A moment of silence is not the answer

"Moments of silence" are not part of Jewish culture.

Israeli Olympic Silence (R370) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli Olympic Silence (R370)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Yet again the opening ceremonies of another Olympics have passed without including a public remembrance of the eleven Israeli athletes murdered during the 1972 Munich games. Despite the fact that a petition bearing more than one hundred thousand signatures was presented to International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge asking him to hold a moment of silence, the imperious doges of international sport have stood firm.  
Not even the urgings of a panoply of politicians and parliaments from across the world and the public pleas of two of the widows could convince the IOC to include a moment of silence dedicated to the memory of the slain athletes. 
Forty years have now passed since that tragic event and the best the IOC could do was to muster a few athletes and some officials for a short ceremony on July 23 – well before the games began.
I suppose that some make take comfort in the fact that this was the first time that any remembrance ceremony for the “Israeli 11” took place in the Olympic Village rather than at a venue far removed in place and time (The last observance was in 2002 at an airport near Munich).  Others will see this as evidence of anti-Semitism or cowardice in the face of a feared Arab backlash. 
Nonetheless, the IOC’s intransigence offers us an opportunity to rethink exactly what Jews should demand.
Historically, “moments of silence” have not been part of our culture.  Jewish prayer is lively, animated, and noisy.  The Amidah is not silent prayer but private prayer that, according to Jewish law, must be recited loud enough to be heard by the worshipper though not so loud as to disrupt others.  Yizkor, the solemn memorial service, includes a congregation standing in silence but features a prayer leader chanting aloud.  Indeed, for Jews familiar with traditional worship patterns, “moments of silence” are virtually unknown.  
The origin of quiet, reflective moments of prayer lies in the Quaker tradition, not the Jewish.  A “moment of silence” entered into the public sphere from the suggestion of Edward George Honey. He was not a Quaker.  But he was an Australian who briefly served in the British Army during the First World War and witnessed the carnage.   In May of 1919 he penned a letter to the Times of London, complaining about what he considered to be the disrespectful celebration of Armistice Day (November 11) with dancing when so many young men has lost their lives. Instead, Honey argued that: “there may be for the brief space of two minutes a complete suspension of all our normal activities … so that in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.”  Others agreed.  Six months later, King George V proclaimed a single minute of silence for the same purpose Honey advocated.  Henceforth, a “minute of silence” became the standard for public remembrances in Western democracies.
As Jews, it would seem odd – if not wrong – to promote a religious practice of another religion.  As lobbyists for a cause it would be counter-productive to advocate a position that has gained considerable support but little traction. To be sure, there are some causes that require ardent and persistent support no matter the perceived resistance,  but this is not one of them. A change of strategy is in order. 
Rather than continue to demand a moment of silence, let us suggest that at least in the next Olympics, all athletes should compete with the number 11-72 on their uniforms.  “Eleven” for the number of athletes murdered and “seventy-two” for the year in which the murders occurred.  This would not be the official number by which the athletes are all identified.  This would be an adjunct number. Let the numbers 11-72 be surrounded by the Olympic rings, highlighting the fact that the tragedy of 1972 was an affront to the Olympic spirit and only the amity among all participating nations can prevent from happening again. The numbers will tell the story.  The numbers need not be obtrusive, just large enough to be visible to spectators.    
This suggestion entails taking no extra time during the opening ceremonies nor will it take away from the festivities – two objections that have been voiced by Olympic representatives. The word “Israel” need not be spoken if it would be too terrible for some to hear. Countries would be hard-pressed to explain any objections to a design that includes two numbers and the Olympic rings without exposing themselves as inveterate belligerents. Moreover, the remembrance would not be limited to one minute of one day; it would be part of every competitive event and every medal ceremony for the duration of the games.
Now if someone will formulate a petition with this suggestion… 
The writer serves as the Provost of the Canadian Yeshiva and Rabbinical School, Toronto.  He is also an ordained rabbi and an avid sports fan.