2012 Olympics: A Moment of Silence Heard ‘Round the World

By: Shalva Ginsparg  |  August 23, 2012

The words heard ’round the world at the Olympics of 1972 belonged to ABC newscaster Jim Mckay: “Our worst fears have been realized tonight.”  At this summer’s Olympics in London, the world listened instead to the famous Jewish folk song, “Hava Nagila.” Indeed, on the forty-year anniversary of the Munich massacre in which 11 Israeli athletes were murdered by the Palestinian group, Black September, Jewish gymnast Aly Raisman won a gold medal for a performance set to the tune of Hava Nagila.  The symbolism did not go unnoticed.

Ever since the tragedy of 1972, the International Olympics Committee (IOC) has refused to recognize the event with a moment of silence. This year, the long-standing point of contention was brought to the fore by Ilana Romano and Ankie Spitzer, the widows of athletes murdered in the Munich massacre.  Their sentiments were echoed by over 107,000 others, President Barack Obama included, who signed a petition in support of a moment of silence.  Nonetheless, the IOC did not capitulate.  Their explanation?  The Olympics is simply not the appropriate time and place for a moment of silence in honor of the victims.

“Sports are a bridge to love, interconnections and spreading of peace among nations; it must not be a cause of division and spreading of racism,” noted the Palestinian Olympic Committee in a letter applauding the IOC’s decision. To Shaul Ladany, a survivor of the massacre, the decision points to the fact that the IOC doesn’t “regard them as victims of the Olympic movement but as 11 Israeli victims” and that the committee “fear[s] that Muslim and Arab nations will somehow boycott the Olympics Games.”

Amidst this backdrop of conflict and controversy, an unlikely hero stepped up to the balance beam: eighteen-year-old Aly Raisman. Though Raisman herself remarked that “having that floor music wasn’t intentional,” she added that “the fact [that] it was on the 40th anniversary is special, and winning the gold today means a lot to me.” She further commented that, “if there had been a moment’s silence, I would have supported and respected it.”  Guri Weinberg, the son of athlete Moshe Weinberg who was killed in the Munich massacre, conveyed to the Simon Wiesenthal Center his tremendous gratitude and admiration for Raisman.  “She’s got a lot to teach the IOC and the rest of the world about what’s right,” he declared.

In another poignant display of solidarity, the Italian delegation observed a moment of silence for the Munich victims inside the Olympic Village.  Raisman’s convictions were further shared by Bob Costas, an NBC newscaster who conducted an on-air memorial service as the Israeli athletes entered the arena.  Costas noted that though IOC president Jacques Rogge “led a moment of silence before about 100 people in the athlete’s village…for many, tonight, with the world watching, is the true time and place to remember those who were lost, and how and why they died.”

Raisman also garnered praise for her unabashed celebration of her Jewishness at the summer Olympics, not least reflected by her Hava Nagila song choice.  She even revealed to the New York Post that “I am Jewish, that’s why I wanted that floor music.”  A New York Post cover hailed her as a “Star of David.” French swimmer Fabien Gilot followed in Raisman’s nimble footsteps via a tattoo he displayed at the games which bore the Hebrew phrase אני כלום בלעדיהם—“I am nothing without them.”  Mr. Gilot revealed that the tattoo is in homage to a Jewish grandfather figure. Raisman’s rabbi, Rabbi Keith Stern of Temple Beth Avodah in Massachusetts, described her as someone who is “very proud and upfront about being Jewish. Neither she nor her family explicitly sought to send a message. But it shows how very integrated her Jewish heritage is in everything that she does.” Rabbi Stern also commented that, “I can’t wait to have her at the temple to talk about her experience.”


Whether they’ll be in the audience when Raisman does indeed give her speech in synagogue or whether they were simply in the audience of the 2012 Olympics, to many of Raisman’s keenest admirers, her greatest victory was won in an arena far beyond the narrow straits of a North Greenwich balance beam.