December 11, 2018

Bobsled or Bust: 50 Adventures before 50: I Can Do It

Did you have Olympic Fever? Are you ready to try out new sports at high speeds? There are only 17 bobsled tracks on the planet with two open to “civilian” riders. In Park City, Utah you can chose to experience 3Gs of force and fly around on the ice in a 4-man bobsled! Personally I was terrified to even think of trying it, but I spent a year expanding out of my comfort zone and I considered the idea.

I grew up flying from Los Angeles to ski in Utah and was actually in the opening ceremonies of the 1984 LA Olympics. I have always wanted to be part of the Olympics again but was never a great athlete due to an undiagnosed eye issue. During my project last year, 50 Things Before I Turned 50, I had a chance to experience the Olympic Bobsled in winter after finally fixing my eyes.

Brent, the pilot, reassured me, “Lisa, I will bring you back. I promise.” I took a deep breath and sat down in seat #2 of the bobsled. Jessie, the coordinator at the Utah Olympic track, had selected my helmet and seat and promised it was the cadillac position where I would be least rocked by the 3Gs of force that I was about to experience. “How did I get myself into this?” I thought. I nearly backed out multiple times.

To go or not to go? Bobsled or bust?

To go or not to go? Bobsled or bust?

Earlier in the day I had enjoyed skiing down the double blue run Tycoon off of McConkey’s Lift at Park City Mountain, which felt like a big accomplishment. As a child, I was taught to ski because my dad would rather ski than breathe in the winter. But, I never liked it. It was cold, it was scary and just overall was not enjoyable for me. Once, I asked my dad about not going, he responded that “You can stay home.” I replied, “Dad, I am 12 years old” to which he said, “I guess you are going.” I remember thinking, “Good talk.”

As I kid, I did not enjoy roller coasters, water slides or even tetherball; all things that most children love to do. I hated them. I avoided as many as possible.  Everyone thought I was wimpy and I believed that too. Instead I liked to read, I did well in school, and I always sat in the front of the class. Looking back, my pediatric optometrist could not correct my vision to 20/20, even with glasses. A second doctor agreed but told my parents that was not anything to worry about. So, I went on with my life. 

After a near drowning, a bike accident, avoidance of sports and rides, and an overall fear of many things, I learned there was a reason for all my fears.  As an adult, I was diagnosed with left intermittent esotropia, often known as a lazy eye. My new eye doctor offered a series of tests to determine the severity of my condition. I reviewed the report (visual discrimination 9%, visual form constancy 2%, visual figure ground 1% and visual spatial relations 37%), and asked the doctor if 1% was a good score? No, the doctor explained, “Lisa, 100% is a top score just like on every other test you have taken. Honestly, when I see scores like yours, I am just happy you can read.”

I was in shock to learn at the age of 47 that I was below 50% on many of the perceptual testing areas with a learning related visual skills problem and strabismus. “But, I have a Master’s Degree,” I reacted. “I do not want to take away from any of your accomplishments,” Dr. Brodney responded, “because of the oculomotor dysfunction, you have always had to work harder. Vision therapy can help you and I can promise you that you will be better at general motor activities including sports.” 

I committed to weekly vision therapy and daily homework. It was a challenging time with frustration and tears. I reminded myself that the process involved retraining my brain and strengthening the muscles in my left eye so that my brain would use the information from both sides equally. I had no idea if all the vision therapy sessions would help and I contemplated quitting many times but I kept at it.

Lisa Niver Bobsled or BUST Utah 2017

Lisa Niver did go on the Olympic Bobsled in Park City, Utah!

After many months of therapy, my eyes gradually learned how to work together. I started to try new things that previously were impossible. I took tennis lessons. My tennis coach would say, “Keep your eye on the ball.” I would think, “what ball? I don’t see it.” With practice, I learned how to track the ball. Similarly, when I tried skiing again I realized that it was fun and quite beautiful on the mountain. Being able to keep track of what is happening on both sides of me has allowed me to experience things with an entirely different perspective.

Sitting in the bobsled at Utah Olympic Park behind Brent, a professional bobsled driver, I took heart in that Brent was an expert who had been on the track more than 3,000 times. We went for 47.38 seconds around the track at speeds up to 65 miles per hour. I loved seeing the track curves fly by and feeling the force press me deeper into the bobsled. It was an exhilarating moment to ride on one of the two bobsled tracks in America that allow recreational riding. I conquered my fear of participating and put my newly trained eyes to a new test. I am confident that whatever curves appear next I will be ready to handle them.

Video on The Jet Set TV

Lisa Niver has explored 99 countries and is in search of #100. See over 750 travel videos with nearly 1.6 million views and learn about her 50 before 50 adventures. Learn more about National Ability Center in her articles on Sierra Magazine, SkiUtah and USA Today.

First seen on WSGT

Aly Raisman: Olympic Coach Knew About Larry Nassar’s Abuse

Victim and Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman speaks at the sentencing hearing for Larry Nassar, (L) a former team USA Gymnastics doctor who pleaded guilty in November 2017 to sexual assault charges, in Lansing, Michigan, U.S., January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Jewish Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman is claiming that John Geddert, who coached the Olympic team she was on, knew about team doctor Larry Nassar sexually abusing girls on the team in 2011.

Raisman told CNN’s Jake Tapper that one of her teammates explicitly explained how Nassar had abused her while they were in the car with Geddert, but Geddert was silent about it.

“I don’t know what he did or didn’t do from there,” Raisman said. “I know he didn’t ask us any questions, but that is just why we need the full, independent investigation to get to the bottom of who knew about this.”

Geddert has previously issued a statement denying that he knew about Nassar’s actions; he was suspended by USA Gymnastics as part of the fallout from the Nassar case. Geddert is also under investigation, but the details of the investigation are still unknown to the public.

“Mr. Geddert only wishes to convey his heart-felt sympathy to all victims of Larry Nassar’s abuse,” Geddert’s attorney Chris Bergstrom, said in a statement. “Any further comments will distract from the victims’ statements at Nassar’s sentencing.”

Nassar was recently sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison after pleading guilty to sexual assault. Over 150 girls, including Raisman, have alleged that Nassar abused them by using his fingers to penetrate them in their genitalia and anus and also touched their breasts. The victims also claim that Nassar was “visibly sexually aroused” during such treatments.

Until he plead guilty, Nassar’s defense was that his actions were part of necessary medical treatment.

Nassar is already serving a 60 year prison sentence after pleading guilty to child pornography.

Nassar’s former employers – the USA Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University –have been accused of ignoring Nassar’s abuse and even pressured Nassar’s victims from speaking out.

Jewish Olympic Medalist Accuses Team Doctor of Sexual Abuse

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

A Jewish Olympic medalist is accusing the team doctor of sexually abusing her.

Aly Rai­­­sman, a six-time Olympic medalist, told CBS’ 60 Minutes that she first went to Dr. Larry Nasar, who was a volunteer team doctor for the United States’ gymnastics team, for treatment when she was 15 years old.

Raisman was irked that the USA Gymnastics culture discouraged the girls that Nassar allegedly abused from speaking out sooner.

“I am angry,” said Raisman. “I’m really upset because it’s been — I care a lot, you know, when I see these young girls that come up to me, and they ask for pictures or autographs, whatever it is, I just — I can’t — every time I look at them, every time I see them smiling, I just think — I just want to create change so that they never, ever have to go through this.”

Nassar is facing over a 100 lawsuits from athletes and gymnasts at Michigan State and on the Olympics team for sexually abusing them while claiming it was for treatment. For instance, Nassar allegedly used his fingers to penetrate them as well as grope them by stating that it was treatment. Nassar’s defense is that such methods were legitimate forms of treatment.

McKayla Maroney, one of Raisman’s gymnastics teammates, claimed that Nassar twice abused her by claiming it was “treatment” and referred to one of the instances as “the scariest night of my life.”

The former Olympic doctor is currently in prison for pleading guilty to child pornography.

45 years after the Munich Massacre, murdered Israeli Olympians get a memorial

A visitor looks at the portraits of the Israeli athletes murdered at the 1972 Munich Olympics at the Olympic Village displayed inside the Memorial Center on Sept. 6. Photo by Christof Stache/AFP/Getty Images

Forty-five years after the murderous PLO attack on Israeli Olympic team members at the 1972 games, a memorial dedicated to the victims is to open in Munich on Wednesday.

The memorial features the biographies of the 11 Israelis — athletes and coaches — and a German police officer killed in the attack on panels with texts in German, Hebrew and English.

“We wanted to give the victims their identity back in the eyes of the public,” Bavarian Minister of Culture Ludwig Spaenle told the media on Monday during a preview of the site, which is cut into a hillside in the former Olympic park.

The memorial cost 2.35 million euros, or about $2.8 million. The funding came primarily from the State of Bavaria, the German federal government, the City of Munich and the International Olympic Committee.

