Mandel JCC to host September 6 program in honor of David Berger, local weightlifter killed in a hostage situation at the 1972 Munich Olympics

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BEACHWOOD, Ohio — The Mandel Jewish Community Center will host a free community program to honor the memory of Clevelander David Berger and his 10 other Israeli athletes who were killed at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany.

The program, commemorating 50 years of the tragedy, will take place at 7 p.m. on September 6 at the Mandel JCC’s Stonehill Auditorium, 26001 S. Woodland Road in Beachwood, followed by a program at the David Berger National Memorial on the Mandel Campus JCC.

All 11 Olympians were killed in an attack and hostage-taking of Israeli athletes. A statement from Mandel JCC says the program “is designed to remember and honor fallen Olympians, whose spirit and determination inspire athletes of all generations. Their memories connect us to the past and symbolize our desire for peace and hope for the future.

The memorial program will include remarks from community leaders, prayers and a memorial program; a candle-lighting ceremony; and recognition of local Maccabi teenage athletes.

A weightlifter and lawyer, Berger graduated in 1962 from Shaker Heights High School. He was 28 when he was killed on September 6, 1972. Berger is buried in Mayfield Cemetery in Cleveland.

“We are bringing the community together to honor the memory of Shaker Heights native David Berger and his 10 other Israeli Olympians on the 50th anniversary of the Munich Olympics massacre,” said Gil Rubanenko, director of the operation of Mandel JCC. “We pay tribute to these athletes who have tragically lost their lives. Their memories shine bright, connecting us to the past while raising our hope for a peaceful future.

“We are proud stewards of the David Berger National Memorial, which is the smallest national park in the country.”

The David Berger National Memorial is a sculpture that was created to honor the memory of American/Israeli citizen Berger. Standing nearly 14 feet tall, the memorial weighs 6,000 pounds. It is made from Cor-Ten steel, a type of steel alloy that naturally oxidizes over time to a rich rusty color and grainy texture.

The plaque that stands in front of the Mandel JCC David Berger Memorial.

The sculpture depicts the five Olympic rings broken in half, symbolizing the interruption and cancellation of the Munich games by the tragic events, and the 11 segments on which the rings rest represent each athlete whose life was taken.

The first home of the David Berger National Memorial was on the grounds of the Cleveland Heights Jewish Community Center. When this facility closed in 2005, arrangements were made to store and restore the sculpture at the McKay Lodge Fine Arts Conservation Laboratory in Oberlin, Ohio. The David Berger Memorial was moved to the grounds of the Mandel Jewish Community Center in Beachwood in the fall of 2006.

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