Rio pays tribute to 11 Israeli victims of ’72 Munich Olympic massacre


Under the auspices of the International Olympic Committee, Brazilian senior officials joined sports activists from Israel and elsewhere at a commemoration of the 11 Israeli victims of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre.

The Israeli and Brazilian Olympic committees and members of the local Jewish community attended the event Sunday evening at Rio City Hall.

“What happened in 1972 was one of the most lamentable episodes in the history of the Olympic Games, when  fanaticism and intolerance [converged in a] deplorable act of terrorism,” Brazil’s foreign minister, Jose Serra, said on behalf of President Michel Temer. “I believe the IOC, in all these years, hadn’t held the homage it deserved.”

Israel’s most senior representative to the games, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, said terrorism “does not differentiate [between] people” and reaches everyone.

“When we fight against terror, we look for peace. We still see discrimination against the Israeli athletes,” she said. “There are countries that deny visas to competitors. We know that mixing sports and politics is against the IOC protocol and contrary to the Olympic spirit. Sport must bring people together.”

Unlike previous Olympic commemorations dealing with the 1972 massacre, Sunday’s event was entirely devoted to the murdered Israelis. A previous homage was held Aug. 4 at a memorial site in the Olympic Village, where not only the Israelis were honored but also four others who were killed during Olympic Games.

Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano, the widows of fencing coach Andre Spitzer and weightlifter Yossef Romano, were among those who lit 11 candles at the event.

Israel’s honorary consul in Rio, Osias Wurman, told JTA: “The mayor opened the doors of his house in a gesture of great friendship with the Brazilian Jewish community and the whole people of Israel. It’s a unique moment for us Brazilian Jews.”

Among the ceremony’s participants was Ori Sasson, the Israeli judoka who gave Israel its second medal in Rio — bronze in the men’s judo over 220 pounds competition. His Egyptian opponent during the competition who refused to greet him after being defeated was much criticized.

Approached by guests and journalists for a comment, Sasson avoided answering questions about conflict in the Middle East.

“It was not the first time this happened between a judo athlete competing against Muslims,” he said, “but I am only an athlete, I’m not a politician.”

Chabad ‘welcome centers’ in Rio to offer kosher food, multilingual assistance for Olympics


Chabad will convert its three Rio de Janeiro centers into “welcome centers” for the estimated 40,000 Jewish visitors expected this summer for the Brazil Olympics and Paralympic Games.

The sites in Leblon, Copacabana and Barra will provide kosher food and a prayer minyan, as well as help with other Jewish or general information,  Chabad.org reported. Rabbinical students from New York staffing the centers will welcome guests in English, Hebrew, Spanish, French and Russian.

“It is a large premises right in the center of Copacabana,” said Rabbi Ilan Stiefelmann, who is coordinating the facility in Rio’s neighborhood packed with hotels, hostels and tourists from around the world. “It’s really the perfect location for us to be able to greet Jewish visitors.”

The Orthodox group will host an official Shabbat program for the Israeli Paralympics delegation, including providing accommodations for athletes and staff who are Sabbath observant.

During the Olympics, an equivalent service will be provided by the Conservative Temple CJB, where some 300 guests are expected, including Israel’s Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev, the highest-ranking Israeli official expected to attend the games.

“We are preparing for about 500 additional people to join our synagogue each Shabbat” during the games, chief envoy Yehoshua Goldman told Chabad.org.

Goldman and another member of his team were appointed by the Brazilian Olympic Committee as two of the three Jewish chaplains at the Olympic village.

Permission for a kosher food concession stand at the Olympic stadium has not yet been granted by the International Olympic Committee. At the village, there will be no kosher or other special food.

Rio Jews sue far-left news service for article blaming president’s ouster on ‘Zionists’


The Rio Jewish federation filed a criminal suit against a far-left news service for publishing an anti-Semitic article blaming Jews for the suspension of President Dilma Rousseff last month.

The article in Vermelho alleged that Israel is through its proxies in charge of what he considers the country’s three most important sectors — defense, intelligence and central bank — and was involved in her suspension.

Brazil’s Senate voted in May to impeach Rousseff for allegations that she illegally manipulated fiscal accounts.

