Aly Raisman says she was for Munich 11 moment of silence [SLIDESHOW]

Slideshow highlighting Aly Raisman‘s Olympics at bottom

Jewish-American gymnast Aly Raisman expressed her support for a moment of silence at the Olympics for the Israelis killed at the 1972 Munich Games.

Raisman was speaking to reporters Tuesday following her gold medal performance in the floor exercise.

“Having that floor music wasn’t intentional,” she said of her floor routine to the music of “Hava Nagila,” the New York Post reported Wednesday. “But the fact it was on the 40th anniversary is special, and winning the gold today means a lot to me. If there had been a moment’s silence, I would have supported it and respected it.”

A memorial ceremony for the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches murdered in Munich was held Monday in London, organized by the Israeli Embassy in London and the National Olympic Committee of Israel along with the London Jewish community.

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge held a moment of silence for the Israelis at a small ceremony in the Olympic Village late last month, but he said a moment of silence at the opening ceremonies in London would not be appropriate. He spoke at Monday’s memorial.

International politicians and public figures, including President Obama and presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and the governments of several countries had called for an official moment of silence at the London opening.

[Aly Raisman’s results: team / all-around / balance beam / floor exercise]



I’m driving home from Congregation Shaarei Torah in Arcadia, stuck in hellacious traffic on the 210 near Pasadena. It’s late at night, and I know the Chinese food on Baldwin Avenue is good, but certainly not everybody in the county wants dim sum at 10 p.m. Then, on KPCC, I find the cause of the clog.

The Rev. Billy Graham wrapped up his final L.A. appearance at the Rose Bowl, and the more than 80,000 people who came to hear him are going home. To hear KPCC’s Rachel Myrow report it, they were going home moved, committed and fulfilled.

The event I spoke at had a few less people. Maybe 50 congregants showed up to listen to me and Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief David Horovitz discuss his book, “Still Life With Bombers: Israel in the Age of Terrorism” (Knopf), and current political developments in Israel. It was a good event, nice people, passionate questions, not a few of them longer than the answers. Not every gathering has to be a revival.

But, I thought to myself on the long drive home, why can’t any event be a revival? How is it that Judaism, which gave birth to Christianity, doesn’t pack in the crowds? Why is it so many of our events have 50 people talking about terror instead of 50,000 people talking about hope? Why isn’t there a Rabbi Phil and “The 613 Club”?

Our mass-media age has given us tremendous tools to reach larger and larger audiences, but we resist using them. Either we are uncomfortable with the form, or we lack the learning and wisdom to convey the content.

The irony, of course, is that when it comes to conveying non-Jewish content, Jews have pioneered or mastered these media. Jewish names are everywhere, Jewish content almost nowhere. Almost two decades ago, when Jay Sanderson was working like a dog to raise money for Jewish Television Network (JTN), the most common tongue-in-cheek reaction was, “Hey, we already have ABC, NBC and CBS.”

Of course, what Sanderson was trying to do was use the techniques of the mass marketplace to educate Jews and others about Judaism. He saw Christians doing the same on “The 700 Club” and PAX Network and wondered why Jews didn’t emulate them. Outside of some very idiosyncratic public access cable and radio rabbis, few have tried.

That brings me to Rabbi Irwin Kula, who is trying. Kula is president of CLAL: the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, based in New York City.

“My goal is to bring Jewish wisdom into the marketplace,” he said. “My goal is to have Judaism help people become more human, and the byproduct is making Jews more Jewish.”

I spoke with Kula over coffee last week at a West Los Angeles hotel. The night before, he had just screened an 18-minute documentary about himself and his teaching to the director Tom Shadyac and a couple dozen invited guests at an industry screening room. Shadyac, who is not Jewish, is the director of “Bruce Almighty,” “Liar Liar” and the “Ace Ventura” juggernaut. He saw the documentary, “Time for a New God,” at the Telluride Film Festival and was intrigued by this rabbi and his universal message.

Now, Kula is poised in a kind of cultural green room. The documentary and a series produced by JTN has led to a major book deal from Hyperion and a follow-up series for a high-visibility public television slot in early 2006. If all goes well, Dr. Phil will find himself glancing over his shoulder at the rabbi coming up on the outside.

As a former TV personality would say, that’s a good thing.

Kula, the son of a cantor, is steeped in Jewish knowledge and unafraid to bring its teachings smack into non-Jewish lives.

