delmar, who also attended the ceremony, said she vividly remembers the tragedy at the 1972 Olympics. She was a teen at the time.
“I feel like I personally experienced it on a level that no child should ever have to experience something like that,” she said, lamenting that her own teenagers are growing up in a world where similar horrific acts are still occurring.
“Where is the hope? I’d like to find it,” she said, wiping away tears.
Kieval assured that there is hope, and that it could be found in the half-circle of individuals who gathered in the rain Sunday to honor the 11 Jewish athletes, coaches and referees killed four decades ago.
“I believe that there’s a human spirit that, one small act at a time, we create a better world,” she said. “Will it ever be perfectly redeemed? I don’t know. But we bring redemption wherever we can and this was an act of hope and redemption, I think. People care. Look how many people came out here on a Sunday morning. People do care and are willing to take the time and the energy to make the world a better place.”