Until now, the main memorials have been a sculpture and plaque. Plans for the memorial were announced in 2013.

Finally, the human stories are being told and the lessons of history underscored, Jewish leaders said ahead of the opening ceremonies this week.

The new memorial attests “to the bloodshed that soaked what should have been a joyous celebration of sport” and camaraderie, Ronald Lauder, head of the World Jewish Congress, said Tuesday in an email to JTA.

Lauder, who will address the opening ceremony along with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, said it was “regrettable that it took nearly half a century after the saddest moment in Olympic history” to reach this point, but lauded the German government for its “role in this significant tribute.”

He also said that life for Jews has changed for the better in Europe over the past 80 years, despite a recent increase in anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.

“We should also be encouraged by the fact that so many European governments are vigilant in their defense of Israel and of all of their citizens, Jews and non-Jews alike,” Lauder added.

Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Jewish Community of Upper Bavaria and Munich, and former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in a statement released Tuesday, “The [1972] attack was not just against Israel, not just against Jews. It was an attack on all of us, on the Olympic idea, the vision of freedom and peace for all humans.”

She applauded an additional as yet incomplete element of the memorial — a “school of democracy” to be located in the tower at the Fürstenfeldbruck airport, site of the botched rescue attempt.

Knobloch thanked Spaenle for his “outstanding commitment” to realizing a memorial “that gives the victims a face, tells of their lives, remembers them — and warns us never to take life, freedom or democracy for granted.”

The memorial was designed by a team under the auspices of the Bavarian Ministry of Culture in consultation with family members of victims, the consul general of Israel, experts from the concentration camp memorial at Flossenburg, the Jewish Museum in Munich and the Bavarian State Ministry for Political Education.

Ahead of Wednesday’s ceremony, the German news media featured interviews with family members, several of whom are expected to attend.

Among them will be Ankie Spitzer, who was 26 years old when she lost her husband, the coach and fencing master Andre Spitzer, in the attack. She told Deutschlandfunk radio that she could not deal with the fact that her loving husband had been brutally murdered and “no one regretted it.”

“It took 45 years, but I don’t regret the long and lonely journey that brought us to this day,” she said. “This is what I wanted.”

Toby Axelrod is JTA’s correspondent for Germany, Switzerland and Austria. A former assistant director of the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin office, she has also worked as staff writer and editor at the New York Jewish Week. She has won numerous awards from the New York Press Association and the American Jewish Press Association. She has published books on Holocaust history for teen-agers.

Aly Raisman is the most famous Jewish athlete, according to ESPN

Aly Raisman celebrates on the podium after winning a silver medal at the Rio Olympic Arena, on Aug. 16, 2016. Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Three Olympic gold medals. Six total. Captain of the victorious 2012 and 2016 U.S. women’s gymnastics teams.

Now Aly Raisman can add one more accolade to her list: Most famous Jewish athlete in the world.

Raisman, 23, the two-time U.S. Olympian from Massachusetts, is the only Jew on ESPN’s 2017 list of the 100 most famous athletes worldwide. She sneaked in at number 99, immediately below Aussie golfer Adam Scott (not the guy who plays Ben in “Parks and Rec”), and above Mohamed Salah, an Egyptian soccer player for the Italian team Roma.

Raisman is one of only eight women on the list, which includes her U.S. gymnastics teammate Simone Biles (#48), martial artist Ronda Rousey (#16) and tennis pros Serena Williams (#19) and Maria Sharapova (#23).

Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese soccer icon, topped the list. LeBron James, the basketball superstar now gunning for another NBA championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers, was number two.

Raisman won her first Olympic golds as an 18-year-old in 2012, and won our hearts by performing her first-place floor exercise to the tune of Hava Nagila. Her adorably anxious parents, Lynn and Rick, only added to her Jewish charm.

Raisman took home two golds in 2012 — for the team win and floor exercise — as well as a bronze for the balance beam event. In 2016, she was nicknamed “grandma” for being the team’s oldest member — at 22. But age didn’t stop her. Raisman won three more medals that year: a gold for the team win, and two silvers for all-around and floor exercise.

Raisman will be 26 when the 2020 Olympics kick off in Tokyo, but she’s planning to compete again. If she wins two more medals, for a total of eight, she’ll break the all-time record for U.S. women gymnasts.

ESPN calculated the rankings by looking at endorsement money, social media following and Google search results. Raisman has a paltry $450,000 in endorsement deals (by comparison, LeBron does $55 million in endorsements), but she boasts 2.2 million followers on Instagram and nearly a million on Twitter.

She has also excelled outside of the arena. Raisman placed fourth on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” in 2013, and she can do a mean box jump.

Episode 33 – Israel and Germany: An unsettled past with Eldad Beck

The words ‘Germany’ and ‘Israel’ probably raise many differing connotations in various people’s minds but one probably stands out among them all: the Holocaust.

Germany-Israel diplomatic ties began in 1952 when Germany finally offered to pay reparations to the survivors of the Holocaust. For obvious reasons, this relationship was not without its fair share of trials and tribulations. Over the years the challenges have persisted, often exacerbated by events such as the massacre of the Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympic games in Munich.

As the chief correspondent for Yedioth Ahronoth in Germany, Eldad Beck has become well acquainted with German internal politics, diplomatic affairs and public opinion. He has written two books on the subject of Germany: “Germany, at Odds” and his most recent “The Chancellor”. Beck joins 2NJB to talk about the two countries’ strained relations and his career as a journalist.

Eldad Beck’s Facebook and Twitter

‘Germany, at Odds’ on Amazon

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Anti-Semitism, Israel and the Olympics: What to take away

The original Olympics in Ancient Greece, the games that inspired the modern recreation that just ended in Rio, showcased the greatest Grecian athletes stretching from the Peloponnese to the Mediterranean colonies. In the Grecian Olympics, only those of pure Greek decent could participate, making the old games far more exclusive than the modern games that have come to celebrate international diversity. There are several differences between the original and the modern games; however, the similarities between two games are far more striking and relevant. Greek city-states agreed to an Olympic Truce during the celebration of the games to allow athletes safe travel to Olympia, which is now an implied aspect of the games. The Olympics in Ancient Greece also, like in modern times, developed into a political tool for city-states to claim dominance over rivals through athletics. The modern Olympics are meant to foster a sense of international unity and cooperation through the love of athletics, a passion shared universally across international borders and cultural boundaries. Comparable to the old games, The Olympic Games in Rio were not devoid of political opportunism and cultural discrimination. And Israel, expectedly yet baselessly, found itself at the center of the controversy.

Before the opening ceremonies could even begin, members of the Lebanese Olympic delegation barred Israeli athletes from boarding a bus headed to the ceremony. Salim al-Haj, head of the Lebanese delegation, told the Agency France-Presse (AFP) that he demanded the door be closed before the Israeli athletes could enter, but the Israelis “insisted on getting on.” What a potentially scarring experience for the Lebanese delegation: they were almost forced to participate in the Olympic spirit of international camaraderie. The Israelis eventually boarded a separate bus to “avoid an international and physical incident” but Udi Gal, an Israeli athlete, pondered on Facebook, “How could they let this happen on the eve of the Olympic Games? Isn't this the opposite of what the Olympics represents?” He is, of course, absolutely right; no intelligent individual would oppose this statement. Yet, predictably, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) only warned al-Haj that a similar situation would not be tolerated in the future. Apparently blatant anti-Semitism is passable as long as it is the first offense, according to the actions of the IOC.

This incident, of course, was just the start of the harassment Israeli athletes faced at the Rio Olympics. A female Saudi Arabian judo athlete allegedly forfeited her first-round match to avoid an Israeli competitor in the proceeding round. The Saudi Arabian Olympic delegation denied the claim and instead offered an injury as a legitimate excuse. Curiously, Saudi Arabia does not recognize the legitimacy of the state of Israel; far more interesting, though, is why the Saudi athlete’s injury only became a limiting factor once the draw—and her potential Israeli competitor—was determined.

If you do not regularly keep up with Israeli news or watch Fox News, you likely haven’t heard about these detestable and flagrant acts of discrimination against Israeli athletes. For those who haven’t received news of these incidents, it is not due to your own inattentiveness, but rather the  main stream media’s (MSM) lack of interest with overt anti-Semitism at the Olympics. Neither CNN nor MSNBC published articles on either of the aforementioned discriminatory incidents. When I scoured Google for other articles and quotes regarding these episodes, nearly all the articles on the individual incidents were published by conservative news sources, such as Breitbart and Fox News, or Jewish newspapers, such as the Jewish Post and Haaretz. After I noticed the disparity between the attention conservative publications gave the incidents as opposed to liberal agencies, I deliberately searched the archives of CNN and MSNBC for articles on these two incidents and found nothing. I find it greatly unsettling that these liberal publications would refrain from posting pieces on anti-Semitic incidents at the Olympics at a time when the world—especially champions of equality on the left—seems devoted to ending discrimination. Some on the left enjoy attacking conservatives for their cultural insensitivity and lack of “political correctness,” but, in this case, CNN and MSNBC seem to miss the mark.

