Over two hundred countries coming together to compete in honest sporting competition, that is the theme of the summer Olympics. It is a concept that dates back to ancient Greece and was revived with the modern Olympics which began in 1896. This summer we are witnessing the thirty-first modern Olympiad.
Even before it began there were controversies involving the host city, Rio De Janeiro. From concerns over whether all the venues would be completed, to concerns about money wasted on elaborate arenas, to how the media would portray the back drop of the favelas, or slums that line the city, to the Zika virus and contaminated waterways, it was almost all anyone could talk about.
There was also the systemic doping program sanctioned by the Russian government for its athletes that left us wondering until the last minute if any of the Russian athletes would get to compete.
But, putting those aside, the spirit of the games is one in which countries are supposed to put aside their differences, ignore their animosity and reign in their bigotry. For two weeks countries that are at war or the brink of war, send athletes to compete against each other, side by side in healthy competition. Over the years there have been times when the Olympics have been politicized, like when the USA and several other countries boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, or when Russia and several other countries boycotted the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. However, for the most part, the Olympics tend to run true to their mission.
That is why one might find it ironic that on Friday as members of the Israeli delegation attempted to board the bus to take them to them from the Olympic Village to the opening ceremonies, coaches from the Lebanese group stood in the doorway and prevented the Israeli athletes from entering the bus. They refused to ride with them. I say one might find it ironic because despite the aforementioned theme of the games as a time to put aside serious conflicts between countries, it has never stopped Muslim countries from singling out Israel for this type of treatment at world sporting events. The fact that this happened is not surprising to anyone who knows the history of the Olympic games.
Just forty- four years ago at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, members of Black September, a group affiliated with the PLO kidnapped and killed several Israeli athletes at the Olympic village. More were killed later as the terrorists attempted to leave Germany with the Israeli hostages through the airport and the rescue mission by the German police failed. The games went on that year and for the last forty-four years the IOC has refused to acknowledge the massacre that took place. That is, until this year. In the Olympic village in Rio a monument has been erected to those athletes that were slaughtered at the 1972 Olympics. It also commemorates the two victims of a bomb at the 1996 Atlanta Games and Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, who died in an accident at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Our hope and prayer is that one day Israel will be able to compete at the Olympics alongside its Arab neighbors and the rest of the world in peace. Until that time, we will continue to enjoy watching the Olympics and living in a cognitive dissonance about what they truly mean.
Rabbi Bradley Tecktiel has been Midbar Kodesh Temple's spiritual leader since August 2008. Rabbi Tecktiel was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in May of 1996. He holds two Bachelor of Arts degrees, one from List College and one from Columbia University. He also holds a Masters of Arts from the Jewish Theological Seminary.
You can follow him on Twitter @RabbiMKT