July 30, 2012
With special prayers and kosher food, Jewish London embracing Olympic spirit
For Leslie Lyndon and the London Jewish community, it was a minor miracle.
When Lyndon carried the Olympic torch through a north London neighborhood last week, it was more than representative of how Jewish Londoners have embraced the Olympic spirit. This was five years since Lyndon, at the age of 63, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. No longer able to recall instructions, he needed his stepson Matthew to help him through the day.
But like most of the 8,000 torch bearers chosen to carry the Olympic flame in the run-up to the Games, he was being recognized for good works—in his case, as the former cantor of the Masorti New North London Synagogue. And his community came out by the hundreds to support him.
“Never have I felt so confident of an early minyan,” quipped Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg in an email to his members. ”To see you, Leslie, with your typical beaming smile, holding the torch high in both hands, running up the hill: I wonder how many of us cried for joy and love of you and all your family. Then you stopped, and lit the torch for the subsequent runner—I’m not sure what the [blessing] ought to be, ‘lehadlik ner shel humanity?’ ” To light the candle of humanity?
This outpouring of pride—replicated across the Jewish suburbs for a couple dozen other Jewish activists also honored as torch bearers—was typical of how members of London’s Jewish community seem to have welcomed the Olympics into their lives. Since the opening ceremony last Friday, Jews have shown enormous involvement both personally and communally.
In the Olympic venues there are, anecdotally, hundreds of Jewish volunteers, from Phil Ravitz, a retired journalist who is responsible for getting archers from their competitions to the press zone, to Anne Iarchy, a personal trainer who is marshaling the road cycling events.
The most visible Jewish presence is the dozen or so Jewish chaplains of all denominations, part of a 190-strong team of religious leaders providing pastoral services to the athletes, media, volunteers and Olympic workers.
“I’ve been quite busy,” said Alex Goldberg, one of the Orthodox chaplains. “You see people who are away from home, others who are recovering from illnesses, who are quite happy to have made it here. Some people can get isolated in big buildings. Others just need to take a break.”
While he is there to minister from people of all religions, “I’ve probably met around 100 Jewish people, mostly from the media,” he said. “Even when they are not religious, they are pleased to see a Jewish chaplain on the team; they come up and introduce themselves. I’ve been here for the past two Shabbatot and a lot of Jewish people came for some coffee and cake after the prayers.”
The supply of kosher food to the Olympic Park, however, has been a complicated operation.
David Colman, director at Hermolis, the kosher food supplier, said the company is delivering meals to 25 non-Israeli athletes who wish to keep kosher, as well as a stock of 1,000 meals meant for journalists, 1,000 for volunteers and workers, and 500 for corporate events. In addition, kosher sandwiches and hot meals for visitors are available from some vendors in the Olympic Park.
However, due to Olympic sponsorship rules, shops are not allowed to advertise that they are selling kosher food and the packaging has had to be minimalist, without the company’s normal logos (but with a kosher and halal stamp).
“We don’t know where our own meals are being sold,” Colman said. “It’s a bit of a crazy situation. If visitors go to a cafe and ask for kosher, hopefully they will either be offered it or told where else it is sold.”
Across the city, there seems to be a rise in the number of tourists visiting Jewish attractions.
“We certainly have had a more international audience coming through the doors, which is fantastic,” said Janice Lopatkin, external relations executive at London’s Jewish Museum. “Many people are coming in with Olympic passes, and we have had journalists from Singapore and Hong Kong doing a report about what else to do in London during the Olympics.”
The museum has been listed in several Olympic guides to London, and many visitors, she added, may have been attracted to the museum’s display about Sir Ludwig Guttmann, a German Jewish refugee to London who inspired and founded the Paralympic Games.
In the last month, some 3,000 people have visited a website set up by the Jewish Committee for the London Games, which lists the Jewish community’s main attractions and facilities, as well as a timetable of Olympic-related events of Jewish interest.
“We have been inundated with hundreds of inquiries through the website, mostly about kosher food in the Olympic Park”, said Peter Mason, director of the London Jewish Forum, a partner in the JCLG.
Many congregations have had events to celebrate the opening of the Olympics. Just a few miles from the Olympic Stadium, for example, the Woodford Liberal Synagogue held a special Olympics kiddush last Shabbat. Like at several other Liberal shuls, congregants recited a prayer for the Games to be peaceful and healthy, which was written by their rabbi, Richard Jacobi.
The Orthodox chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, composed his own prayer in memory of the 11 Israeli athletes murdered at the Munich Olympics 40 years ago.
Others synagogues have had to contend with disruptions caused by the Olympics. Westminster Synagogue, an independent Progressive congregation that is associated with the Reform movement, found that access to its central London building became difficult when Olympic organizers started using Hyde Park across the way to screen Olympic events on large screens and hold concerts. As a result, since mid-July the community has been visiting various Reform and Liberal shuls across the city every Shabbat.
“We’ve been making friends as well as learning how others run their services. We’ve picked up a few ideas along the way,” said Westminister Synagogue’s rabbi, Thomas Salamon. “I’ve been asked to preach in several synagogues and called up to the Torah. It’s not unsettling at all; it’s a really different experience. Everyone has been very welcoming.”