“We won’t allow that isolated people or political parties or media outlets that distribute paid or non-paid news to denigrate the image of the Jewish people,” said Paulo Maltz, the Rio Jewish federation’s president. The lawsuit was filed on Wednesday.

The article — titled “The fingers of Israel and the United States in the coup” — claimed to list Jews who would lead various government areas, describing them as  “Israel’s Zionists.” However, two of the figures named in the article are Christian. Only Ilan Goldfajn, the third official named in the article, is Jewish. Tapped by newly appointed president Michel Temer, Israeli-born Goldfajn is the new head of Brazil’s Central Bank.

Vermelho calls itself a non-profit news portal in partnership with the Communist Party of Brazil, known as PCdoB. The article has also drawn harsh reaction from non-Jewish groups.

After the O Globo newspaper’s columnist Anselmo Gois wrote of the article that “It looks like racism, and it is,” the article was removed from the Vermelho news portal. However, Jewish newspaper Alef News distributed the original text to thousands of readers, with commentary.

The Vermelho article also said that Israel would have a strong influence in all major ministries, as well as the election of members of Congress in the United States, and is exerting a growing influence in Latin American politics.

“For those who thought that the Palestinian fight was a distant conflict in the Middle East, it has now knocked on the doors of our government,” read the article.

Top officials put a Jewish stamp on the Rio Olympics


Mazel tov! That’s perhaps how the big shots in charge of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, the first to take place in South America, will toast victories when the competition gets underway Aug. 5.

Three of the top officials of the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee, including its president, Carlos Arthur Nuzman, are Jewish.

But in the run-up to the games, there have been more “oy gevalts” than mazel tovs as organizers deal with reports of unfinished venues, polluted swimming and sailing sites and, most of all, concerns about the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

In an interview with JTA, Nuzman said the number of Zika cases in Rio have dropped sharply in recent weeks, and are expected to fall even further during the dry months of the Brazilian winter, as Rio 2016 organizers emphasized at a news conference on June 7. Last month, the World Health Organization said there is no public health justification for postponing or canceling the Games.

“None of the top athletes have declared not to come. If there’s a second-layer one who won’t come, good for him,” an irritated Nuzman told JTA.

One of Brazil’s most prominent sports figures, Nuzman, 77, is a former president of the Brazilian Volleyball Confederation and has been president of the Brazilian Olympic Committee since 1995.

An aerial view of Rio 2016 Olympic Park during construction Photo by Gabriel Heusi/Brasil2016.gov.br

Nuzman preferred to talk about the robust Jewish connections at the games, including a ceremony to honor the 11 Israelis murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the Munich Olympics in 1972, the Israeli company that is providing security for the games and his own deep ties — as an athlete, sporting official and Jew — to Brazilian sports.

“My connection with Judaism and with Israel is through sports,” said Nuzman, who was part of the first Brazilian male volleyball team in 1964  when the sport debuted at the Olympic Games. “I started my career playing at the Brazilian Israelite Club and I have attended four Maccabiah Games in Israel.”

The grandson of Russian immigrants, Nuzman was born in Rio, home to an estimated 40,000 Jews. He is an active member of the 440-family Conservative synagogue Congregacao Judaica do Brasil led by Rabbi Nilton Bonder, his nephew. Nuzman’s father, Izaak, presided over the Rio Jewish federation, the Hebraica Club and the local Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal.

“He was one the greatest leaders of our Jewish community. He brought [David] Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir to Brazil,” Nuzman boasted, noting the late prime ministers of Israel.

Nuzman relies on other prominent members of the local Jewish community as deputies. Sidney Levy, a business executive, is the Rio 2016 committee’s chief executive officer and has a $2.2 billion budget to manage. Leonardo Gryner, a communications and marketing director who was part of the Rio 2016 bid, is deputy CEO.

“I have no connection to sports at all,” Levy said in an interview published at the Keren Hayesod webpage. “My duty is totally business-related.”

The Jewish trio at the helm of Rio 2016 is behind the ceremony to honor the Munich victims. The Aug. 14 event at Rio’s City Hall will be co-led by the International Olympic Committee along with the Olympic committees of Israel and Brazil.

