I remember when the Olympics were held in Atlanta twenty years ago. The kids were only seven and five, but even they knew we were experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime thing. We were able to snag tickets to track and field events; witnessing Carl Lewis winning a gold medal in the long-jump and marveling over Michael Johnson’s gold-colored track shoes leading him to secure the gold medal in the 400. And so, I prepared to be glued to the television this week to cheer on the athletes in Rio.
Then, barely three days into the Games, a friend posted the following on Facebook:
“The Olympics have just started and already anti-Semitism/anti-Israeli sentiment rears its ugly head. The Lebanese delegation won’t let the Israeli delegation board their shared bus and the Olympics organizers ‘resolve’ it by putting the Israelis on a different bus. A Saudi Judo competitor refuses to compete against an Israeli. Let’s hear it for the Olympic spirit of diversity and inclusiveness.”
I didn’t need to investigate her claims. I believed them. Even sports are not a great equalizer. I knew we wouldn’t hear a word about the situation on the Today show. I knew we wouldn’t read or hear anything in any media outlet…unless it was a Jewish source. Thus, my days of watching and supporting the Olympic Games have ended.
And yet, even as I believe my righteous indignation to be justified, I know that no one cares what I think or feel. My boycotting of the Games won’t change a thing. History shows that Jews are detested and persecuted. Period. We can embrace political correctness, talk about tolerance, and support acts of inclusion all we want….but sentiments about Jews are hidden by a thin façade that barely manages to hide the hateful reality that lies just below the surface.
Put another way, what good is wearing a gold medal on the outside if you are tarnished on the inside?
* * *
Despite the “tone” that may exude from my words, I am not an angry or bitter extremist. I’ve learned to accept the cards I’ve been dealt. I personally suffered from direct acts of anti-Semitism when I was a child; the scars of which are constant reminders to remain vigilant and cautious. It was because of those very experiences, however, that I ultimately ended up dedicating my professional life to working on behalf of the Jewish community. Ironic, huh?
But, there’s something more important going on with me this week.
Tomorrow I am heading to Florida to celebrate my grandfather’s ninety-eighth birthday. A Holocaust survivor, I know that I’ve never – and never will – experience the things that he and my grandmother lived through. I, of all people, have no right to complain. Rather, I am grateful that they endured the unimaginable so that I could have the freedoms and privileges I do today. I feel compelled to live up to their example; to be a good person, do good work, and live a good life – no matter what.
Zaydie’s years are numbered. Whether two, six, or twelve remain (tfooh, tfooh, tfooh!!!!), I know his mind is focused on his family these days. He is proud of what he and Baba have built with dedication and integrity. His stories of the past all contain important lessons learned; ones he wants shared with future generations.
I’ve paid attention. I’ve heard. I’ve learned. I’ll carry on his legacy…when the time comes. But for now I’ll concentrate on showing love and gratitude for as long as possible.