The Silence Heard From Munich

The Silence Heard from Munich – July 27, 2012

By Rabbi Joshua L. Caruso

Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, Beachwood, Ohio


Silence. Silence can be observed for the sweet and for the bitter. Its palpable presence can drive home a message of meaning, surpassing anything uttered in words. And silence can be chilling…when it’s used to convey apathy, indifference, and even tacit approval. It’s this latter expression of silence that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has chosen to adopt for tonight’s Olympic opening ceremonies despite a growing international campaign – joined by President Barack Obama – to acknowledge the 40th anniversary of the tragic deaths of 11 Israeli athletes in 1972.

The Munich Massacre, as it has come to be known, occurred during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Bavaria in southern West Germany, when members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and eventually killed by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September. Eleven Israeli athletes and coaches and a West German police officer were killed. It was a time before ubiquitous “Breaking News” alerts appeared on smartphones or were transmitted from the many 24-hour news networks in the media.

On that fateful day, Jim McKay, ABC’s Olympic broadcasting anchor, shared the impossible news just after 3:00am in the morning:

I’ve just gotten the final word. When I was a kid, my father used to say our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized. Our worst fears have been realized tonight. They’ve now said that there were eleven hostages. Two were killed in their rooms yesterday morning. Nine were killed at the airport tonight.

They’re all gone.

We Jews have lived with untimely and dispiriting news around genocide and slaughter for much of our existence. Yet, almost as chilling is the silence felt and heard from the world when our people have faced extermination and threats from those seeking our destruction. Rabbi Avi Weiss, in response to the IOC’s denial of appeals to honor the memory of the Israeli athletes, issued the following statement:

This type of silence is nothing new.  It is the silence of those who say nothing as terrorists are venerated as honorable martyrs all over the world — in Tokyo, Moscow, London, Madrid, Tel Aviv and New York. Until the world recognizes that there is no such thing as good terrorists and bad terrorists — that nothing, nothing justifies focused attacks against innocents — terrorism will thrive.  

Indeed, it is only in the raised voices of those who are pursuers of peace and justice that terrorism and indifference will be eradicated. Advocacy, support and recognition for all creations of God – even when they do not impact our personal sphere of life – are essential ingredients for Tikkun, the sacred repair of this world. Mother Teresa said it best when she wrote, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” As such, when we ask for the world to advocate for Jews, we must in turn reach out to those who do not share in our faith tradition.

All the more so, should we stand with our own at times like these – to express our anger and disbelief that the deaths of 11 athletes and coaches forty years ago should go unacknowledged at a world event whose message – as voiced by the IOC in on their website – is to “…place sport at the service of humanity and thereby to promote peace.”

The effort to appeal to the IOC has been led, in part, by none other than the victims’ families themselves – including congregant, Benjamin Berger, father of David Berger, a son of Fairmount Temple. In a recent USA Today article, Ben said:

“Every four years, it’s stirred up again,” he said… “Every four years, I expect it will be different, and each year, I hope it will be different, but it’s not. David was a pacifist at heart, so I would wish for just a moment of silence for peace between countries.”

It is in this spirit that we join together in this moment; a moment in which we remain shaken in the wake of the shootings in Aurora, Colorado, and a moment when we are stunned at the senseless terrorist attacks on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. It is this moment when our calendar anticipates Tisha B’Av, the day when Jews observe a day of remembrance for the destruction of the temples in Jerusalem and for many other calamities associated to it. It is in this moment when we take pause and ask for God’s healing in a broken world:

Creator of all,
Source and shelter,
We remember as yesterday
The day of Olympic terror,
The day that our brothers,
Athletes and coaches,
Lost their lives to brutal violence
And our hearts are melting with sorrow.
We remember their joy and their dreams,
Their enthusiasm and their hope,
Their spirit and their valor,
Their love for each other
And their dedication to competition.
Grant them a perfect rest under Your tabernacle of peace.
Grant their families consolation and comfort
For Your Name’s sake
And for the sake of those who perished.

We remember (those Israeli athletes slain in 1972):

Mark Slavin

Eliezer Halfin

David Berger

Ze’ev Friedman

Yossef Romano

Andre Spitzer

Moshe Weinberg

Amitzur Shapira

Yossef Gutfreund

Yakov Springer

Kehat Shorr




Ancient One,
Remember the virtues all who have
Died at the hand of hatred.
May their memory become our resolve
To protect our land and our people.
Watch over the defenders of Israel.
Bless them with safety and strength.
May their courage never falter.
Grant Your protection and shelter to all who travel under the flag of Israel
In the name of cooperation, understanding and goodwill –
Athletes, musicians, performers, artists and scholars.
May their spirit be a shining light of integrity and honor.
Grant the whole house of Israel safety throughout the earth
Free from aggression and violence.

G-d of Old,
Shine a light of compassion into the world.
Put an end to malice, anger and fear.
Lead us to a time when no one will suffer at the hand of another,
A time when our people can travel without the threat of terror.
May the memories of those murdered
In the Munich massacre
Be sanctified with joy and love.
May their souls be bound up in the bond of life,
A living blessing in our midst.

–         Alden Solovy