When 18-year-old Jewish American Olympic gymnast, Aly Raisman, competed in the London Olympics this year, she captured the hearts of people all over the world. What she may not have realized was that she would become a Jewish heroine as well. Not only did she win the gold medal for her individual floor exercise, she performed it with pride to the well-known Jewish song, “Hava Negilah,” in honor of the eleven Israeli athletes who were murdered in the Munich Massacre.
Aly’s performance filled American Jews with pride, and even won the admiration of the Israeli Defense Forces. Check out the letter IDF officer Dan Yagudin sent to Aly over Facebook.
I want to tell you about how you became the hero of a gym full of Israeli soldiers.
The same Israeli soldiers who have to deal with Iran’s nuclear threat to the Jewish state. The same ones who serve two-to-three years of their lives, because we have to; because there’s no one else that would do it besides us, because our neighborhood sucks, and when the leadership next door in Syria massacres their own people, there’s no way we would let them lay hands on our kids, as foreign dictators have done for thousands of years.
You picked a song for your floor routine in the Olympics that every Jewish kid knows, whether their families came from the shtetls of Eastern Europe, the Asian steppes of Azerbaijan, themountains of Morocco or the Kibbutzim of northern Israel. It’s that song that drew almost everyone at the Israeli army base gym to the TV as soon as the report about you came on the news this morning. After showing your floor exercise to Hava Nagila, the announcer told about your goldmedal with unmasked pride, and of your decision to dedicate it to the Israeli athletes who were killed in the Munich Olympics in 1972.
There were some tough people at that gym, Aly. Men and Women, Battalion Commanders from Intelligence, Captains from the navy, Lieutenants from the Armored Corps and more. You probably understand that words like ‘bravery’ and ‘heroism’ carry a lot of weight coming from them, as does a standing ovation (even from the people doing ab exercises.) There was nothing apologetic about what you did. For so long we’ve had to apologize for who we are: for how we dress, for our beliefs, for the way we look. It seems like the International Olympic Committee wanted to keep that tradition. Quiet, Jews. Keep your tragedy on the sidelines. Don’t disturb our party.
They didn’t count on an 18 year-old girl in a leotard.
There wasn’t one person at the gym who didn’t know what it was like to give back to our people, not one who didn’t know what happened to the good people who died in 1972, not one who didn’t feel personally insulted by their complete neglect in the London Olympics, the 40 year anniversary of their deaths, and not one who didn’t connect with your graceful tribute in their honor.
Thank you for standing up against an injustice that was done to our people. As I was walking back to my machine at the gym, I caught one of the officers give a long salute to your image on television. I think that says it all.
Officer, Israeli Defense Force