Remembering Israel’s ‘Hero’ Olympians


‘Do me a favor,” Zaq Harrison told the 80 teenage boys gathered around him last Friday morning in Baltimore while reaching into his oversized tote bag. “Say these names out loud with me.”

“Moshe Weinberg,” the boys recited from the white cardboard Harrison held aloft. Another name appeared and they chanted: “Yosef Romano.” Placard after placard, a roar arose: “Zeev Friedman. Yosef Gutfreund. Eliezer Halfin. Kehat Shorr. Yaakov Springer. Mark Slavin. David Berger. Andre Spitzer. Amitzur Shapira.”

With that, Harrison accomplished a key goal: publicly acknowledging the Munich 11, the Israeli athletes, coaches and referees murdered by Palestinian terrorists who infiltrated the team’s dormitory at the 1972 Summer Olympics.

The Baltimore resident and finance professional is touring Jewish summer camps throughout the region, intent on conveying Munich’s legacy to kids, many of whose parents were born after 1972. Beyond imparting a history lesson, Harrison, 48, engages participants in discussions on heroism, Jewish values, commitment to making a difference and handling ethical dilemmas.

This week, as the London Games kick off — with no official recognition of the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre planned by the International Olympic Committee — Harrison is meeting campers at Syosset’s Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center and five Pennsylvania sites: New Jersey Y Camp in Milford, Camp Lavi in Lakewood, Camp Seneca Lake and Camp Moshava in Honesdale, and Camp Nesher in Lake Como.

The night of the London Olympics’ closing ceremonies on Aug. 12, Harrison will appear at the 92nd Street Y’s Passport NYC camp. When summer vacation ends, he’ll extend the program to school and community groups, including an Israeli Consulate event in Manhattan that’s tentatively scheduled for Sept. 6.

An avid sports fan who always wears a Chicago Cubs cap and owns a dog named Wrigley, Harrison encourages participants to post reactions on his Munich-commemoration website,

Harrison’s presentation grew out of his interview in April for an upcoming television documentary about sports’ defining moments. He told the filmmakers about idolizing Jewish swimmer Mark Spitz as an 8-year-old back in Williamsport, Pa. But the day after Spitz won a then-record seventh gold medal, the Israelis were taken hostage. Less than 24 hours later, a somber broadcaster Jim McKay famously reported, “Our worst fears have been realized tonight. … They’re all gone.”

“I looked at my parents’ eyes and saw something I hadn’t seen before. I couldn’t make sense of it,” Harrison told the Baltimore participants in NCSY’s Camp Sports, run by the Orthodox Union. “The dream died that day in September. I made a promise to myself: that my 11 heroes in Munich did not die in vain.”

Another impetus was Harrison’s coaching a youth baseball team at a July 2006 tournament in Hluboka, Czech Republic. Leading his players onto the ball field for the opening ceremonies, Harrison exuded pride — in the ISRAEL stitching running across his jersey. When “Hatikvah” played that day, Harrison crumbled. His mind summoned television images of the Israelis marching across the Munich field behind their flag bearer.

That night in Hluboka, Harrison assigned his 12-year-old players a project: research the Munich 11, then report back to the group. To his surprise, Wikipedia lacked entries for all but two of the murdered Israelis. “As a team, we took those nine and, with a few keystrokes, uploaded the information” onto Wikipedia, he said.

Harrison presented a question to the Baltimore teens: Should the IOC reverse course in London and commemorate Munich’s 40th anniversary?

“Whenever a tragedy occurs, you should remember the people involved,” argued Avi Schechter, 17, of Providence, R.I. Retorted Meir Preis, 22, a counselor from Cincinnati: “There will be people making noise specifically during the moment of silence, and it will end up being a disgrace.”

After his friends filed out, Eric Sturm of Queens opined on the program’s emphasis on values.

“It shows kids that there’s always a tough decision to make in sports. It’s never easy,” Sturm, 19, said. “Sometimes the calls are in; sometimes they’re out — just like in life.”