On Sunday, Feb. 9, the Israeli Olympic athletes were welcomed by the small but growing Sochi Jewish community. The event started off with greetings by the Chief Rabbi of Russia, Berel Lazar, according to the Chabad news service.
Next, Rabbi Lazar and the leader of the Israeli Olympic delegation, Vladimir Shklyar, lit two candles in memory of the 11 members of the Olympic team, who were murderered by Palestinian Arab terrorists, during the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich.
Following a moment of silence in honor of the Israeli Olympians as well as a German police officer who also was murdered, Rabbi Lazar chanted Kaddish, the memorial prayer for the dead. After Kaddish was recited, the head of the Sochi Chabad, Rabbi Ari Edelkopf, read the names of the slain athletes.
Edelkopf says that an exceptionally emotional moment for him was seeing Lazar help the emotional Shklyar put on tefillin and say the Shema prayer for the first time. The local Jewish community was asked to pray for the success and safety of the delegation.
Four of the five member Israeli Olympic delegation are Russian speakers, which made it even easier for the athletes to join in conversation and good cheer with the local Jewish community. The lone non-Russian speaker, 19 year old Alpine skier Virgile Vandeput, was born in Belgium.
Jaffa Olivitsky, Israel’s attaché to the Russian Federation on culture, sport and science in the Russian Federation, discussed the strong bond shared by all Jews, whether living in Israel and in the diaspora.
Russian-Jewish tenor Telman Guzhevky sang the 1967 Israeli classic “Jerusalem of Gold.” In addition, the local Jewish school’s 20 member choir sang “Hava Nagila” and other Jewish songs.
“It was a truly emotional experience for everyone, and the unity was palpable,” says Edelkopf. “But we are only beginning. There are thousands of other Jewish people visiting our city, and in the days ahead, we look forward bringing them together in so many ways.”
The families of the murdered athletes and coaches and many supporters around the world were unable to move the Olympic Committee to observe a minute of silence during the opening ceremonies at the 2012 London Olympics to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the terror attack.