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Remembering the Munich 11

In 1972, 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were murdered in Munich while participating in the Olympics. Before I became continental director of the JCC Maccabi Games, a tribute to the Munich 11 was observed at some sites but not at others, and not even every year. As an Olympic-style event and the largest annual gathering of Jewish teens outside of Israel I felt the Games had a fundamental responsibility to teach the next generation about the Munich 11. 

I reached out to Ankie Spitzer, the widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer who was killed in Munich, and met with her and their daughter, Anouk. We discussed what we might be able to accomplish at the Games, and what we hoped the JCC Maccabi community could learn about and from the Munich murders. 

One thing we discovered was that it wasn’t just youngsters who didn’t know about the Munich 11 tragedy — many adults had forgotten it. I knew then that we had to make a memorial to the fallen Jewish athletes and coaches an integral part of every set of Games — every year and at each host site. 

The idea was embraced by my colleagues at every host JCC, who made the memorial a fixture at the Games’ opening ceremonies, when the entire JCC Maccabi community comes together in a stadium, all eyes on the proceedings. 

I’m proud to say the commitment by our JCC Maccabi athletes, families, and volunteers to honor the memory of the Munich 11 helped fuel the world-wide movement — led by Ankie and by Ilana Romano and championed by the Rockland JCC after they hosted the JCC Maccabi Games — that pressured the International Olympic Committee to officially recognize the murders and memorialize the Munich 11, in 2016.

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