This is not to say, however, that CNN or MSNBC are not concerned with the equal treatment of all athletes at the Olympics. In 2014, after the Sochi Winter Games, MSNBC published an article titled “IOC Makes non-Olympian Sized Move on Gay Rights, Critics Say”. and, just a few weeks ago, CNN posted an article titled “In Testament to U.S. Sports Progress, Women Lead Rio Medal Count for Team USA”. As all Americans should be, I’m glad that our country has news agencies that object to social injustices and inequalities and praise the accomplishments of women. However, in my eyes, CNN and MSNBC lose all credibility in standing up for equality when they arbitrarily select which groups deserve their defense in the face of severe unequal treatment. If CNN and MSNBC, and other like news agencies, truly stood for equality and not for political pandering, they would have given equal coverage to the undisguised anti-Semitism practiced by the Lebanese delegation and the Saudi Judo competitor.

To claim that CNN directed no attention to anti-Semitic incidents at the Olympics would be unfair and false; apparently CNN was able to ignore the first two anti-Semitic incidents but just couldn’t bring itself to neglect the final and most flagrant incident. Egyptian Judo fighter El Shehaby was booed after he refused to shake the hand of his Israeli competitor, Or Sasson. After Sasson defeated Shehaby in the opening match, he extended his hand to the Egyptian, who refused and barely gave a nod as opposed to the traditional and compulsory bow after a Judo match is completed. CNN’s article is devoid of even a hint of disapproval towards Shehaby’s actions. At the end of the article, CNN attempts—and fails—to address the earlier bus incident with the Israeli and Lebanese athletes, stating “Reports have surfaced that Lebanese athletes refused to let Israel's competitors share a bus with them to the opening ceremonies.” At the latest, the story was confirmed by both the Lebanese and Israeli delegations by August 8th, yet the CNN article, dated August 18th, merely states that “reports have surfaced”, as if the incident is merely an illegitimate piece of gossip. Shockingly, but not surprisingly, MSNBC published no articles on any of the anti-Semitic incidents. Even more unbelievable was the response from the International Judo Federation, which absurdly claimed that it was “…already a big improvement that Arabic countries accept to (fight) Israel”. Supposedly sportsmanship between athletes is just too much to ask for when one of them is a Jew.

The Israeli athletes, and Jews around the world, do not require the sympathies of CNN, MSNBC, or any other news agencies or organizations to succeed, at the Olympics or anywhere else. (CNN practically ran a propaganda war against Israel during the 2014 Gaza war, and Israel yet again prevailed.) The Jewish people have stood up to and beaten far greater injustices than what the Israeli athletes faced at the Olympics. That commendable fact does not justify the actions of the Muslim nations that treated Israeli athletes with inhuman disdain, nor does it excuse the laughable or absent responses from organizations globally. It does, however, point to the strength of the Israeli athletes, something that should not be forgotten or overlooked after the Muslim athletes’ failed attempts to beat down the morale of the Israelis.

This year at the Olympics, the United States Olympic delegation included its first Muslim athlete to wear a hijab during competition, fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad. CNN wrote three separate articles on the momentous occurrence, which points to the cultural acceptance practiced in the United States. CNN has posted multiple opinion pieces on Islamophobia, including one (offensively) titled, “America’s Islamophobia Problem”. By no means am I suggesting that unjust discrimination against Islam and Muslims should be tolerated: it should be defeated, as should all ignorant discrimination. But where is the CNN opinion piece entitled “Arab Countries’ Anti-Semitism Problem”? Although the actions of a few athletes from Arab countries do not represent the views of those countries (Egypt actually sent El Shehaby home after he refused to shake Sasson’s hand), CNN has no qualm posting an opinion piece insinuating all of America has a problem with Islamophobia. I can only wonder what CNN would have titled their article if it had been a Jewish athlete who had refused to shake a Muslim’s hand.

At face value, much has changed in regards to the original games’ homogenous nature. The International Olympic Committee has successfully transformed what was once known for is exclusivity into a celebration of athleticism and international inclusivity. A clear and foreboding lesson of Rio, though, is that the Olympics’ original prejudicial environment is far from defeated so long as our world refuses to universally condemn discrimination.

Ethan Katz is a first year political science student at the University of Florida. He is dedicated to exploring political and international issues through his writings from an analytical and impartial viewpoint.

At Maccabi, forging Jewish identity between the baselines

When I was 10, my family got frum, and I started playing baseball. Oddly, the overlap wasn’t a coincidence: Our new rabbi added me to his Little League team and taught me how to throw; I broke in my first mitt — and a new peer group — playing catch with his son. For me, a connection between the national pastime and Judaism is not just easy to make on a personal level. It’s seminal to my interest in both.

I’m not sure that’s what qualified me to coach a cadre of bright-eyed, bar mitzvah-aged ballplayers in this summer’s JCC Maccabi Games, an annual Olympics-style tournament for Jewish teens held in Stamford, Conn., this month. But there I was, shooing a gaggle of over-sugared charges through security and, along with more than 100 other boys and girls from our Westside JCC delegation, onto a plane headed for John F. Kennedy International Airport. That everyone in the group was Jewish — a unique, fledgling Jewish identity for every plane ticket — struck me as remarkable and exciting. There were kids who went to Jewish day school and kids who’d never had bar mitzvahs, and the vast majority fell somewhere in between. In other words, it looked like a cross-section of American Jewry.

At the same time, it seemed clear from the outset that Jewish identities would not be getting the workout on this trip. The chaperones were coaches, not rabbis, and other than the occasional allusion to “Jewish values,” the programming stuck to sports. Religion was more a selection criteria than unifying theme, and it stayed in the background most of the time. Which was fine! The kids were being Jewish without their parents; for more than a handful of them, the games could end up being the only Jewish thing they do all year.

Maccabi’s ideologically aloof playing field instead lent itself to a more organic contemplation of Jewish faith, at least on the team I coached. In fact, it turned out to be the ideal space for dialogue — low-stakes, diverse and totally voluntary. When Judaism did come up, I observed these sunflower seed aficionados shell, chew and spit religious ideas with bracing open-mindedness and originality. The discussions were more brief than shallow; these athletes were also budding intellectuals, which is to say, growing friends.

It started during the Friday night meal at our hotel — you couldn’t really call it Shabbat dinner since there was neither Kiddush nor challah — when the boys started considering who at the table was “actually” Jewish. “Both my parents are Jewish,” our center fielder began, with a modest whiff of self-assurance. “I’m half,” volunteered the left fielder, rather fearlessly. Which half? the others needed to know, for obvious reasons. “My dad is Jewish,” he responded, evidently knowing where this was headed because he then added, “I have Jewish blood.”

The crowd was tougher than the sell. “But you’re not Jewish!” the center fielder exclaimed. Here, I finally jumped in with what is at least tacitly Maccabi’s eligibility guideline: “You’re Jewish if you say you’re Jewish,” I said. “Who’s to say you’re not?” “The Conservative movement,” quipped the center fielder, who goes to Jewish day school. The left fielder (a Hebrew-schooler) called him off, unimpressed: “Who gives a” — and here he said a word that I, his baseball coach, did not teach him and do not condone using — “about the Conservative movement?” They laughed, and went back to testing each other’s memorization of baseball statistics.

Later that week, at an amusement park for their evening activity, two teammates broached the topic of God. While working on a mouthful of hamburger, our second baseman volunteered his theory that the ocean — the origin of life and forever unknowable — is God. Our shortstop countered that God might be the invisible, all-powerful force of gravity. The middle infield got pretty abstract.

All the while, their rookie baseball coach felt stuck, torn between helping them navigate Jewish ideas and just letting them make a fine mess. Was I to join these conversations and risk curtailing their reach? (Is God not on land or in space? I asked, unhelpfully.) What did these restless, creative minds — whose spiritual bandwidth was just beginning to stretch — have to gain from anything I had to say? Sure: God can be anywhere you look. Does saying that really help someone who is already experiencing God at the beach? And of course: Your parents don’t determine whether you’re Jewish, you do. Does that help a young Jew, who’s already comfortable defying the Conservative movement, understand that faith is inexorable, and inexorably personal?

Our oldest player was barely 14 years old — he and his teammates are a long way from answering Judaism’s big-picture questions, and that’s as it should be. What’s important is that they have already started to talk about those questions — and that their new friends will listen to and challenge their ideas as they evolve. They went to Connecticut to play baseball, and yet here they were, negotiating Jewish identity. And, perhaps, forging a meaningful connection between their Jewish experience and their favorite sport. I can’t say where any one of them will wind up. It was just a treat to see all of them on their way.

