I’m enjoying the Summer Olympics a lot more than I expected given all the gloom and doom that clouded the advance hype. I’m glued to the TV nightly rooting not just for our American athletes, but for everyone who’s worked so hard to compete. For me, and a lot of people I imagine, I’m riveted by the uplifting and phenomenal physical feats that took years to hone. I get just as much joy watching the athletes who don’t win any medals hug and high-five their competitors after an event as I do watching the competition. How wonderful to see us come together in one place and appreciate our successes and our differences. How appropriate and long overdue that organizers finally honored the 11 Israeli athletes who were murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
As I watch the daily accomplishments during these two weeks – filled with passion, strength, and fortitude - I think of the 2017 20th Maccabiah Games in Israel next summer. I’m hoping to return as an anchor and reporter for Jewish Life TV to do stories about the more than 9,000 Jewish athletes from an estimated 80 countries expected to compete. As a Jewish American and sports enthusiast, it was a career highlight to do it four years ago and visit Israel for the first time.
In spite of concerns about Zika, crime and an impending presidential impeachment, Israel sent its largest delegation of athletes to the 2016 Rio Olympics – 47 athletes competing in 17 events. Among them - a proud 24-year-old golfer, Laetitia Beck, who is the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors who wants to be known for her Jewish roots even more than her golfing prowess. And, an estimated 10,000 Israeli tourists are in Rio cheering on their compatriots.
Rio and Brazil have a strong Jewish population of about 25,000 and, interestingly, the first Jews to settle in NY in 1654 were a group of 23 refugees from Recife, Brazil. They founded the first Jewish congregation in North America and were pioneers not unlike our modern-day Olympians…filled with perseverance and dedication to do their best and make the world a better place….for themselves and others. For anyone who’s cynical or giving up on our ability to find joy in today’s world, think again. I for one am rooting for every team and individual who’s finding victory in making our world a better place.