Jerusalem Sits Alone: Tisha Be’Av at the Olympics

I truly wish not to write this piece. But I know some will read a status update and dismiss it as exaggeration.

At the Rio Olympics this week, Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby refused to shake his Israeli opponent’s hand. The video is painful to watch, not only because it is mean and unworthy, public and shameful. It is painful to watch, because the mission of the Olympics is are supposed to demonstrate sportsmanship and recognition:

The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play. – Olympic Charter

This is all too-often, in my experience, the way Israel is despised in the world. And before someone writes “but Israel’s actions prompt this treatement,” please consider how a Syrian athlete would be treated, how a Russian athelete would be treated. Explicit massacring of Syrians by Syria’s leader(s) and the complete eradication of free speech in Russia by Russia’s leader(s) don’t rise to the level of Israel’s wrongnesses. Because, and again – I wish I didn’t believe this – Israel is different. As the Book of Lamentations we’ll read tomorrow night puts it: “Jerusalem sits alone (Lam. 1:1).”

This, unfortunately, deserves the attention. Anti-normalization is a campaign that manifestly sees Israel, Israelis, and Jews, as less-than. This is unacceptable.

A glimmer of hope: the crowd booed the Egyptian athlete. As Lamentations aches, “perhaps there is hope (Lam. 3:29).”

About the Author
Rabbi Menachem Creditor is Scholar in Residence at UJA-Federation New York, where his role is amplifying Jewish learning, leadership and values within the UJA-Federation community of supporters, staff, and partners. In 2013, he was named by Newsweek as one of the fifty most influential rabbis in America. Rabbi Creditor has been involved in the leadership of Rabbis Against Gun Violence, American Jewish World Service, AIPAC and the One American Movement, an organization dedicated to bringing together Americans of different faiths and opinions. Among his 16 books and six albums of original Jewish music are “And Yet We Love: Poems,” “Primal Prayers,” and “Olam Chesed Yibaneh/A World of Love.”
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