Minute for Munich

Max Dunbar CEO of Manchester Jewish Museum, Rabbi Jonathan Guttentag, Whitefield Synagogue, President Frank Baigel (picture courtesy Lawrence Purcell)

The President, Frank Baigel and other members of the JRC  and the Community  attended a Memorial Ceremony organised by the JRC at the Manchester Jewish Museum, which currently is showing a special exhibition on Jews In Sport.

This event coincided with the Zionist Federation’s live webcast from the Israeli Embassy in London  to mark the 40th anniversary of the murder of 11 Israeli athletes z”l at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972 by Black September, an arm of Fatah/PLO.

Mr Baigel recalled  the tension and horror of 40 years ago and a special service held then at the South Manchester Synagogue highlighting the fact that some of those murdered had survived the Holocaust and had made new lives for themselves in Israel.

Rabbi Jonathan Guttentag of Whitefield Hebrew Congregation spoke movingly about the tragedy [his words are below].

The webcast from London was watched and the minute’s silence observed, followed by recital of Psalm 23 led by Rabbi Arnold Saunders, the recital of Kaddish and the lighting of a memorial candle by Mrs Joy Wolfe.

The ceremony ended with the singing of Hatikvah.

Rabbi Jonathan Guttentag’s words at the Manchester Jewish Community Gathering
On the eve of the London Olympics 2012. Recalling the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics 1972

Friday 27th July 2012
8th Menachem Av 5772
Manchester Jewish Museum

“We gather here on erev Shabbat Chazon – the special weekend of the Jewish year that leads to Tisha B’Av. Shabbat Chazon means a Shabbat of a vision, the vision of the prophet Isaiah ben Amotz who foresaw the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.
Every year since the destruction of the temple the Jewish people have labelled this Shabbat the Shabbat of vision because on this Shabbat they reconnect into the vision of the prophet of old who foresaw destruction, but they also conjured up a vision of the future, a vision of a Temple in Jerusalem rebuilt.

This weekend is also a weekend of vision in the general world. Here in Greta Britain, the eyes of the world are upon us as the Olympic Games open to great festivity and hope with the prayer that all should be well in the years that lie ahead. The Olympics offer a vision of what the world should be like, where nation can compete against nation in an atmosphere of friendliness and rivalry but one of peace and coming together.

But that vision was rudely shattered 40 years ago in Munich with events that are etched firmly on the minds of those who lived through them in 1972; and which I recall with a mixture of clear vividness of the general thrust and hazy vagueness at the some of the details. When 11 athletes were murdered in cold blood at the Olympic Games in Munich, people butchered and singled out for death for the reason that they were Jewish, that they were national representatives of the Jewish State, the State of Israel.

We gather here as members of the Jewish community, as friends of the State of Israel to do our duty of commemoration to pay tribute to the lives of our precious brethren. And we gather here at this location, one of the identifiable landmarks of the Jewish community here in Manchester, the Jewish Museum, formerly a house of prayer and gathering for the Spanish and Portuguese Congregation in the Jewish community.

But we also cannot fail to note that there is a background to our ceremony this morning and to other events being held in the Jewish community, that in spite of the reasonable request to the organising committee that a moment’s official silence should be held in the memory of the Israeli athletes targeted and murdered, this has not been the outcome that campaigners could have reasonably hoped to achieve.

And so therefore our prayers and our words this weekend are accompanied by a question mark – the question mark of vision, the question mark of vision for the future.

If the world gathers to celebrate togetherness but cannot find a minute to recall the memories of athletes who were murdered at the Olympics simply because they were Jews, what does that say about what the sort of vision for the future is implied.

Perhaps, though, what we have here is the vision seen in the book of Bamidbar by Bilaam, an outsider observing the Jewish people in the wilderness, this vision is a guiding light, a key of interpretation, an accurate description of the eternal condition of the people of Israel, the eternal nation, hen am levadad yishkon, behold a people that dwells alone uvagoyim lo yitchashav, and among the nations it is not reckoned.

One of the recent presidents of the USA made an observation about vision and leadership – when he talked about ‘the vision thing’ and noted the problem of its absence. But it is the book of Proverbs that puts it in the stronger terms באין חזון יפרע עם‎ – without vision the people perish.

May the memories of our brethren be honoured in their passing, may their widows their families and the whole house of Israel be strengthened

Let us pray for a world where there is true vision, a world truly reconciled, truly at peace
Amen V’amen