Four yeas ago, the IOC rejected appeals for a moment of silence at the opening ceremonies of the London Games in 2012, the 40th anniversary of the tragedy. Critics at the time were not appeased by various events marking the anniversary that took place at other venues.

The IOC also announced a special area in the Rio Olympic Village to commemorate the memory of all Olympians who have died. In addition, a moment of reflection in honor of all dead Olympians will be held during the closing ceremony.

“There will be no minute of silence at the opening ceremony,” read an IOC note, frustrating a longtime request of families.

The widows of weightlifter Yossef Romano and fencing coach Andre Spitzer will instead light 11 candles at the City Hall event. The Israeli government will be represented by the minister of culture and sport, Miri Regev.

“The mayor will open the doors of his house in a gesture of great friendship with the Brazilian Jewish community and the whole people of Israel,” Israel’s honorary consul in Rio, Osias Wurman, told JTA. “We are deeply moved. Symbolically falling on Tisha b’Av, one of the saddest days of the Hebrew calendar, the event will be a unique moment.”

The security of the 12,000 athletes and anticipated 500,000 visitors is among the most sensitive issues for organizers, and the Israeli company International Security and Defense Systems, or ISDS, won the international tender to secure the games. ISDS has coordinated security at previous Olympics and World Cups, and will provide services from consulting to security supply systems.

“It’s an honor for ISDS to be the very first ever Israeli group to be part of the Olympic family,” Leo Gleser, ISDS president and a former Mossad agent, told JTA.

Rio 2016’s first test event, an international sailing regatta that gathered 326 athletes from 35 countries, Aug. 3, 2014. Photo by Alex Ferro

Last November, a French national identified as an executioner in ISIS propaganda videos tweeted, “Brazil, you are our next target.” Brazil’s counterterrorism director, Luiz Alberto Sallaberry, recognized the statement as credible.

“I can’t speak much about security or it won’t be security anymore,” Nuzman told JTA .

Brazil has long regarded itself as an unlikely target of extremists thanks to its historical standing as a nonaligned, multicultural nation. Security experts have warned that many Brazilian officials do not realize how big a stage the Olympics is for anyone seeking to sow terror.

Israel will make its 16th appearance at the Olympics by bringing to Rio its largest delegation ever, with nearly 50 athletes for the Olympics and another 50 for the 2016 Paralympic Games following immediately afterward. Some 10,000 Israelis are expected to make it to Rio to root for their national heroes. A temporary Israeli consulate will be established in Rio to serve the Israeli population during the games.

“The local Jewish community enjoys seeing the Olympics team in international cooperation with other countries. The federal police have very well trained staff. We are very optimistic,” Octavio Aronis, head of security of the Brazilian Israelite Confederation, told JTA.

Rio’s Jewish federation president, Paulo Maltz, is more guarded.

“There is always a first time, it has happened twice in Argentina and Brazil is not free of it,” he told JTA, citing the Buenos Aires bombings of the Israeli Embassy in 1992 and the AMIA Jewish center in 1994. “We’ll be on total alert.”

Schools will be closed during the Olympics following a Rio municipality decision to move the winter school vacations from July to August, in large part to reduce traffic.

“It’s a relief,” Maltz said.

Those who make it to Rio will be able to take part in two special Shabbat ceremonies. Some 300 guests are expected at Bonder’s synagogue, including Regev, the Israeli sports minister. Chabad will host a Shabbat event during the Paralympics.

In a joint educational project around Rio 2016, students from four Jewish schools and four municipal public schools will produce a book about the Munich murders and the Olympic spirit.

“Children must understand the evil caused by terrorism,” said Sergio Niskier, one of the project organizers and a former Jewish federation president. “It’s fantastic to see Jewish schools and public schools from the municipality, despite their abyssal social and economic realities, working hand in hand in this project.”

The Israeli singer Ester Rada, whose parents were Ethiopian immigrants, will perform at official sites where fans can watch the sporting action on big screens.

“It’s an example of the polyvalent, multicultural aspect of the Jewish state, which is formed by over 70 different origins that make up the Israeli society,” said Wurman, the honorary consul.