Louis Keene is a writer living in Los Angeles who can now say he has coached baseball. You can find more of his writing on his website at VICE Sports, and at

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.”

Raisman earns sweet redemption in Rio

For American gymnast Aly Raisman, a silver medal in Thursday's all-around event was a moment of redemption after the heartbreak of 2012 when she was on the wrong side of a tiebreak and bumped from the podium.

It was also a validation that a 22-year-old can still rock in the world of gymnastics, despite an army of naysayers who didn't think she could compete in a sport made for teens.

Raisman rose to the podium alongside compatriot and gold medal winner Simone Biles and bronze medallist Aliya Mustafina, the Russian rival that had prevailed in the tiebreak for the bronze in London.

“After the tiebreak of 2012, it was very heartbreaking,” saidRaisman.

But Thursday's silver, she said, “shows you should never let anyone tell you that you can't do anything, and you should never give up just because you fail in something.”

In 2012, Mustafina and Raisman finished with the same total score and the tie was broken by using their three highest apparatus scores. Mustafina came out a hair higher, leavingRaisman in fourth.

Raisman said she had to stare down the skeptics when she came back too the national team in 2014 after a series of injuries. 

“When I first came back, all the media and everyone looked at me like I was crazy that I was really going to come back,” said Raisman. 

Her coach, Mihai Brestyan, told her “'just said ignore everyone,'” she said. “'When you are 21 or 22, that will be your best age.' And he was right.” 

But at the 2015 world championships, she finished a disappointing fifth.

“I wouldn't call fifth in the world a failure,” she said. 

“But sometimes when you make mistakes,” she added, “it's the best thing for you.” 

After their one-two finish Thursday, Raisman and Biles, 19, walked around the Rio Olympic Arena, as if they were one. The two are very close and Raisman said “the whole time we have been here together, that's been our goal to go one-two.”

Biles, who many call the best gymnast of all time, was ebullient about her team mate's accomplishment.

“I was more proud for Aly getting silver than me gold,” Biles said. “She just worked so hard in gym and for it to finally pay off, it amazes me.”

Raisman returned the compliment by saying that she never thought she could beat Biles.

“No one goes in thinking they can beat Simone,” Raismansaid. “People don't go in thinking they can beat Usain Bolt either. It's kind of the same thing.”

The two plan to take a beach vacation in Belize, the homeland of Biles' mother Nellie, and ponder their futures.

“I feel really good at 22 and I can't wait to see what is to come,” Raisman said.

Biles chirped “2020?,” hoping her friend will be coming along for the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020.

Aly Raisman helps power US women’s gymnastics team to Olympic gold

The United States women’s gymnastics team, led by its Jewish-American captain Aly Raisman, won the Olympic gold medal in Rio.

The Americans finished with a total of 184.897 points to easily outdistance silver medalist Russia, which had 176.688 points. China took the bronze.

It was the second consecutive Olympic team gold for Raisman and the U.S., whose team members nicknamed themselves the “Final Five.” Rio is the last Olympics to have five-member gymnastics teams. Starting in 2020 in Tokyo, each team will have four members.

After the final score was announced Tuesday, the U.S. women huddled together and cheered, led by Raisman, “We are the Final Five!”

Raisman, at 22 the veteran of the group, is nicknamed “Grandma” by teammates Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian. Biles had the top score in the all-around qualifier with Raisman second.

Raisman and Biles will compete Thursday in the women’s all-around competition. Biles will also compete in vault, beam and floor exercise, while Raisman will compete on floor, Hernandez on beam, and Kocian and Douglas in uneven bars.

Raisman, of Needham, Massachusetts, won a gold medal in the 2012 London Olympics in the floor competition, performing a routine to “Hava Nagila.”

Also Tuesday, U.S. swimmer Katie Ledecky won Olympic gold in the 200-meter freestyle. Ledecky has a Jewish maternal grandmother and lost family members in the Holocaust.

Israeli Olympians kicked off bus to Rio games by Lebanese delegation

Lebanese Olympians refused to ride on a bus with Israeli athletes to get to the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 summer games.

When the Israeli delegation of athletes and coaches tried to board the bus Friday to Maracana stadium here, the head of the Lebanese delegation blocked the entrance.

Israeli sailing coach Udi Gal first described the incident in a Hebrew Facebook post.

“I kept on insisting that we board the bus and said that if the Lebanese did not want to board as well they are welcome to leave,” Gal wrote Friday.

“The bus driver opened the door, but this time the head of the Lebanese delegation blocked the aisle and entrance. The organizers wanted to avoid an international and physical incident and sent us away to a different bus.”

The head of the Lebanese delegation, Saleem a-Haj Nacoula told Lebanese media that the Israelis were “looking for trouble” by insisting on boarding the same bus when they had their own transportation. Nacoula was praised in Lebanon as a hero.

The head of the Olympic Committee of Israel, Gili Lustig, said: “The organizing committee was the one that determined the travel arrangements, and which bus we would take to the ceremony. The organizing committee saw the rude behavior of the Lebanese delegation head and immediately provided an alternate bus. The behavior of the Lebanese delegation head is in conflict with the Olympic truce.”

On Sunday, Israel’s Sports and Culture Minister Miri Regev called on the International Olympic Committee to condemn the Lebanese delegation’s alleged actions. “I am incensed by the incident. It is anti-Semitism pure and simple, and the worst kind of racism,” she told Israel Radio.

Regev, who is not observant, did not attend the ceremony to avoid violating Shabbat.

The Israeli delegation made it to the opening ceremony, and rhythmic gymnast Neta Rivkin carried the national flag to lead the country’s largest-ever delegation of 47 athletes.

A ceremony to honor the 11 Israelis killed at the 1972 Munich Olympics is to be held at Rio’s City Hall on Aug. 14. It will be co-led by the International Olympic Committee and the Olympic committees of Israel and Brazil. The widows of two Israeli athletes who were killed that year — Israeli weightlifter Yossef Romano and fencing coach Andre Spitzer — will join in the lighting of 11 candles.

“It is disappointing that there will be no Israeli ambassador in Brazil during the Olympic Games,” the Brazilian Israelite Confederation President Fernando Lottenberg said in a statement, citing the diplomatic row after Brasilia rebuffed Israel’s choice of a former settler leader last year to take over the post.

Remembering the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre

During the summer of 1972, I was among the youngest athletes chosen by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to run the Olympic Torch relays throughout Turkey. Originating in Greece and bound for the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, West Germany, it was one of the most anticipated events of the year.

I vividly remember the Munich Massacre during that same summer, just a few short weeks after I had carried the Olympic torch with my fellow runners, first from the Greek border to Istanbul, then on to the Bulgarian border. On the gloomy days of Sept. 5 and 6, 1972, stunned and silent, the entire world learned that 11 members of the Israeli Olympic Team were taken hostage at the Olympic Village in Munich. The world soon learned how, due to inadequate actions taken by the authorities, all of them were brutally murdered by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September. Indeed, it was the most publicly painful and tragically premeditated mass murder associated with the world of sport. It was also the initiation of a new barbaric objective — an appalling event that assassinated our trust in civilized society and accelerated the enterprise of international terrorism we all currently face.

Today, more so than ever, I find myself emotionally and historically connected to that tragedy. I feel the peaceful sanctuary of the Olympic Games was forever altered in 1972.  Forty years later at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, the level of security was extreme. Yet, once again, the IOC refused to commemorate the Munich tragedy by not allowing just one minute of silence. It is not a matter of what Baron Pierre De Coubertin, the founder of the IOC and considered the father of the modern Olympics, would have thought about it or that it would have made any significant difference in the lives of the widows and orphans of the murdered Olympians. Rather, it is how the IOC, claiming to be an apolitical organization, is actually making political calculations instead of reiterating the core values of the Olympic Games. It is the IOC not having the courage to stand up for what is right, fearing the possibility of alienating a small block of nations and tyrannical regimes. In 2012, as the IOC did not voice the “united we stand against international terrorism” mantra and declined to face the human condition in the world, there was extraordinary hypocrisy in the air and we all smelled it.

For those of us who believe in the goodness of humanity, we say Peace/Shalom/Salaam and start anew. Yet how can we learn and grow if we ignore the horrific tragedy of the 1972 Summer Olympic Games and negate the human suffering that international terrorism has brought to our daily lives now, here in 2016?

Yes, four years ago London hosted a splendid Olympic Games.  However, in the quest for universal friendship and harmony, the IOC has continued to betray the true guardianship responsibilities with which it was entrusted by previous generations. Exhibiting inconsistencies, the IOC has failed to show a sense of responsibility vis-à-vis historical facts as well as a genuine capacity to make courageous and necessary decisions. Now, 44 years after the 1972 Munich Massacre, we are all looking forward to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio and to seeing if this time around the IOC will do the right thing. 

Elie Franco is a former film reviewer based in Los Angeles. He currently has numerous TV and film projects in various stages of development.

