This week saw the 40th Anniversary of the terrible events of the 1972 Munich Olympics, during which 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were murdered in a terrorist attack. To commemorate the Munich 11 in the JVN spirit, this blog post shows how, 40 years on, the memories of that day inspired one man to do his part for the London 2012 Games and the Jewish community. David Stern, who was present at the 1972 Games, shares with us his story and tells us why you’re never too old to volunteer…
I was one of the lucky ones who got to see the Olympic Games. The Olympic Stadium and the Aquatic Centre in the Olympic Park were my second home every day for nearly three weeks; mixed emotions swinging like a pendulum between despair and exhilaration; screaming support to the British competitors – not Jess or Mo but Mary Peters to a gold in the Pentathlon and silver to David Wilkie in the 200m Breaststroke. No, it wasn’t London 2012 but Munich 1972, best remembered for the tragic murder of the eleven Israeli athletes and officials and the unequalled seven gold medals for Mark Spitz in the pool, in my view inspired by his Jewish roots to achieve such a pinnacle as a tribute to the fallen eleven and a kick in the teeth to the murderers.
The emotional experience of that day back in 1972, when the Games competition was suspended for the first time in modern Olympic history while a memorial service attended by 80,000 spectators and 3,000 athletes was held in the Olympic Stadium, was something that still remains in my memory forty years later. So when the opportunity arose to participate as a volunteer in the London 2012 Games, I was amongst the first to register with LOCOG with a view to finding some form of closure on this episode. However, I soon had to bow to the inevitable that my old body and tired legs could no longer stand up to twelve hour shifts on my feet for ten consecutive days and I had to withdraw. But I was tipped off by a friend that the London Jewish community were planning to get involved and the story really began back on 1stJanuary 2010 when I registered to attend an Olympic Seminar organised by the Jewish Committee for the London Games (JCLG).
The Seminar on 19th January 2010, co-chaired by Lord Janner and Adrian Cohen, took place in the plush offices of Clifford Chance overlooking the Olympic Park site. Unfortunately, the weather that day was so grim that it was impossible to see anything of the construction site from that great location other than clouds and mist. But more than a hundred delegates from all walks of Jewish life, mainly leaders representing their specific Jewish organisations, braved the weather to show their support of the project and their willingness to make it happen. I was probably one of the very few individual attendees representing only myself who had muscled in and we were all treated to excellent presentations by Lord Janner, Duncan Green of LOCOG and the Israeli Olympic Association followed by a series of breakout sessions to brainstorm ideas for how the JCLG could commemorate the Munich 11 forty years on; encourage sports activity in Jewish youth; expand Jewish volunteering and ensure that Jewish visitors to London 2012 received all the assistance they would need to help them find whatever Jewish organisations they required during their visit.
It seemed that I had found the ideal project with which to become involved, particularly with its planned commemoration of the Munich 11. I registered my strong interest in being involved in the JCLG and, when I chased things up seven months later, I established that volunteers were required for the 2012 Hospitality strand being managed by JVN. At last, in October 2010, I attended my first meeting arranged by JVN and the ball started rolling. By March 2011, we kicked off the project for building a website to assist Jewish visitors to the 2012 London Games, which I volunteered to assist with my fifty years experience managing IT projects. We were now able to move things forward quickly and that process was facilitated by making individuals responsible for different aspects of the project to develop the Visit Jewish London website for which I was appointed as project manager.
A small project team soon evolved from the various meetings, incorporating the volunteers’ preferences, with membership consisting of Es Rosen on behalf of the JVN, who had all the vital contacts; Sharon Freeman who was prepared to work the phone to encourage organisations to list their details and even to put them on herself on their behalf; Mike Silverstone, the JVN Intern, who put together a multitude of mailing lists which he bombarded with emails encouraging the recipient organisations to post their details online; and myself trying to organise everything and manage the project.
During the next couple of months, the development project to set up the Visit Jewish London website was put out to tender and the two companies shortlisted were visited and asked to submit their tenders. Both convinced us that they were capable of carrying out the work professionally, but we selected the one that was both cheaper and seemed to offer more originality in design and contracts were signed by the end of July 2011, leaving us exactly one year to complete everything before the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games – www.VisitJewishLondon.com was born.
