Olympics: British Jews put out welcome mat as London Games near

For the British Jewish community, the most memorable moment of the London Olympics may  come  Aug. 6,  when hundreds of people are expected to attend a commemoration for the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches murdered by Palestinian terrorists during the 1972 Munich Olympics.

But the community also has joined the general air of celebration sweeping London in the run-up to the Games. In the past year, nearly every Jewish school, youth group and charity has run Olympics-related activities. And during the Olympics, London’s Jews will welcome thousands of Jewish visitors with social events, synagogue services, guides to Jewish London and, in the Olympic Village, pastoral care.

The closest many community members will get to the Games will be on July 25 when the Olympic torch, which has been touring across the United Kingdom, will be carried through heavily Jewish northwest London.

The Tower Bridge in London, decorated with the five Olympic rings for the 2012 Summer Games photo/jta-iain farrell-cc

During the Games, the community will open its doors to tourists who wish to experience Jewish London. A website set up by the Jewish Volunteering Network under the auspices of the Jewish Committee for the London Games lists all major attractions, including kosher restaurants, synagogues and Jewish landmarks. It also has a section on the history of London’s Jews and a calendar of Jewish events connected to the Games.

The Olympic Village is situated in East London, so the relatively small community there has taken on the role of catering to the Jewish needs of the Olympic teams.

Four local rabbis will join 186 other chaplains serving the athletes, delegation members, staff and volunteers. Rabbi Richard Jacobi of the Woodford Liberal Synagogue says he will be available for those looking “for a sympathetic ear from their own faith, or from faith in general,” in case of stress, a personal emergency or any other need.

The pastoral team also is part of the contingency plans in case of a large-scale incident.

“Personally this is a once-in-a-life opportunity to be involved in something that presents London and British Jewry in the best possible light,” Jacobi said. “Many people think that London is dominated by anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and that is not the case. There is a degree of background radiation, but it certainly does not influence people’s lives on a daily basis. People enjoy being Jewish in London.”

Many of his congregants are volunteering in the Olympic Village or as hosts posted at strategic points in London to help tourists. Like many local synagogues, his shul will host two Shabbat services aimed at visitors. In the Olympic Village, Orthodox and non-Orthodox services will alternate.

The East London communities plan to hold their own events commemorating the Munich massacre. One will be on the afternoon of Tisha B’Av, on July 28, and a religious service at Waltham Forest Hebrew Congregation will take place in September.