It’s been almost 18 years since I made aliya, and by now I don’t pay too much attention to what’s going on in the old country. My last trip back to London was in March, when Olympic fever hadn’t yet started in earnest. I went to the viewing platform in Stratford City Mall in East London to see the Olympic stadium, then still under construction. But until today I hadn’t really internalized that an event as huge as the Olympic Games was taking place in my home town. Maybe that’s partly because like many Israelis and Jews worldwide, I’ve been preoccupied with campaigning for the minute of silence for the 11 Israeli athletes murdered in Munich.
But today, the fact that it’s the LONDON games has been brought home to me, because, as I write, the Olympic flame is passing not only through the north London suburb I lived in for more than 30 years, but right past my actual street. Family and friends who still live in Finchley are out in force to watch the torch make its way through Hendon Lane, Regents Park Road, Ballards Lane and on to North Finchley, where I went to high school. I have to admit I wish I was there to share in the excitement.
While pondering today’s events in Finchley, I suddenly realized that if things had panned out differently, there’s an outside possibility that the torch could have been passing through my current home town of Raanana en route to the Tel Aviv Olympic Games.
This isn’t a heat-induced fantasy: I’m being serious.
Does anyone remember that 12 years ago there were reports in the press that Tel Aviv was considering the possibility of bidding for the 2012 Olympics?
At the time, I had a weekly column called “E-mail from Israel” in London Jewish News (now Jewish News), and in May 2000 I wrote about it myself.
I spoke to Yuval Arad, brother of Yael Arad, the winner of Israel’s first ever Olympic medal — a silver in the judo competition. After watching his sister’s feat in Barcelona, Yuval said he dreamt that Israel would one day host the Games. His idea lay more or less dormant until October 1999, when an article mooting the possibility was published in Yedioth Ahronoth.
The general response, as you might imagine, was one of derision. But as a result of the article, three Tel Aviv University architecture students contacted Arad and asked if they could use the material that he had collected for their final project for their degree.
I went to interview the students, and I remember being full of skepticism before I listened to their presentation. But I was won over when they showed how it could actually be accomplished. The plan was to create an Olympic site stretching from Tel Aviv’s old port in the west, through Hayarkon Park, taking in the existing Ramat Gan Stadium and the exhibition grounds in north Tel Aviv, and to build a new facility north of Petah Tikva.
In May 2000 the second Intifada was still a few months away. We were barely into the new millennium, which seemed to hold so much promise.
Now I don’t know whether to laugh or cry as I reread the words I wrote at the end of the column:
Of course, the money has to be found; the practical difficulties need to be overcome, and all the usual conflicting interests have to be resolved. Despite Israel’s current problems, is it entirely fanciful to view Tel Aviv 2012 as the ‘Peace Games’, which could unite the Israeli people, and the region as a whole?
The Olympics in Tel Aviv? How apt it would be, forty years after 11 Israeli athletes died at the Munich games.
What parallel universe was I living in?