Swimming for Israel in Rio: More than just fun and games

Olympic swimmer and Los Angeles native Andrea “Andi” Murez swims to win, but winning is not the only thing she cares about. 

During qualifying races for the Summer Games in Israel — where she made aliyah in 2014 and became a citizen — her times were good enough for her to represent the country in four events. But she nearly relinquished one of those to a fellow athlete, according to her father, Jim Murez.

“At one point, it was a question of whether or not one of the other girls can be on the swim team … [Andi] was ready to give up her position on the team in that particular event so that the other girl could be able to go, even though Andrea had a much faster time,” he said.

In the end, the other swimmer qualified for a different event, so there was no need to step aside. That means Murez, 24, will begin her Olympic schedule in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 6 with the 4-by-100-meter freestyle relay, followed by the 200-meter freestyle, 100-meter freestyle and the 50-meter freestyle. 

The swimmer said she has managed so far not to be overwhelmed by the arduous preparation required for the world stage on which she will be competing. 

“My motivation comes from the fun of racing, my previous success, and from the inspiring people around me,” Murez told the Journal via email while training in Sao Paulo a week before the Olympics’ opening ceremony. “It’s hard swimming so many hours, so you have to keep it fun. Being able to laugh at the rough practices and struggles with teammates is really important for me.”

Swimming runs in Murez’s family. Her father, the manager of the Venice Farmers Market, swam competitively until the end of his first year in college. And her grandfather Joe Murez, who taught her how to swim, competed for Hakoah Vienna sports club in Vienna before World War II. 

As for Murez’s only sibling, older brother Zachary, 27, he swam throughout high school and college — and pushed his sister to the limit, too.

“She was always competing with Zak,” Jim Murez said. “She was always trying to keep up with him, and being 2 1/2 years younger at that age is a huge difference, so she was always one step behind him.”

Swimming did not always come naturally for Murez. Initially, she was afraid of swimming pools and until the age of 4 she would not let anyone play with her in the water. Eventually, she felt more comfortable to the point where swimming instructors suggested she swim for a junior team, her parents told the Journal. 

“When she was 12, it went from ‘Do we have to go swimming today?’ to ‘Come on, Mom, I don’t want to be late,’ ” her mother, Melanie, said.

Murez attended Venice High School, swam during her four years at Stanford University and made it to the U.S. Olympic trials in 2008 and 2012. In 2009 and 2013, she competed at the Maccabiah Games, Israel’s version of the Olympics and one of the largest sporting events in the world.

“I had an amazing time … and felt connected to Israel enough to decide to join the [national] team in the fall of 2014,” she said. “When I was done competing for Stanford, professional swimming seemed like the best next step because I still loved competing.”

Murez, who studied human biology in college and intends to eventually pursue a career in biology, moved to the Israeli coastal city of Netanya and stayed at the Wingate Institute, a sports training facility, with the rest of the Israeli swimmers. That helped her quickly develop relationships with her teammates and coaches, she said.

“It seemed like the best opportunity for me to swim post-college,” she said. “Before moving, I had only briefly met a few people, but once I moved, everyone was very nice and helped me get settled.”

Olympic swimmer Andrea Murez

As an Olympic hopeful, her training regimen has been intense. On Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, she swims for four hours each day and goes to the gym for an hour. Wednesdays consist of Pilates and almost 2 1/2 hours of swimming. On Fridays, she just swims for two hours in the morning. 

When the rest of the swimmers returned to their families for Shabbat, Murez always was invited to one of their houses. (The team supplied her with a private Hebrew tutor to expedite her grasp of the language, which she could not speak previously.) 

In December, Israel hosted the European Short Course Swimming Championships, and Murez represented the country in competition for the first time. She made it to the finals in the 100-meter and 200-meter freestyle races and became the Israeli national record holder in both. This past May, she competed in the European Aquatics Championships in London, placing fifth in the 100-meter freestyle. 

As much as Murez enjoys swimming, the fact that the sport has exposed her to new and different people has been an added perk.

“One of the best parts of swimming is traveling for training camps and competitions and meeting new people,” she said. “During my time with the Israeli national team, I’ve been to so many countries and seen so many cultures. It’s been very eye-opening and has made me realize how much I love traveling and want to continue to explore the world.”

With the Olympics rapidly approaching, Murez said she is only mildly concerned about the Zika virus and has taken precautions by wearing long clothing and using spray repellants. She looks forward to staying at the Olympic Village, meeting new people and catching up with old teammates who are also participating.

Aside from her own races, Murez said, she also is excited about attending other Olympic events and watching her teammates. 

“I hope to watch a lot of other events, but I know space fills up in the athlete stands,” she said. “I want to watch my Israeli teammates compete and also see beach volleyball and gymnastics.”

In advance of the Games, she said she was feeling calm — for now.

“[I’m] mostly excited,” she said. “It’s really fun being in the village. I think the nerves will come right before the race.”

And overall, Murez said, she is particularly proud to embrace an Israeli swim cap as she prepares to race for gold. 

“It’s such an honor to be representing Israel at the Olympics,” she said. “It’s a small country but a very special place and I feel so much support.” 

Aly Raisman earns spot on US Olympic women’s gymnastics team

Jewish-American Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman has been named again to the U.S. women’s Olympics gymnastics team.

Raisman finished third in the Olympic Trials that finished Sunday night in San Jose, California, to capture a spot on the squad that will compete this summer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

In 2012, she earned two gold medals at the London Olympics: for floor exercise and as part of the team competition.

This year’s team is being touted as the most racially diverse in U.S. history. It includes two African-American gymnasts, Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles; a Latina, Laurie Hernandez; Raisman and Madison Kocian.

Raisman posted a photo of the team on her Twitter feed.

At 22, Raisman is the oldest member of the team, which reportedly has earned her the nickname “Grandma.” Raisman and Douglas were both members of the team that won gold in London.

Following the London Olympics, Raisman took time off from competitive gymnastics to take advantage of her newfound fame, performing on tour with her teammates, competing on “Dancing With The Stars” and being a special guest at the 2013 Maccabiah Games in Israel, the global Jewish sporting event.

With Euro Cup brawl and Olympics doping scandal, Russia deepens its sense of isolation

In authoritarian political systems, sports take on outsized importance. After all, national greatness is part of the bargain: a measure of democratic freedom is traded for strength and victory, whether on the battlefield or in the stadium. That logic holds for Vladimir Putin’s Russia, too—which is why you could say Putin has had very bad month. In France, at the Euro Cup, the violence of Russian hooligans almost got the national team banned, before a humiliating loss to Wales took care of that, sending the Russians home doubly embarrassed. Days later the International Olympic Committee upheld a ban on Russian track-and-field athletes at the forthcoming Rio Olympics in response to evidence of a widespread, state-sponsored doping project. Seeing as the legitimacy of the Putin system comes less from the ballot box than from the deliverance of national pride and success, it was likely not the most upbeat of weeks inside the Kremlin.

Dating back to the Cold War, Soviet rulers embraced sports as a vehicle to prove Communism’s superiority, at whatever the cost. International sporting events are a way of forcing the West’s acceptance, as Putin achieved in hosting the Sochi Winter Olympics two years ago, and of delivering a sense of national pride by winning. The Russians were so desperate to win we now know they resorted to extensive doping. These days, it seems like international sports deepen Russians’ sense of grievance and isolation from the world. Sports have become a microcosm of Russians’ conflicted desire to gain the respect and validation of an international world order whose legitimacy they question, and seek to undermine. 

Successive generations of Kremlin rulers have tried to project the image of the country as a besieged fortress, alone in the world and surrounded by enemies. For Vladimir Putin and those around him, Russia’s latest tribulations in the world of global sport seem to bear out that worldview. First came the clashes in Marseille, in which Russian soccer fans fought with England supporters during the EuroCup. Some Russian fans shot flare guns towards the English section of the stands and burst into the section as the match ended. Fights spilled out in the streets, as well. More than 30 people were hospitalized, including several with critical brain injuries.

Russian soccer fans are late to international hooliganism, but the Western press and French law enforcement still managed to make it sound like there was something novel and sinister about the Russian version of the problem, calling Russia’s violent fans “well-trained” and organized. Russians, in turn, pointed to the bad press as yet another example of Western institutions’ inherently anti-Russian ideology. 

Similar to how Russian officials have responded to, for example, Western sanctions over Ukraine, they hit back on criticism over fan violence, conceding nothing and instead raising the rhetorical temperature. Vladimir Markin, a top law-enforcement official, suggested that Europeans couldn’t handle Russia's soccer fans because they are more accustomed to gay-pride parades than dealing with “real men.” Igor Lebedev, a deputy in parliament and member of Russia's football union, said, “Nothing wrong with fighting. Keep it up boys!”

