Israel, a nation with a long history of Olympic competition, is not known as a particularly noteworthy competitor in the Winter Games. Its land mass is 60 percent desert, tending not to evoke images of alpine vistas conducive to training world championship skiers.
And yet, Israel’s 10-member delegation to Pyeongchang, South Korea, for the 2018 Winter Olympics is the Jewish state’s largest. We couldn’t help but feel immense pride at seeing these world-class athletes triumphantly march behind the flag carried by figure-skater Alexei Bychenko in the games’ opening ceremony. In a time when Jews have been excluded from marches across the country for holding an Israeli flag, we derive immense hope for the Jewish people and its homeland anytime we see it wave at such an international spectacle.
If only such images of peace and athletic camaraderie in the Far East would prove the rule rather than the exception. The same weekend that marked the beginning of the competition also saw a dangerous escalation of violence on Israel’s border with Syria. Reportedly defending itself against an Iranian drone launched from Syria, Israel successfully attacked Iranian installations in that failing state but lost one of its F-16s to Syrian anti-aircraft fire. (The two-member crew ejected over Israel, where the plane crashed.) Full-scale war between the parties, while far from a fait accompli, is now openly contemplated in Israeli newspapers.
We pray that war is still a far ways off, but if and when it does come, Israel — as in wars past — will require all the support it can get from its allies abroad, especially from the American Jewish community. We are confident that such support will be forthcoming, as our own Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia — one of the many federations that have led emergency campaigns on behalf of the Jewish state — is among the most generous when it comes to standing shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters in Israel.
But our confidence goes beyond past history. Marching as part of the Israeli Olympic team were several American Jewish athletes, who instead of competing under the Star-Spangled Banner chose to compete under the Star of David. One of them was Bostonian Aimee Buchanan, whose women’s figure-skating team placed eighth on Sunday and failed to advance to the next stage of competition. We don’t need medals to know that the indomitable Jewish spirit that connects Buchanan to her teammates and Philadelphians to rank-and-file Israelis will ultimately triumph over the forces allied against us.