Forty years ago, 11 Jewish athletes were murdered because of their religion. This past couple of weeks, I followed with horror and disgust as the International Olympic Committee denied a request to honor these athletes. The decision was fuel for plenty of anger in Jewish circles. Anti-Semites, Nazis, stupid Brits, were terms I heard thrown around with ease. I myself could not understand why the Committee would ever deny the minute of silence. They said it would make the event too political, but the minute was meant to honor murdered athletes, not proclaim the greatness of the State of Israel.
On Sunday, six people were murdered in the United States. They were targeted because of their religion and killed as they were praying in their temple. These people were Sikhs not Jews, and the killer was a white supremacist, not a Palestinian terrorist. They were in Wisconsin, not at the Olympic Games and they were killed straight away, not held hostage. Despite the obvious differences, the irony is not lost.
Forty years later, people are still being killed because of their religion. As the Israeli athletes were conflated with the actions of the State of Israel, so speculations say were these Sikhs assumed to be Muslims and part of some terrorist conspiracy. Of course they weren’t. Just as the Israelis thought they were safe, after all they were in an international sports competition in Germany, the Sikhs thought they were safe in their temple.
Their families will mourn just like the families of those killed in Munich. And here, I hope we can react differently than the International Olympic Committee. Yes, there may not be a place for a minute of silence during the Olympics, but I hope that the American Jewish community can support these people as they mourn.
We feel a sense of detachment, of course. It was not our community that was threatened. Most of us don’t know much about Sikhs. Probably, that’s what most non-Jews felt in Munich.
But detachment does not necessarily mean inaction. Last week, the Italian Olympic team chose to hold their own moment of silence for the slain Israeli athletes. When I first found out, I was shocked. What was their motivation? Perhaps there was a Jew on the team, or maybe one of them had researched the event. Then I realized it does not matter. It felt so wonderful to have someone else say, you’re right, we really ought to remember these people. To silence the dreadful doubts that wondered if maybe the IOC had been right, maybe it was not appropriate. I wondered if I would have done the same thing, had I been an Italian athlete.
I hope now, that I can do the same thing when faced with this horrible event that affected the American Sikh community. I read statements from Jewish groups decrying the event, but maybe we can go beyond this. Maybe we can work together with Sikh groups to promote greater tolerance. I don’t have a plan but let’s get the conversation started.
Perhaps I’m being too idealistic. But I just keep thinking back to the moment I read about the Italian team. A glimmer of hope, I thought, perhaps there is humanity after all. Maybe by just sharing this article, I can provide a glimmer of hope to another community.