Thanks to the great efforts of the development software house and its web designer, a draft framework website was presented at the JCLG launch on 12th September 2011 at the House of Lords, so that the attendees from all corners of the Jewish community would know of its existence and purpose and return to their own organisation inspired to list its details on the website. During the following four weeks, the static pages providing general information about British Judaism were built into the website, thanks to sterling work by JVN’s Es Rosen in pestering just about everyone in his contacts’ list to submit the informative text which covers all this excellent background information. This ensured that the website started life with some reasonable substance and so we were able to follow it up quickly by emailing the hundreds of organisations, which Miriam and Mike, the two JVN Interns, had meticulously built into a database and checked during the previous few months to ensure its accuracy and coverage, with differently worded invitations, specific to the type of organisation, to visit the website and add listings of their own organisations.
Some of these organisations responded promptly by listing their details on the website, but most had to be cajoled into making the effort by the wonderful Sharon Freeman, another JVN volunteer who no longer qualifies as a youngster (sorry Sharon), who followed up the emails with endless telephone calls chasing the organisations to list their details and, when they still didn’t respond, got the necessary details from them and listed them herself on their behalf. Well done Sharon on achieving more than fifty listings posted by you as well as the many more that you stung into action to list their organisation themselves. By this time, my own role had changed from managing the development of the website to moderating the listings and events posted by the contributors before they were published. This involved checking through the details of every listing to eliminate spelling and grammatical errors, standardising on the presentation of addresses and telephone numbers and resizing images so they appeared as intended and not cropped. I also tried to add images extracted from other Internet websites, wherever possible, for those listings posted without a picture and URL links and email addresses were added as bold, blue, underlined hyperlinks rather than showing the URL details in full, to make the texts more readable. And I had to do this using unbelievably slow Internet services, as I travelled around New Zealand, Australia, Thailand and China, so that my absence did not result in unacceptable delays in publishing posted listings, which would have discouraged further postings.
By the time the 2012 Olympic Games commenced on 27th July 2012, 158 organisations had posted their details on the www.VisitJewishLondon.comwebsite, excluding those organisations, mainly U.S. based, that had no connection with either London 2012 or Jewish activities, but were simply trying to increase the number of links into their own websites to improve their search rankings, which were all duly consigned to the Trash box. We also had 75 Jewish Olympic events listed on the website and more than 47,000 pages on the website were viewed by around 20,000 visitors of which 36% were based outside the U.K. We received many compliments about the website, so we hope that it helped many Jewish visitors to the 2012 London Games find out anything and everything they needed to know about Jewish organisations and events they wished to attend during their stay here.
As a direct consequence of my role , I was delighted to receive an invitation to attend the Munich 11 commemoration at the Guildhall on 6th
August 2012. The level of importance of this event 40 years after the massacre was ably demonstrated by the attendance of Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee (“IOC”), David Cameron (who chose to shake my hand for some unknown reason), Nick Clegg and Ed Milliband, the UK political leaders, Limor Livnat, Israeli Minister of Sport and Mick Davis, Chairman of UJIA amongst the dignitaries who gave presentations. But the most poignant moments for me were the presentations given by Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano, the widows of two of the victims, who managed to maintain such poise and dignity at the same time as berating the IOC for its refusal to include a minute’s silence in the Opening Ceremony.
Maybe we didn’t get the minute’s silence that the Munich 11 deserved 40 years on, but the Guildhall memorial ceremony with the symbolic lighting of 11 giant yahrzeit candles meant that the victims were not forgotten. For me, personally, the memories of that terrible day in Munich came flooding back, but I felt that the ceremony very adequately marked the end of a 40 year mourning period and finally gave me the closure I was seeking.
For this septuagenarian, this was my reward for volunteering and I didn’t need or want anything more.
The Volunteering Wins Gold series of JVN blogs, featuring more stories of Olympic and Paralympic volunteering, will continue tomorrow.