Everyday life in an extraordinary place.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Olympic Gold

Headline says, "A gold medal for Gal Friedman" Photo (c)msn.co.il

This Postcard from Israel was originally written on 25 August 2004.

I don't know if it made the news where you live, but all anyone can talk about in Israel today is the Olympic gold medal won today by Israeli wind-surfer, Gal Friedman. The victory is mentioned every few minutes during on-going Olympic coverage. It was the lead story on both the early and prime-time news. It is the lead story in the print and Internet news sources. And with good reason. In 52 years of competing in the Olympic Games, this is Israel's first gold medal (and only its 6th medal in all - so far).

Israel first participated in the Olympics in 1952, when the country was a mere four years old. Twenty years later the world was horrified by the massacre of eleven Israeli athletes during the Munich Games. Though that tragic event occurred more than 30 years ago, we still remember. A memorial service for the murdered athletes was held in Athens last week, just as Israel has held one at every Summer Olympics since 1972. We are very good about remembering things like that.

We have more trouble with optimism. Every expressed wish for Israeli success (in the Olympics or in other world affairs) is coupled with a trace of cynicism. After so many wars, not to mention battles with terrorists and on the stage of world opinion, we are simply afraid to hope.

The odd thing about that is, the beloved national anthem of Israel is called Hatikvah (The Hope). I suppose the old adage about "where there's life, there's hope" is true, because reluctant though they might be to show it, Israelis do keep on hoping. Hoping for peace, hoping for a better life... yes, even hoping for an Olympic gold medal. Because bringing home a gold medal for your country is such a spectacular, yet wonderfully normal, thing to do.

The one thing people considered of vital importance today in connection with Gal Friedman's victory was that for the first time ever in the Olympic Games, the Israeli flag would be raised on the highest flagpole, and that Hatikvah would be played at the medal ceremony. We may argue bitterly over politics, but Israelis on either side of any argument will tell you they love their country. To Israelis, this country is a miracle, and it is not one they take for granted.

Hatikvah (The Hope)

As long as deep in the heart
The soul of a Jew yearns,
And towards the East
An eye looks to Zion,
Our hope is not yet lost.
The hope of 2,000 years;
To be a free people in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

(my translation)

(c) Amy Samin

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