Battling Zika, Brazil’s Jews turn to bug repellent and indoor activities


Despite recent summer temperatures here topping out at 42 degrees Celsius (109 Fahrenheit), Milena Rozenbrah has become accustomed recently to dressing in pants and long sleeves when she leaves home.

A Jewish mother in Brazil’s second-largest city, Rozenbrah is concerned not for the religious value of tzniut, or modesty, but for Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that transmits the feared Zika virus and which has become one of Brazil’s national enemies.

Brazilians have been in a state of panic over Zika, which is believed to cause birth defects and other medical problems, and Brazil’s 120,000-member Jewish community is hardly immune. Rozenbrah persuaded other mothers at her son’s Jewish day school to buy a gallon of the best mosquito repellent on the market and have the teacher apply a generous layer twice a day.

“We have crossed out of our family routine going to the Botanical Gardens and all green areas,” Rozenbrah told JTA. “We have anti-mosquito scented vaporizers all over our house and we avoid going out early in the morning or late in the afternoon, the most dangerous periods with more mosquitoes. Also, we keep the air conditioners on almost 24/7, which has made our electricity bill skyrocket.”

Brazil is ground zero for the growing Zika crisis. Last month, the World Health Organization declared Zika a global health threat out of concern that it is likely responsible for a spike in Brazilian cases of microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with small heads and permanent brain damage. The risks to children and adults are less clear, but symptoms can include fever, rash, joint pain, muscle pain and headaches. There is no vaccine or specific treatment, according to Brazil’s Ministry of Health.

At Brazil’s largest Jewish school, the Liessin school, students are participating in the Zika Zero campaign. (Marcus Moraes)At Brazil’s largest Jewish school, Liessin, students are participating in the Zika Zero campaign. Photo by Marcus Moraes/JTA

Though the worst-hit areas of Brazil are in the country’s Northeast, Rio, home to approximately one-third of Brazil’s Jews, has also felt the effects. The city is the site of the enormous Tijuca Forest and other natural landscapes that provide vast habitats for the aegypti mosquitoes. During the Carnival holidays last month, some Jewish families gave up their traditional excursions to the mountain refuge of Teresopolis, where the Zika threat is thought to be greater, preferring to stay in Rio, which has better medical resources.

At Rozenbrah’s son’s school, Liessin, the largest Jewish day school in Brazil with some 1,500 students, there have been no reported absences due to Zika, dengue or chikungunya, the other viruses associated with the Aedes mosquito. Pedagogic coordinator Maria do Carmo Iff believes prevention has been key.

“Our strategies include campaigns, training, latest news on bulletin boards, leaflets produced by the students, chat circles, drama, games, videos and much more,” Iff told JTA. “The whole school community must be involved, but mainly the children and teenagers, who are the best multipliers of our Zika Zero campaign. We also ask parents to keep in touch with us about any symptom that may appear.”

Erica Saubermann Alem, a mother of two who lives across the street from Liessin, is skeptical about the prevention approach. Ten years after she had dengue fever, another mosquito-borne illness that can cause Zika-like symptoms, she came down with Zika last month and wound up in the emergency room with rashes on her skin, severe headache and acute joint pain.

“In my opinion, repellents are a waste of time,” Alem said. “They are poisonous, kids don’t like it and their effect doesn’t last long. And protection is not 100 percent.”

Another Liessin mother, Juliana Eidelman, is eight months pregnant. Despite the prevention campaign, she says she has never been so frightened – even more so than when she was expecting her first child in the midst of the global swine flu epidemic in 2010.

“If I could have known in advance, I would have put off my current pregnancy,” Eidelman said. “Microcephaly is a very real risk. Now that my baby is formed, I am a bit calmer. But I still apply repellent along with makeup several times a day.”

Milena Rozenbrah and her family. (Courtesy of Rozenbrah family)Milena Rozenbrah and her family. Photo courtesy of the Rozenbrah family

The link between microcephaly and Zika is a matter of some dispute, and doctors have been offering conflicting advice. One of the most prominent obstetricians in the Rio Jewish community, Janine Cynamon, who is also an infertility specialist, has been advising her older patients not to wait to get pregnant. But for younger patients, she recommends delaying pregnancy or freezing embryos until a vaccine for Zika is available.