The idea of translating esoteric Jewish teaching into the mass culture idiom is not new. A little group called the Kabbalah Learning Centre pioneered it and earned the scorn of world Jewry for its efforts. But what the Kabbalah Centre proved is that non-Jews respond to Judaism not as a way of being Jews, but as a way of being human.

The group’s more suspicious practices aside, Kula admires it. It offers upscale, young, post-secular and materially well-off adherents something their lives lacked: meaning.

“They took one insight from kabbalah, just one, and reworked it,” he said. “Do you know why you have everything? You receive in order to give.”

But Kula’s teaching goes beyond such simplicity. It responds to life’s hard, eternal questions, as does his faith, with nuance and paradox. He is the anti-Dr. Phil.

“There’s a spiritual way that’s neither fundamentalist nor New Age, both of which offer easy answers. Life is more like Yaakov’s life,” he said, speaking of the biblical patriarch. “Life is more like Moses’ life.”

In the “Simple Wisdom” episode I watched, Kula faces an audience of mostly non-Jews and helps them deal with difficult family issues, often using the lives of the matriarchs and patriarchs in Genesis as examples.

Jews may balk at the idea of reaching beyond the safe confines of the tribe, of imagining a faith that draws 50,000 to a stadium rather than 50 to a shul. But for Kula, that goal is not unworthy of Judaism itself.

“What’s the purpose of Jewish life?” he asks. “Is it to be a blessing, or is it to survive? The only way you can survive is by being a blessing.”


Windsurfer Wins Israel’s First Gold Medal

Television and radio stations in Israel cut away from their mid-day programming. News Web sites were updated faster than even the nimblest of fingers could press "refresh."

It wasn’t another terrorist attack in Israel, but some good news for a change: On Wednesday, the Jewish state entered the fraternity of Olympic gold-medal winners.

"I felt as though the whole country was pushing me from behind," Gal Fridman told reporters after he took the top score following the last windsurfing race at the 2004 Athens Games.

It was the first gold medal taken by an Israeli since the country began participating in the Games in 1952.

The medal was Israel’s sixth overall, and the second of Fridman’s career: He won a bronze at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

"Our No. 1!" announced the Web site of Israel’s biggest newspaper, Yediot Achronot, in its caption to a picture of Fridman, 28, on his board at the end of the mistral race.

President Moshe Katsav congratulated Fridman on his achievement — and judo competitor Arik Ze’evi, who earlier won a bronze medal in Athens, expressed a pride felt throughout Israel.

"Like all Israelis, I was delighted to hear ‘Hatikvah’ and see the flag raised. I did not manage to get the gold, but I am glad he did," Ze’evi told Channel 10 television.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called Fridman to congratulate him in a phone call carried live by Israeli media.

"It was a joy to see you win and raise the Israeli flag," Sharon said. "The confidence and composure you evinced throughout the competition were extraordinary and earned you an honorary place in the chronicles of Israeli and international sport. You really are a grand sportsman, and the whole country rejoices with you today, and is proud of you — very, very proud of you."

But the nation’s excitement took a while to crest, perhaps because windsurfing’s almost leisurely pace and lack of an adversarial dynamic makes it less of a spectator sport.

By contrast, when Ze’evi took the bronze medal for Israel last week, cries of joy could be heard from salons and cafes across the country.

As the news of Fridman’s triumph spread in Israel, so did a sense of satisfaction.

"It’s about time," said Dedi Cohen, a Tel Aviv lawyer whose office spent much of the day watching live television coverage of the race. "Any sport that has Israeli involvement is of interest, but to get the gold is a matter of pride for Israel and Jews worldwide."

Fridman sailed consistently at Athens, never finishing lower than eighth in the 11-race event. After the final race, he jumped into the water and then draped himself in the flag.

Fridman’s family watched the race from its home in Karkur, surrounded by press. His parents, Dganit and Uri, clutched a Book of Psalms.

"I don’t have my glasses to read Psalms, but it’s enough to keep it close to our hearts," Uri Fridman said. Uri Fridman said he trained his son from age 6.

"I took him out first in boats, then on a surfboard, then on a windsurfer. I would throw him into the water, and pull him out again," he said.

Fridman’s biggest fan, ironically, said she was one of the few who did not see him win.

"I was too nervous to watch," said the windsurfer’s mother, Dganit. She had spent much of the week holding two thumbs-up in what she described to Israeli media as a good-luck gesture for Gal, which is Hebrew for "wave."

On a somber note, Fridman said he would dedicate his medal to the 11 Israeli athletes killed by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Olympic Games. "I’m sure they’re watching us," he said. "And I’m sure their families in Israel will be very happy."