A Word from Senior Rabbi Craig Marantz
I have done a little research on how many Jews are participating in this summer's Rio Olympics. I'm not yet sure of the total number, but I do have some fun facts for you. Led most notably by gymnast Aly Raisman, our American team has 7 athletes, which comprises a little over 1% of the largest national team present. Israel has its largest delegation in history--47 athletes--spanning a variety sports including swimming, judo, and golf. And, there are Jewish athletes competing for Canada, Australia, and Argentina, not to mention that the president of the Brazilian Olympic Committee, Carlos Arthur Nuzman, is also Jewish. Their presence in these Games fills me with great pride.
I also appreciate the actions of the International Olympic Committee for practicing tochecha (reproach) with the Lebanese team, who refused to take a bus with the Israeli team to the opening ceremony. The Olympics are not just about "swifter, higher, stronger." They are also about good sportsmanship, fair play, and respect for fellow athletes regardless of race, religion, and nationality. And, they are about cooperation and competition toward common goals like global peace and peoplehood. Anti-Semitism has no place in these Olympics. But mentschikeit does.
Olympic athletes, Jewish and otherwise, are extraordinary people with profound talent. Their pursuit of excellence is singular, even sublime. They are also powerful role models, who exemplify the highest level of effort. Judaism would call this special effort melacha--an industrious, constructive, creative capacity to challenge and master nature. While the Sages usually assigned this virtue to building the ancient Mishkan, the in-dwelling place of God, melacha really applies to all human productivity. So, as getting along and pursuing peace are part of both nature and these Games--it seems to me that the melacha of these athletes should not only propel them in their pursuit of Olympic glory but also inspire them to change and heal the world around them--through their glorious humanity. And in so doing, we and the world leaders should pay attention and aspire accordingly
Enjoy the Games!