With time, however, the tone changed. The Russian team was fined 150,000 Euros and given a suspended disqualification from the tournament—one that proved superfluous after the disastrous 0-3 loss to Wales—which appeared to convince Russian officials that the matter was serious enough not to be laughed away. The ugliness of the violence immediately raised questions about Russia’s ability to host the 2018 World Cup, which will be held in 11 cities across the country. Even before the brutal scenes in France, Russia’s World Cup was already tarnished, marred by the specter of corruption and vote-buying. Putin has been a lonely defender of ousted FIFA president Sepp Blatter, the man who presided over the selection of Russia to host in 2018 and who has since been brought down by allegations of corruption. With an event of such national prestige at stake, officials began to display uncharacteristic contrition. The country’s sports minister, Vitaliy Mutko, said that violent fans in masks “brought shame on their country.” For his part, Putin condemned the attacks in Marseille, calling them a “disgrace.” But Putin couldn’t help himself, adding that “I truly don't understand how 200 of our fans could beat up several thousand English.”

Although some anonymous British officials theorized the Russian hooligans were part of the Kremlin’s strategy of “hybrid war”—using a patchwork of covert, deniable means to undermine the Western security order—that seems an unfounded and paranoid exaggeration.  Over the years, nationalists and football hooligans have periodically been convenient allies of the Kremlin, but ultimately the Putin state is wary of uncontrolled violence, which could one day threaten its own power. The young men who came to France from Russia may have been well prepared for a fight—armed with metal bars and fingerless gloves—but in many respects, their inspiration comes more from the football hooligans of England of the 1970s and 80s than anything homegrown.

Just days after the soccer hooligan controversy, on June 17, the International Association of Athletics Federations, the governing body for track and field competitions, banned Russian athletes from the 2016 Rio Olympics for sustained and wide-reaching doping violations. The decision was historic: individual athletes have been barred from international competition for doping, but never entire national teams. Investigations into Russian doping suggested an illicit program with alleged support of the country’s security services. To date, Russia’s response to the allegations, which have gathered in strength and damning detail in recent months, has been to try and cauterize the wound, admitting to a certain degree of malfeasance while denying a deeply rooted culture of doping condoned at the top. After the ban was announced, Putin tried this tactic anew, suggesting doping violations were limited to a few individuals, and that banning the whole track and field team amounted to “collective punishment,” saying it was akin to a prison sentence for “an entire family” if one relative committed a crime.

The International Olympic Committee upheld that ban, while keeping open the possibility that individual Russian athletes who go to extraordinary efforts to prove they are clean could be allowed to compete. Either way, the whole affair casts a far more humiliating note on Russian sporting exploits. It’s possible Russia may turn its back on Rio in a huff. A widely circulated tabloid with Kremlin ties asked the question, “Is it worth Russia going to Rio?” After all, the editorial posited, “They want us to crawl to them on our knees, ask forgiveness, and beg to be let in.”

For Putin and those close to him, efforts to exclude or punish Russia, whether for its annexation of Crimea or support for state-sponsored doping programs, are seen sees as pieces of a larger conspiracy. Today’s Russian elite sees plots against its power and authority everywhere it turns: some of those visions are grounded in actual Western policy, if a distorted understanding of it; others are nothing more than baseless, paranoid fantasy; and, like its poorly performing soccer team or apparently state-run doping program, no small number are problems of Russia’s own making. After the loss to Wales, a fitting joke started to make the rounds, playing Russia’s sporting woes off the geopolitical tensions it has encountered over the years. Echoing a comment that Putin made in 2014, when he said that unidentified soldiers in Crimea weren’t Russian troops but had purchased their military gear in a shop, the joke has Putin saying “those aren’t our soccer players on the field, they just bought their uniforms in a shop.”

Joshua Yaffa is a New America fellow and a contributor to The New Yorker based in Moscow. 

This article originally appeared on Zocalo Public Square.

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, 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

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.

Int’l Olympic Committee says 31 athletes could miss Rio after positive Beijing drugs re-tests

Thirty one athletes from six sports could be banned from this year's Rio Olympics after failing dope tests when 454 samples were reexamined from the 2008 Beijing Games, the International Olympic Committee said on Tuesday.

The IOC also said it would start re-testing Sochi 2014 winter Games samples after allegations of tarnished samples were made last week by Russia's former top anti-doping scientist. Some 250 samples from the London Games will also be reexamined.

In an effort to crack down on cheats during the Olympics, the IOC said this was targeted re-testing on athletes likely to be at the Rio Games starting on Aug. 5, and those found to have tested positive would not compete.

An IOC official told Reuters no names would be made public at this stage until athletes had been informed and a second sample, or B-sample, tested as well.

“The aim is to stop any drugs cheats coming to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro,” the IOC said. “The (IOC) Executive Board agreed unanimously to initiate proceedings immediately, with the 12 National Olympic Committees concerned informed in the coming days.”

The re-tests, a regular procedure by the IOC as it looks to use newer methods or look for new substances, were carried out in conjunction with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and international federations.

The IOC said it had also called on WADA to launch a “fully fledged investigation” into allegations that testing during the Sochi 2014 winter Olympics by the on-site accredited laboratory had been subverted.

The former head of Russia's anti-doping agency Grigory Rodchenkov said last week that the Sochi lab had tampered with samples.

Russia is at the heart of the biggest drugs scandal in years, with the country's track and field athletes currently suspended and the Rio Games hopes in doubt, and their drugs testing lab and anti-doping agency undergoing complete overhaul.

“All these measures are a powerful strike against the cheats we do not allow to win. They show once again that dopers have no place to hide,” said IOC President Thomas Bach.

“The re-tests from Beijing and London and the measures we are taking following the worrying allegations against the laboratory in Sochi are another major step to protect the clean athletes, irrespective of any sport or any nation.”

Apart from tarnishing any competition, doping has also damaged the Olympics' reputation, with the IOC regularly stripping athletes of their medals, sometimes years after they competed, due to positive drugs tests.

“By stopping so many doped athletes from participating in Rio we are showing once more our determination to protect the integrity of the Olympic competitions, including the Rio anti-doping laboratory, so that the Olympic magic can unfold in Rio de Janeiro,” Bach said.

The Rio Games run from Aug. 5-21.

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.

U.S. ice dancers Davis and White earn historic Olympic gold

The team of Meryl Davis and Charlie White won the first Olympics ice dancing gold medal ever for the United States.

Davis and White, who is Jewish [correction: The ‘Who is a Jewish Olympian question’: The case of Charlie White], finished Monday with a score of 195.52 in Sochi, Russia, to edge the 2010 gold medalists, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada. The Americans took the silver at the Vancouver Games to their training partners and longtime rivals.

On Monday, Davis and White scored a world record 116.63 in the free program, which they danced to music from “Scheherazade,” following up their world mark of 78.89 a day earlier in the short dance.

Davis, 27, and White, 26, both from Royal Oak, Mich., have been paired together since they were about 10 years old.

Gold medallists Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the U.S. celebrate during the medal ceremony for the figure skating ice dance free dance program at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics February 18, 2014. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

Israeli skaters perform better than expected

Israeli Olympic figure skaters won’t be bringing home any medals from Sochi this winter, but Israelis are still shepping naches from their performances.

Israeli skaters Evgeni Krasnopolski and Andrea Davidovich finished Wednesday’s pairs competition in 15th place. They were not expected to medal or even place in the top 10, with the Israel Olympic Committee holding out for them to make it to the free program round, which they did.

Krasnopolski, 25, and Davidovich, 16, only began skating together last year, and train in New Jersey.

American Jewish skater Simon Shnapir and his partner Marissa Castelli finished ninth in the pairs competition, but will take home a bronze medal in the team competition,

On Thursday, Israeli figure skater Alexei Bychenko qualified to advance to the men’s free skate with a 16th-place finish in the men’s short program. Israelis also had something to cheer about when fellow MOT, American  Jason Brown, 19, finished in fifth place with a personal best score of 86.

One Israeli skater who is having trouble at this year’s Olympics is short-track speed skater Vladislav Bykanov, who on Tuesday failed to qualify for the 1,500-meter semifinals by less than a second. On Thursday he failed to qualify for the 1,000-meter semifinals. He will also participate in the 500-meter competition next Tuesday.

Turkish forces seize suspected hijacker on plane in Istanbul, media

Turkish special forces seized a passenger who is suspected of making a bomb threat and trying to hijack a plane, demanding to go to the Winter Olympics venue of Sochi, CNN Turk and other Turkish media said on Friday.

Turkey scrambled an F-16 fighter jet to accompany the Pegasus Airlines plane as it landed at the airport after a flight from the Ukrainian city of Kharkov.

Some media reports said the suspect had been taken away for questioning but one official at the Sabiha Gokcen airport in Istanbul said the suspect had not yet been seized.

