Today as I participated in my local Holocaust Remembrance day service, with the honour of reading names of whole families that perished in the holocaust, so that we never forget, I looked out to see the few remaining survivors in our midst and was reminded of how lucky I am and how free my children are.
I was also reminded of a time just over a decade ago – It was February 2004 – I stood alongside 2 other teammates and our coach in the Bavarian town of Berchtesgaden. We were all members of the newly formed Israeli Bobsled team about to compete in our first ever world championships, in the adjacent town of Königssee.
What was most overwhelming, even ominous was the mountain range that surrounded these two beautiful little towns. High atop the tallest peak is a mountain fortress called Eagles Nest, a gift that was given to Hitler for his 50th birthday. The feeling for us, with the Stars of David on our jackets, in the heart of Deutschland, was eerie, although this time the stars were white and we chose to wear them. That moment was not lost on us.
One of the most poetic moments for our team was arriving at the track and seeing the Israeli flag flying alongside all the other nations flags but our flag was situated so that it lined up directly under Eagles Nest. Some 60 plus years prior to that moment the most unspeakable things were happening right where we were standing and the state of Israel did not yet exist. On that day, more than 60 years later, the flag of the state of Israel flew in the front yard of Hitler’s summer home; there were no words. Nothing could have made us more proud, however, during the opening ceremony the next evening, as each nation’s flag was paraded into the auditorium, while a ‘theme’ song that represented that country was played; we wondered what music they had chosen for our flag… to our surprise as the young German boy walked in holding the Israeli flag, we heard the opening chords of Hatikvah and the crowd applauded, it was very powerful. Many countries never hear their anthems played at international competitions but Hatikvah was played and the races hadn’t even begun – eretz Tzioyn v’Yerushalyim – The land of Zion and Jerusalem; the most beautiful words.
Fast forward to 2011 and Bradley Chalupski, Israel’s first ever skeleton athlete to qualify for the World Championships had a similar experience as he stoop atop the track and looked out to see Eagles Nest staring him in the face and most recently, this past winter, AJ Edelman, Joel Seligstein and Larry Sydney, members of Israel’s current Skeleton team, raced on the same track. So it is especially meaningful for all of us, that today, Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, as we remember the 6 million Jewish lives that were extinguished, is also the day we received notification from Israel that the formal Israeli Bobsled and Skeleton association has been formed in Israel, an effort that has taken many of us more than a decade to accomplish.
Out of the ashes of the holocaust the state of Israel was born and every year at this time I remember and share the pride that all athletes feel when they wear the Star of David. I am proud of the Nation that Am Yisrael has become, despite all odds. I am proud of Israel’s contributions to the world that have made the world a better place. Today we remember the terrible sacrifice that was made, we think about those who still have nightmares about one of the darkest times in human history and in their honour, we all wear stars of David, in whatever colour we choose, because we are proud, because we can and so we and others never forget.