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JCC Readies Sculpture To Honor Slain Athletes

On Sunday they will unveil a sculpture to honor the 11 Olympic athletes killed in 1972

The JCC Maccabi Games bring together teenage athletes from all over the world each summer, and next August for the first time in the Games’ 30-year history, Rockland County will play as one of the hosts.

Along with Houston and Memphis, Rockland was selected as a host site, and theRockland decided to dedicate its portion of the games to the memory of the Munich 11, who were 11 Israeli athletes killed while at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany. But since it will be the 40th anniversary of the tragedy, officials at the JCC wanted to do more than just dedicate the games.

“Our JCC board of directors wanted to take it one step further,” said David Kirschtel, JCC Rockland’s CEO. “We felt it was important to educate the community, and use the event as a vehicle to lead a charitable campaign. Our goal is to collect money to feed the hungry in Rockland through People To People and Rockland Jewish Family Services, and in Israel.”

To do this, the JCC is running a program called Change4Change in which it is trying to collect 11 million coins before the Maccabi Games, one million for each athlete killed in Munich. All money collected will go People to People, Jewish Family Services and Relief and Rescue: Food Packages for Israel’s Youth at Risk.

On Sunday, the JCC will hold its Walk4Change fundraiser, which not only will bring in more money for Change4Change, but will also feature the unveiling of the JCC’s statue to honor the Munich 11. The sculpture was created by Eric David Laxman, who works out of Garnerville.

“It’s very poignant and has international significance,” Laxman said. “Hopefully it will help communicate to community here and to the larger public what happened in 1972, and will keep the memory fresh. It’s not every day you get an opportunity like that and I’m grateful to be a part of it.”

The sculpture itself features an abstract flame sitting on a base with 11 panels, each with the name of one of the athletes killed in 1972.

“I actually had envisioned using an abstract flame before even talking with anyone at the JCC,” Laxman said. “But I didn’t know what it could be used for, and after meeting with them and hearing what they were looking for, it seemed like it would work well.”

The statue was donated to the JCC by three families who are members of the organization: Ilse and John Lang, Bonnie and Alan Elkin and Ellen and Arthur Wagner. The roughly eight-and-a-half-foot tall sculpture will sit on JCC Rockland’s lawn, surrounded by landscapping donated by Ascape Landscape of Blauvelt and lighting donated by All Bright Electric of West Nyack.

Kirschtel said families of the victims have been trying to get a moment of silence at the opening ceremonies of the Olympics since the attacks, but have been unsuccessful so far. Therefore, he said, this statue takes on some added importance.

“It’s one thing to talk about something and to share information about something, but it’s another to really memorialize what we consider to be an important issue in our history,”  Kirschtel said. “One of the best ways to remember is to have something physical that you can look at to reflect on what took place.”

Laxman said he sort of remembers the killings, but was too young when they happened to really understand their impact. Since taking on the project, though, he said he’s learned a lot about the events and those involved.

And that’s what Kirschtel and the JCC are hoping to do with the memorial and dedication. Anyone who donates coins to the Change4Change program will get 11 cards, each one with a picture of one of the athletes and their bio on it. On Sunday, the unveiling begins at 1:30 p.m., and speaking will be Dr. Ben Berger, who is traveling from Maine. His son, David, was a weightlifter at the ’72 Olympics and one of the 11 murdered athletes.

Kirschtel said they are expecting between 300 and 500 people Sunday. After the unveiling of the statue, the walk will start at 2 p.m., with members walking 11K to honor the victims of the killing. They will walk from the JCC Rockland on West Nyack Rd. to Germonds Park using Strawtown Rd. and Germonds Rd. There is also a 1K children’s course available.

It’s $18 to walk if pre-registered and $25 the day of the event, but people are welcome to do some additional fundraising, Kirschtel said.

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