The passenger was believed to have drunk alcohol and was calmed down by the crew and persuaded to let the plane, a Boeing 737-800, land in Istanbul at 6:02 pm (1602 GMT), according to Dogan news agency.

An official from Turkey's transport ministry said there were 110 passengers on board and confirmed that a bomb threat had been made but said the plane had landed safely.

Security teams were continuing inspections on the plane, the ministry said in a statement.

“People are still inside but the pilot called security and gave them a signal that they can enter the plane. There is a translator – a Turkish man near the Ukrainian to calm him down,” one airport official said.

Reporting by Orhan Coskun, Daren Butler and Evrim Ergin; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Dasha Afanasieva and Sonya Hepinstall

Olympian skates to hall of fame

As the end of her ice dancing program approached during the 1984 Winter Olympics, Judy Blumberg’s partner held her body, arched in a horizontal half-moon, all the way around his back. 

The final notes of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” sounded and she slid down his legs, remaining curled at his feet for more than five seconds as her partner continued to glide across the ice, demonstrating, as one TV commentator said, “the story of a slave, finally freed, that would not leave.”

“I love the ability to show chemistry on the ice with one another,” Blumberg recently told the Journal. “We do tell stories. We completely bring you into our world.”

On Jan. 26, Blumberg, now 56, was one of 15 honorees inducted into the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame at American Jewish University. Among her fellow enshrinees are former Los Angeles City Councilwoman Rosalind Wyman, who helped bring the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles in the 1950s, and surfing legend Shaun Tomson.

A two-time Olympian and five-time national ice dancing champion, Blumberg is now an ice dancing technical specialist and coach. She is also a specialty coach for figure skating pair Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay, who are competing in this year’s Winter Olympics. The opening ceremony is on Feb. 7 in Sochi, Russia.

Blumberg grew up in Tarzana and started skating at age 10, after seeing her neighbor’s red polka-dotted, corduroy and satin figure skating dress.

“I fell in love with it,” she said. “I figured I had to start skating to get one of those dresses.”

Blumberg trained at a rink in Tarzana, skating for nearly three hours every morning beginning at 5 a.m. and then again after school for a few hours. Her training schedule didn’t allow for a traditional high school social life — she never attended any parties — but she said she didn’t mind.

“I had no ambition to do anything except to be in that skating world,” Blumberg said. “It was a very busy time in my youth, but I always knew that this was something I was passionate about, and I knew it would come through in some way.”

Success did come when, at age 18, Blumberg switched from singles figure skating to ice dancing — partner skating modeled after ballroom dancing — because of the difficulty she had performing the jumps required in singles competitions.

“Ice dancing is about deep edges and being musical and listening to the beat and working with a partner,” Blumberg said. “I couldn’t execute the jumps when I was under pressure — I was very nervous. For ice dancing you didn’t need to do that, you just had to be able to skate.”

She met her ice dancing partner of 14 years, Michael Seibert, at age 20 at the 1977 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Hartford, Conn. They both had partners at the time, but that didn’t last. A year and a half later, Blumberg moved to Colorado Springs, Colo., to train with him.

“I knew this would be the boy I would skate with,” she said. “You know when you move similar to someone, when your knees work with someone.”

The pair quickly rose up in the ice dancing ranks and competed at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., placing seventh. In the years that followed, they went on to be five-time U.S. ice dancing champions (1981-1985) and three-time world bronze medalists (1983-1985). 

Their musical accompaniment varied from country singer Patsy Cline to Elvis Presley, and they even used selections from the “Madame Butterfly” opera. Instead of adhering to the norm of ballroom-style music for ice dancing, they became known for using more melodic music, typically reserved for figure skaters.

Blumberg and Seibert were the highest ranked U.S. pair going into the 1984 Olympics and had high hopes for a medal.

“The idea is you want two people who move similarly and who have similar goals to be together,” she said. “By the time the next Olympics in ’84 came around we were thinking we could be up to the medal, which we were.”

But despite managing to skate a clean program — complete with that horizontal half moon behind Seibert’s back — the pair finished fourth at the Winter Games in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, because of a low score from a judge who claimed that the pair’s choice of music, “Scheherazade,” was improper for ice dancing.

“We were devastated when we dropped to fourth. We were out of our medal that we had always hoped we would get,” she said. “[But] our skating grew from that, and it got better and we were better performers.”

Seibert and Blumberg competed for one more year before transitioning from competitive to professional skating. Blumberg went on to perform with Stars on Ice and in other skating exhibitions, and was a figure skating commentator for CBS Sports as well as the ensemble director for Ice Theatre of New York. 

Today, she lives in Sun Valley, Idaho, with her 8-year-old daughter. She teaches at a local rink and is the head coach of Chloe Rose Lewis and Logan Bye, an ice dancing pair that won the national novice ice dancing title in the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

“I really helped them develop that inner story coming out, and the characterizations were right on and I’m amazed how beautifully they portray that,” she said, referring to one of their programs skated to the theme from “Schindler’s List.” 

“I see myself in [Chloe].” 

Israel sending team of 5 to Sochi Olympics

Israel will be sending five athletes to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, starting next month.

Evgeni Krasnopolski, 25, a Ukraine native who grew up in Israel, will skate in the pairs competition with Andrea Davidovich, 16, of Vermont. The pair, who train in Hackensack, N.J., finished seventh in the senior pairs competition at the European Skating Championships earlier this month in Budapest, Hungary.

Alexei Bychenko, 25, also a Ukraine native who grew up in Israel, will represent Israel in men’s figure skating. Bychenko finished 10th in the men’s singles at the European championships earlier this month in Germany.

Vladislav Bykanov, 24, also born in Ukraine, will represent Israel in the short-track speed skating competition. He finished in the top 10 in the 500, 1,000 and 1,500 meters at the European championships.

Virgile Vandeput, 19, will compete in alpine skiing in the giant slalom and special slalom. Vandeput, a former member of Belgium’s national skiing team, has represented Israel in international competitions for the past four years. His mother is Israeli.

Israeli delegations have competed at the Winter Olympics since 1994. The Sochi Games begin Feb.  7.

Olympian, sportscaster gets his due in ‘Glickman’

On the surface, a movie about a New York radio sportscaster might seem a niche project of limited appeal. But Marty Glickman was no ordinary play-by-play announcer, and the documentary “Glickman” is much more than a sports biography. Lovingly made by first-time writer-director James L. Freedman, who worked for Glickman as a teenager, the film is a tribute to a genuine Jewish hero.

“If you grew up in the latter half of the 20th century and were any bit of a sports fan, Marty Glickman was part of the soundtrack of your life,” Freedman said in an interview. “He literally brought the games to life — he was television on radio.” But before Glickman took up a microphone, he was a star athlete himself, a runner so fast that he made the U.S. Olympic track team in 1936 — in Nazi-ruled Berlin.

There was talk of a boycott, but Glickman was against it. “He wanted to go and prove a Jew could be just as good as anyone else, if not better,” Freedman said. But while his black teammate, Jesse Owens, won multiple gold medals — to Hitler’s horror — Glickman and Jewish teammate Sam Stoller were pulled from the 4 x 100-meter relay under dubious circumstances. In the interview included in the film, Glickman declares it was an act of anti-Semitism, and blames Olympic official Avery Brundage and coach Dean Cromwell, known Nazi sympathizers.

Understandably devastated, Glickman never got the chance to compete again. Because of the war, the Olympics were canceled in 1940 and again in 1944. “The heart of my film is what happens when an 18-year-old’s dreams are crushed by racism and prejudice. Do they become bitter? Or do they triumph in life? Marty Glickman not only triumphed, he used sports as a means of transcending the divisions created by race, class and religion. And that’s remarkable,” Freedman said. “He never gave up, and he continued on with such style and grace, helping others along the way and making sure that what happened to him would never happen to anyone else.”

Freedman, a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis and Stanford film school, has been a Hollywood writer on films and TV, including “Coach” and “Cybill,” but said he’s proudest of his job as Glickman’s radio show producer. When Freedman’s older brother was called up in the Army Reserves, Glickman tapped the 17-year-old to take over. “Marty Glickman never treated me like some high school kid, and that gave me a professional confidence I have to this very day,” he said.

Determined to honor the memory of his mentor, who died at 81 of complications from heart surgery on Jan. 3, 2001, Freedman spent three years on the film, including sorting through 100 hours of footage, archival material and new testimonials. “It was a massive undertaking,” he said, noting that he had to learn how to interview, edit and promote a film. Fortuitously, “Marty’s name opened doors,” and celebrities and sports figures wanted to be a part of it.

Bob Costas, Bill Bradley, Frank Gifford, Larry King, Jerry Stiller, Jim Brown, and Glickman’s Olympic teammate Lou Zamperini all shared memories of Glickman. So did Nancy Glickman, one of the athlete’s four children, who lent Freedman scrapbooks and home movies of her father.