“Our religion does not forbid contraception,” Cynamon said. “Therefore, I have been advising young hopeful mothers not to get pregnant before April [when the risk of mosquito transmission is highest].”

Cynamon sees patients at her office in Copacabana, one of this city’s main Jewish neighborhoods and home to several synagogues and Jewish institutions. In neighboring Ipanema, Dr. Betty Moszkowicz, a pediatrician, is less convinced that Zika poses a risk to the unborn.

“I don’t recommend postponing pregnancy,” Moszkowicz said. “The association between Zika and microcephaly is still very controversial and I am personally not convinced.”

The Health Ministry has yet to establish a firm link between Zika and birth defects, though several recent studies have found evidence of a connection. The ministry does recommend pregnant women use insect repellent, and the World Health Organization says avoiding mosquito bites is the best prevention.

Indeed, the need to control Zika has even led one Rio rabbi to assert that the need to prevent the disease’s spread overrides religious prohibitions against killing bugs on the Sabbath.

“Mothers must take all measures against Zika, such as applying repellent,” said Rabbi Yehoshua Goldman, the chief Chabad envoy in Rio. “The mosquito can be killed even on Shabbat, for it threatens life.”

Rio 2016 Olympic Village to commemorate Munich massacre, other deaths


The International Olympic Committee will erect a place to mourn family and friends at the 2016 Games in Rio, including the 11 Israeli athletes killed by terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

The closing ceremony also will feature a moment of reflection to remember those who have died at the Olympic Games, such as the Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, who was killed in a training accident at the start of the Vancouver Olympics in 2010.

The moves are seen as an attempt to appease critics of the IOC who have said that it has not gone far enough in memorializing the Jewish athletes in Munich who were taken hostage and then killed by the Palestinian group Black September. The games were suspended for a day before resuming.

IOC President Thomas Bach said Sunday that the IOC will “remember all those who have lost their lives at the Olympic Games.”

“We want to give the athletes the opportunity to express their mourning in a dignified way and environment in the Olympic Village where representatives of the whole world are living peacefully under the same roof,” he said. “At the Closing Ceremony, the Games come to an end and many people feel that it is a moment to remember people who have died at the Olympic Games.”

Alex Gilady, who represents Israel on the IOC, called the move “a good and positive step by the members of the International Olympic Committee,” according to Ynet. “The ability to see the issue not only through Israeli eyes, but through a wider view, represents a change and a big step forward.”

The IOC rejected an in-person appeal, accompanied by a petition signed by more than 100,000 people, for a moment of silence at the opening ceremonies of the London Games in 2012 by the widows of two of the 11 Israelis slain at Munich to mark 40 years since the tragedy. The IOC has rejected repeated calls by family members of the athletes murdered at Munich and the Israeli government for such a moment of silence.

Former IOC President Jacques Rogge led a minute of silence inside the Olympic Village during the 2012 Games, attended a private ceremony in London during the Olympics and took part in a commemoration on the 40th anniversary on Sept. 5, 2012, at the Munich airport where most of the Israelis died.

Brazilian Jews Rally Against Intolerance


RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA)—Thousands of Brazilian Jews rallied to protest next month’s scheduled visit to their country by Iran’s president and to remember the Holocaust.

Some 2,500 people participated Sunday in the ninth annual Regional March of the Living in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city and home to half of the country’s 120,000-member Jewish community.

Dressed in white, demonstrators took a silent walk through the streets and held a ceremony to honor the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust. Several Jewish and non-Jewish officials attended, including Sao Paulo Mayor Gilberto Kassab.

“Besides honoring the memory of those who died in the Holocaust, this event aims at speaking out against the visit of the Iranian president,” said Claudio Lottenberg, president of the Brazilian Israelite Confederation. “With the presence of [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, the United Nations became a stage for second-class citizens who preach hatred and intolerance.”

Ahmadinejad, speaking last week at the U.N.-sponsored Durban Review Conference in Geneva, called Israel “a racist government.”