By Berel Wein
This past week saw the opening of the Maccabiah Games here in Jerusalem. Flamboyantly conceived by their originators as the "Jewish Olympics," the Games, like the Jewish people and the State of Israel, have had their ups and downs.
The tragic collapse of the bridge over the Yarkon River killed four members of the Australian delegation last time the games were held. Then the organizers of the Maccabiah Games, apparently following the lead of the fair and wise men who administered the 1972 Olympics in Munich where 11 Israeli athletes were brutally murdered by the PLO (remember that group; what are they busy at now?), opted to let the Olympic Games continue anyway.
Sensitivities and human lives aside, the Olympic/Maccabiah spirit must always triumph. After all, the play, the games must go on. But, without seeming to be too much of a contrarian, I would pose the question: why did they have to go on then, or go on now?
This year's Maccabiah Games came to be seen somehow as a test of Jewish solidarity with the State of Israel in our current hour of confrontation with the same leadership of the PLO that killed our 11 athletes almost 30 years ago. As such, it has turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment. Only about half of the athletes expected actually turned up, and entire Jewish communities absented themselves from participation in this year's contests.
This is a further sad indication of the erosion of support for the State of Israel in the Jewish world, especially in the more assimilated sections of Jewish society where most of the potential Jewish athletes and Maccabiah committee members seem to come from. In fact, there was strong debate in Israel itself as to whether the Maccabiah Games should have been postponed this year. After all, we are currently engaged in a mini-war that sees Jewish and Arab blood spilled daily, and maybe now is not a time for fun and games.
But the games go on, even if the turnout is poor.
Perhaps not having the Maccabiah Games this time around would have sent a stronger message to our Jewish brethren overseas as to the true nature of our situation and struggle here. It would have said, in a dramatic fashion, "rally round us now, speak up for Zion and Jerusalem!" Perhaps holding the games conveys a message of false bravado that further weakens true Jewish solidarity. Perhaps. I don't really know for certain my own mind in this matter, but my doubts gnaw at me.
The olympic Games for 2008 were awarded to China. The brutal and authoritarian regime that governs that vast country organized "spontaneous" demonstrations of delirious public joy at the news of its choice to be the Olympic host. There naturally were those innocents among us who protested the choice of China due to its dismal record regarding the freedom and human rights of its citizens and its aggressions against its neighbors. (Funny, why isn't Tibet considered "occupied territory"?)
Why should the world continue to reward evil?
But we have a strong precedent for this type of choice for an Olympic site. Hitler used the 1936 Olympics as a great propaganda exercise in his drive to create his terrible "New Order." So as not to offend German sensibilities, Jewish athletes were purposely left home, or somehow did not compete in those games. Accommodating Hitler and his sensitivities with the pious hope that the tiger could be tamed by making nice to him only encouraged the bloodbath that Hitler brought on only three years later.
But the games must go on!
Sport is big business, national pride and public relations. It has come to dominate many aspects of our life. As did the Romans with their "bread and circuses," so, too, do modern governments use sports events as a safety valve to deflect public attention from much more serious social and national problems. Questions of morality and national priorities are all sublimated to almighty sports.
A lot of public, government, corporate and private money is being spent on the current Maccabiah Games. How wise an investment of our meager capital this is at the current moment is a matter of debate. In any event, I hope the games pass peaceably and in good spirit and sportsmanship. But thought should be given to the heretical notion that the games need not always necessarily go on.