Olympics: With Games in full swing, Jewish London in high spirits

london  |  For Leslie Lyndon and the London Jewish community, it was a minor miracle.

When Lyndon carried the Olympic torch through a North London neighborhood last week, it was more than representative of how Jewish Londoners have embraced the Olympic spirit. It’s been five years since Lyndon, at 63, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. No longer able to recall instructions, he needed his stepson Matthew to help him through the day.

But like most of the 8,000 torchbearers chosen to carry the Olympic flame in the run-up to the Games, he was being recognized for good works — in his case, as the former cantor of the Masorti New North London Synagogue. And his community came out by the hundreds to support him.

Leslie Lyndon, former cantor of the Masorti New North London Synagogue, carries the Olympic torch in London on July 25

“Never have I felt so confident of an early minyan,” quipped Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg in an email to his members. “To see you, Leslie, with your typical beaming smile, holding the torch high in both hands, running up the hill — I wonder how many of us cried for joy and love of you and all your family.”

The outpouring of pride — replicated across the Jewish suburbs for a couple dozen other Jewish activists honored as torchbearers — was typical of how London’s Jews have welcomed the Olympics into their lives.

Hundreds of Jewish volunteers are in the Olympic venues, such as Phil Ravitz, a retired journalist responsible for getting archers from their competitions to the press zone, and Anne Iarchy, a personal trainer marshaling the road cycling events.

The most visible Jewish presence is the dozen or so Jewish chaplains of all denominations, part of a 190-strong team of religious leaders providing pastoral services to the athletes, media, volunteers and Olympic workers.

“I’ve been quite busy,” said Alex Goldberg, one of the Orthodox chaplains. “You see people who are away from home, others who are recovering from illnesses.”

While he is there to minister from people of all religions, “I’ve probably met around 100 Jewish people, mostly from the media,” he said. “Even when they are not religious, they are pleased to see a Jewish chaplain on the team; they come up and introduce themselves.”

Supplying kosher food to the Olympic Park has been a complicated operation.

David Colman, director at Hermolis, the kosher food supplier, said the company is delivering meals to 25 non-Israeli athletes as well as maintaining a stock of 1,000 meals for journalists, 1,000 for volunteers and workers, and 500 for corporate events. In addition, kosher sandwiches and hot meals for visitors are available from some vendors in the Olympic Park.

However, due to Olympic sponsorship rules, shops are not allowed to advertise that they are selling kosher food, and the packaging has had to be minimalist, without the company’s normal logos. (Kosher and halal stamps, however, are permitted.)

Across the city, the number of tourists visiting Jewish attractions has increased.

“We certainly have had a more international audience coming through the doors, which is fantastic,” said Janice Lopatkin, external relations executive at London’s Jewish Museum. “And we have had journalists from Singapore and Hong Kong doing reports about what else to do in London during the Olympics.”

The museum has been listed in several Olympic guides to London, along with its display about Sir Ludwig Guttmann, a German Jewish refugee to London who founded the Paralympic Games.

In the last month, some 3,000 people have visited a website set up by the Jewish Committee for the London Games (www.visitjewishlondon.com), which lists the Jewish community’s main attractions and facilities, as well as a timetable of Olympic-related events of Jewish interest.

Many congregations have had events to celebrate the Olympics. Just a few miles from the Olympic Stadium, the Woodford Liberal Synagogue held a special Olympics Kiddush last Shabbat. Congregants recited a prayer written by their rabbi, Richard Jacobi, that the Games be peaceful and healthy.

Britain’s Orthodox chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, composed his own prayer in memory of the 11 Israeli athletes murdered at the 1972 Munich Olympics.