Survivor of ’72 Munich Olympics massacre speaks at festival event supporting Israel

Survivor of ’72 Munich Olympics massacre speaks at festival event supporting Israel
An evening in support of Israel featuring many notable speakers took place at Temple Beth-El, organized by the Gold Coast Arts Center (Photo by Karina Kovac)

In a gathering at Temple Beth-El Monday night, the community came together to support Israel amidst growing concerns over rising antisemitism.

The event, “community & conversation: a special evening in support of Israel” was the last event in the Gold Coast International Film Festival, featuring speakers who expressed solidarity with Israel in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war.

Aviv Ezra, acting Consul General of Israel in New York, moderated the main speakers for the event Avraham Melamed and Jon Loew.

Melamed is a former Olympic swimmer who represented Israel in the 1964 and 1968 Olympics and survived the 1972 Olympic murder of Israelis competing.

Loew is the chairman of Big Media Holdings, which produces original series for global broadcasters, he is also the founder of Legion Self Defense, which teaches Jewish culture alongside self-defense.

The event’s original focus wasn’t Loew’s Netflix series Spy Ops, which talks about the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre in two episodes but was redirected in the wake of Hamas’ attack on Israel and Israel’s response.. The series served as a springboard for discussions about ongoing challenges.

Melamed, who served as a coach and reporter at the 1972 Olympic tragedy reflected on the need for self-defense and Israel’s determination to protect itself.

“We don’t need the right to defend ourselves, we have to defend ourselves,” Melamed said, “And that’s what we do.”

Loew expressed his mixed feelings about discussing past tragedies while current conflict persisted, saying it was traumatizing to to show and talk about Jews being attacked without giving time to rehabilitate.

Instead, he talked about what happens when Jews are attacked. He also spoke about showing the skills of intelligence agencies.

“I think that we’re living at a time when there’s a greater and concerted effort to try and erode the credibility of our governments, Loew said, “And the distance between reality and the truth and the viewer was getting further and further.

So, we wanted to showcase the successes of the CIA, the successes of MI6, and the successes of Mossad. And we wanted to make really clear episodes that showed when bad people do bad things, bad things end up happening to them.”

Eoching Loew’s sentiments of building up deterrence, Melamed expressed what he got from watching the show clips and the current conflict in Gaza.

“I think the lesson to be learned from this is that it might repeat again and again and again,” Melamed said, “And that means we have to get stronger and stronger and more united to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Event Chair Michael Glickman, who is the former director of the New York Holocaust Museum and the Center for Jewish History, also spoke of the parallels between the present day and the 1930s.

“Today, American Jews are confronted with the resurgence of antisemitism as a crisis that is shattering communities,” Glickman said, “those who wish death upon the Jewish people are marching without hoods.”

He labeled Hamas as war criminals, calling them “Isis 2.0,” and added, “The magnitude, the nature, and the length of these atrocities were a paradigm changer in where Israel is going nowadays.”

Regina Gil, the founder of the Gold Coast Arts Center and child of Holocaust survivors, shared how originally the event was supposed to be different but decided to go in another direction after watching the Wrath of God episodes of Spy Ops on Netflix. Choosing instead to use the arts as a way to find honesty in a world marked by evil.

“Then, October 7 happened at a new, even more horrific massacre,” Gil said, “This time when Israeli soil made us rethink our original plan. We now need to focus on the new terror and the war. So, we pivoted, and we created this evening for a community of shock, but in support of Israel.”

Art has always been a means to escape and learn for Gil, she said.

“Great literature and musical performance can help illuminate situations or events,” Gil said, “or help us find the truth we have been seeking. But the arts are also where we can find comfort and solace in a world that can be cruel and hateful. And for all of these reasons, we are here tonight.”

Temple Beth-El Rabbi Brian Stoller delivered an invocation, emphasizing collective responsibility and support for Israel during difficult times.

“When one is threatened, we are all threatened,” Stoller said, “When one feels pain, we all feel pain. When an Israeli is taken hostage, we all bear the responsibility to help bring them home. When an Israeli is murdered, we are all obligated to mourn for them.”

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman took the podium briefly to say that the current war in Israel is not about Palestinian rights but rather a response to what he described as a war against evil.

“This is a war against baby killers and rapists,” Blakeman said, “It is a war against evil. And in the coming weeks, you’ll be hearing what we’ve already started to hear about restraint. We should not be restrained.”

The final speaker was Natalie Sanandaji, a Great Neck resident who survived the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas at the Nova music festival that left 260 bodies strewn across festival grounds.

After running for hours a man in a truck from a nearby village rescued her and her friends, she said. Later, Sanandaji returned to New York, and has been on a media circuit telling her story of survival.

She said originally the media asked her to recount her story, but one question has troubled and plagued Sanandaji since: “Do you feel safe now that you’re in the States?”

After answering she felt safer in Israel, she noted the media latched on to the quote but lacked the severity of the situation present.

“It almost makes me feel like they want to make a point of that statement,” she said, “But I think in a way they’re making the wrong point. And I want them to understand how not ridiculous that statement was, how real that statement was and how many people feel the way I feel. And that they need to do something about it before it’s too late, before there’s an attack on U.S. soil, there have already been lone-wolf attacks. There have already been riots. But I am worried it’s going to get worse and somebody needs to do something about that.”

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