Freedman got an unexpected but welcome hand when Martin Scorsese came aboard. Scorsese’s agent, Ari Emanuel, requested to see the film, and recommended it to the Oscar-winning director. “After that, I got an e-mail from Martin saying he loved the film and wanted to release it through his company at HBO,” Freedman said. Not coincidentally, Glickman had worked for the pay-cable network in its early days as its first sportscaster, footage of which is included in the documentary.

But despite the wide exposure that the HBO job and other television work brought him, Glickman “never got the national recognition and national stage that a lot of other broadcasters that he mentored did get, and it always bothered him,” Freedman said, suggesting that Glickman was a victim of the more overt anti-Semitism of the time. “It took him half of his career before he had national success. There just weren’t many ethnic voices. There still aren’t today. Howard Cosell was probably the first known Jewish broadcaster nationally.”

Freedman, who grew up in a Conservative home, is “very proud of his Jewish roots” and remains involved with the Jewish community. His family, which includes 14- and 11-year-old sons, belongs to Wilshire Boulevard Temple, where he and his wife were married. But he stresses that he didn’t set out to make a Jewish film. “Marty happened to be Jewish. The story of an 18-year-old having his dreams crushed by racism and prejudice is universal,” he said.

Freedman said he hopes the documentary will afford Glickman the belated recognition and appreciation he’s due. “If it does, even a little, it would be a success. This is a man who had such an incredible life and whose story needed to be told, and I’m proud that I’m able to tell it. He was so brilliant at what he did. Marty Glickman represented the joy and the purity of sport.” 

Aly Raisman, Amar’e Stoudemire to participate in upcoming Maccabiah Games

The 19th Maccabiah Games begin this week. Of the 8,000 athletes from around the world descending on Israel for what some call the “Jewish Olympics,” 1,100 will hail from America.

At the head of the pack is none other than American Jewish gymnast extraordinnaire, Aly Raisman. Another big-name American to look out for at the games, which run July 18-30, is Amar’e Stoudemire. The New York Knicks star surprised fans the first time he traveled to Israel to explore his Jewish roots.  This time the big surprise is that he isn’t representing the United States, but instead will be coaching the Canadian basketball team.

Want to watch but don’t know how? The lovely folks at Haaretz are here to help with this viewing guide. Thanks guys!

Aly Raisman joining ‘Dancing with the Stars’ cast

Aly Raisman, the Jewish gymnast who won three medals at last summer’s London Olympics, is joining the celebrity cast of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”

Raisman was among the cast revealed by “Good Morning America” on Tuesday for the show’s 16th season, which begins March 18. Others include former figure skating champion Dorothy Hamill, like Raisman an Olympic gold medalist.

Raisman rose to fame last summer with her gold medal in the floor routine performing to the Jewish classic “Hava Nagila,” and in helping the U.S. women's team take the gold. The Massachusetts native also said she supported a moment of silence for the 11 Israeli Olympians who were killed at the Munich Games in 1972.

On “Dancing with the Stars,” Raisman will be partnered with professional dancer Mark Ballas. Other celebrities slated for the cast include Jacoby Jones, a wide receiver for the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens; country singers Wynonna Judd and Kellie Pickler; Zendaya Coleman of the Disney Channel; and  Lisa Vanderpump, star of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”

Israel’s State Archive releases Munich Olympics massacre documents

Israel’s State Archive released 45 formerly classified documents related to the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

The documents, which were released Wednesday in honor of the 40th anniversary of the massacre, include Foreign Ministry cables, minutes of Israeli Cabinet meetings and meetings of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense committees, as well as official correspondence between Israeli and German officials.

In one document, Mossad chief Zvi Zamir said that Germany “did not make even a minimal effort” to save the Israeli hostages. Another document is Zamir’s personal report of the operation in Hebrew and translated into English.

The Chabad Telethon: Beyond silence

One of the most moving letters you’ll read this year was written by Irwin Cotler, a Canadian member of parliament, to the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Jacques Rogge, imploring him to hold a minute of silence for the 11 Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists 40 years ago at the Munich Olympics.

Rogge had already refused the request for the opening ceremonies, so Cotler urged him to do so during the closing ceremonies:

“This Sunday, when the London 2012 Olympic Games conclude, let us pause to remember and recall each of the murdered athletes. Each had a name, an identity, a family — each person was a universe: Moshe Weinberg; Yossef Romano; Ze’ev Friedman; David Berger; Yakov Springer; Eliezer Halfin; Yossef Gutfreund; Kehat Shorr; Mark Slavin; Andre Spitzer; Amitzur Shapira.

Dr. Rogge … it is not too late to be on the right side of history.”

Cotler appealed not only to emotion but also to reason. Such a memorial, he reminded Rogge, was not without precedent:

“Two years ago during the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, the IOC observed a moment of silence — over which you presided, appropriately enough — in memory of the Georgian athlete, Nodar Kumaritashvili, who died tragically in a training accident. Ten years ago, in 2002, the IOC memorialized the victims of 9/11, though that terrorist atrocity neither occurred during the Olympic Games nor had any connection to them. The duty of remembrance was justification enough.

“In particular, after eschewing a memorial for the murdered Israeli athletes and coaches at this year’s opening ceremony, the IOC then — and again, rightly — memorialized the victims of the 2005 London Bombings … though this terrorist atrocity, as well, had no nexus to the Olympic Games.”

Cotler’s appeal was compelling and moving, but it was unsuccessful — a fact that has surely left a stain on this summer’s Olympics.

But beyond that, it has also left many disappointed Jews around the world wondering what to do next.

After an exhausting lobbying effort supported by many world leaders, including President Obama, these disillusioned supporters are wondering whether they should lick their wounds and give up the fight — or begin anew and lobby for a minute of silence at the next Olympic games.

Here in Los Angeles, there is a Jewish group that is taking a whole different approach to honoring the victims. They will neither give up the fight nor plead with the IOC for a minute of silence.

In fact, they don’t want silence. They want to make some holy noise.

And you can bet they will do that at the 32nd annual Chabad Telethon on Sunday night, Sept. 9.

“The Rebbe taught us that the only response to darkness is to increase the light,” was how Chaim Marcus put it when I asked him why they had decided to honor victims of terror during a normally festive evening.

Marcus, the producer of the last few telethons, doesn’t think there’s a contradiction between the two. “The Chabad Telethon itself was born out of the fire that destroyed the world’s first Chabad House, in 1980 in Westwood,” he told me. “It was our way to rebuild and renew — stronger and greater than before.”

So, instead of commemorating the 11 Munich victims with silence, Chabad will celebrate their lives by “adding light to the world by encouraging our viewers to live their legacy through acts of goodness and kindness.”

Chabad Rabbi Chaim Cunin, executive producer of the telethon, adds: “This year, we will sing more, dance more and pour out our hearts more than ever on behalf of the Munich victims and all those in need.”

The tribute will include Larry King setting up a short film clip from “1972 Munich Games: Bud Greenspan Remembers,” followed by the lighting of 11 candles and the chanting of the El Maleh Rachamim mourning prayer by chazzan Yacov Lerner.

They’re hoping to have many celebrities on stage at the Saban Theatre, where the telethon will take place this year, including people like Olympic swimmers Mark Spitz, Lenny Krayzelburg and Jason Lezak; and London’s gold-medal gymnast Aly Reisman.

It’s classic Chabad to take an Olympic failure and turn it into a Jewish lesson. What they’re basically saying is: Yes, it would have been great had the IOC devoted a minute of silence to the Jewish victims, but they didn’t, and we won’t cry over it. We can do it ourselves, in our own way.

It’s true that as Jews, we want the world to love us, to understand us, to feel our pain. With our history of Holocaust trauma, we crave recognition, especially for our innocent victims. So, naturally, we wanted a billion people worldwide last month to remember that 11 athletes were murdered because they were Jews.

But being Jewish doesn’t only mean being victims. It also means being survivors; survivors who have the power to honor our victims by being more Jewish than ever.

And that’s an idea worth making a little noise over.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at

Aly Raisman, Munich 11’s David Berger to be inducted into Jewish Sports Hall of Fame

Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Aly Raisman will be inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.

Raisman, 18, of Needham, Mass., will be among eight inductees into the hall in Commack, N.Y., in April 2013.

Also to be honored at the 21st annual induction ceremony is weightlifter David Berger, who was among the 11 Israelis killed at the Munich Olympics in 1972.

Raisman won a gold medal in the recently completed London Games on floor exercise with her routine to “Hava Nagila” and helped the United States to the women’s team title. She also earned a bronze on the balance beam.

Other inductees in April include sports photographer Andrew Bernstein; Steve Bilsky, the athletic director at the University of Pennsylvania; Bruce Cohen, a National Lacrosse Hall of Fame member; Randy Grossman, a former tight end for the Pittsburgh Steelers; and U.S. swimmers Marilyn Ramenofsky and Garrett Weber-Gale.