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Sunday, October 1, 2000

Olympic Glory and Tragedy

                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                        October, 2000
Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:                                                                 


Now that another wonderful summer has wound down at the old campsite in Z-Ville, and  the Cubbies finished 30 games out of first (I wonder if being so many games out, they might be mathematically eliminated from next year’s pennant race) and the Bears are 1 and 4, seems to me like the only game in town is happening in the town of Sydney.  I couldn’t help but feel proud of the kids on the U.S. team as I watched them go for the gold.  There was much talk of the Olympics a few weekends ago, up at Kutz Camp, our national U.A.H.C. camp in Warwick N.Y.  Katy Goodman, our Assistant Director and I joined all of the other members of the U.A.H.C. Youth Division staff for meetings there, while the Olympics were just getting under way.  It was quite special as the person who is my direct supervisor, and has been for the past 20 years, Arie Gluck, the Director of our Camp Harlam (and Frank DeWoskin's new boss), ran in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland for the first Israeli Olympic team.  I have often heard Arie tell of his experiences running there and in another international meet in Spain. 


Arie fought in Israel's War of Independence.  I've traveled several times with him to Israel and walked with him near the battlefields of T’sfat and around the neighborhoods of his youth in Tel Aviv.  He is living history and I sit in awe whenever I have the opportunity to listen to his stories.  Being with Arie is always special; but to be with Arie as the Olympics are about to unfold is extraordinary. 

Another Olympic historical event was retold this weekend.  After the meetings at Kutz Camp, we joined the entire U.A.H.C. staff for our annual staff retreat.  Over 200 gathered for study, sharing, T'fillot, and general spirit building.  I met a fellow that I haven't seen since my first year at HUC in 1972.  His name is Allan Henkin.  He's a Reform Rabbi and directs our L.A. office and region.  As I greeted him he pulled me aside to relive with me a particularly emotional and devastating moment we shared back then, almost thirty years ago.  Henkin asked me (rhetorically) if I remembered our first trip down to the Negev that September.  My class of rabbinic students left Jerusalem on a bus to tour the south during the Olympics being held in Munich that year.  I certainly remembered every detail of that trip.  On our second day out we learned that a terrorist group calling itself Black September had taken eleven Israeli athletes hostage.  We watched the news on a little TV in the youth hostile we stayed in that night.  The next afternoon, as we rode south of Be'er Sheva, the bus's radio broadcast the news of the eleven Israelis’ deaths.  We were stunned.  We stopped the bus right there in the middle of the desert.  The students filed out, stood together in a clump, our silence only broken by half-stifled sighs and sniffles.  Softly someone began to recite Kaddish and we all joined in.  Having arrived in Israel only two weeks before, this was a remarkable introduction to our rabbinic educations.  A moment in the desert.  A devastating moment for our people.  A glimpse of the harsh realities our people have always had to face.  And a prayer in the wilderness. 

Yes, Allan Henkin, I remember it well.  I try to subdue the thought of it whenever I first hear the Olympic anthem.  I try not to think of it.  I would like not to remember that the games continued during our country's time of mourning.  I'd like not to still be angered by it. 

I'd rather think of Arie Gluck running in '52, for the glory of Israel's first Olympic team.  I'd much rather think of the pride he brought to Jews around the world.   These are the thoughts that run through my head as I watch the games unfold this time around, every time around.  Well, that's the way I see it. 
 

Ron