March 8, 2018

GOA Boys and Girls Basketball Defeat Schechter Long Island and Westchester in Fifth Annual Tri-Schechter Tournament

Nina Robins ‘19

On January 6, the Golda Och Academy boys and girls basketball teams each competed in games, a normal occurrence. However, these faceoffs were particularly atypical.
January 6 was a Saturday night, an unusual time for a GOA sports event. The bleacher seating in the gym overflowed with spectators, all noticeably more attentive than usual. Most peculiar of all, calls of encouragement for “Schechter” rang throughout the room, directed toward all teams involved.
This is the fifth annual Tri-Schechter Basketball Tournament, one of GOA’s most popular demonstrations of school spirit. The tournament featured boys and girls varsity squads from GOA, Solomon Schechter School of Westchester and Schechter School of Long Island and is established on a cycle, in which the location rotates every year.
This year, GOA was fortunate to host the event and the Roadrunners did not disappoint, earning a pair of victories. GOA’s boys varsity team defeated Schechter Long Island, 46-20, while the girls team defeated Schechter Westchester, 44-34.
Regardless of the outcome, parents, faculty and students of all ages flock to the spectacle and bring raucous cheering to the Sandy Pyonin Basketball Court.
“The team definitely has more energy and spirit when playing another Schechter than during any other game,” junior and varsity player Aaron Lavitsky said. He was echoed by fellow junior athlete Michelle Bilmes, who claimed that “having so many people in the stands most definitely contributed to our school spirit.”

Both the girls and boys basketball teams consider the Tri-Schechter game to be among their favorite games of the season. Rather than intimidate them, some basketball players believe that the spirit and support of the school community make the competition more exciting and alleviate stress.
“It was much lighter,” junior player Shana Slater said. “Overall, it wasn’t an intense game.”
The basketball teams value Tri-Schechter because, in the scrimmage environment, coaches feel little pressure to push their regular starters. Instead, the entire bench empties, and every player contributes to the team effort.
“A lot of the players who don’t usually play got to play, which changed the dynamic of the actual team a little bit,” Slater said. “There was comfort in knowing that the result didn’t matter, so the play could afford to be different.”
Still other players experienced adrenaline on account of their proximity to friends and family. Lavitsky believed that this excitement gave the teams a stronger desire to win, and Bilmes believed that the friendliness of the teams contributed to their competitiveness with each other.
The athletic spectacle of Tri-Schechter is not the only beloved aspect of the event. The competition against two other New York-based Jewish day schools lends itself to becoming a social frenzy for teenagers involved in Jewish recreation.
“It was fun to see all my friends and play against people from camp,” varsity player Jamie Gutterman, a junior, said. He and fellow teammate Lavitsky enjoyed competing against their basketball playing friends from Schechter Long Island, whom they knew from multiple summers at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires.
Even Ramah campers and United Synagogue Youth participants who were not students at any of the three Schechter schools attended the event solely to meet with their friends.
“The Tri-Schechter game was a lot of fun,” sophomore Talia Levin, from the Heschel School, said. “The food, sports, people, everything.
“It was great to see so many friends from Ramah and USY – lots of Jewish Geography!”
In addition to basketball and socializing, the Tri-Schechter event featured popcorn and cotton candy stations, pizza and ice cream, frequent favorites among high schoolers. National Honor Society organized a soup packaging project, in which students assembled dozens of jars of soup to be distributed to people in need.
“Tri-Schechter was an amazing opportunity to take advantage of the big group of people at the game and really make an impact in our community,” senior Shachar Kessler said.
Tri-Schechter also included collaboration between GOA sports and arts. Choir members sang both American and Israeli national anthems, and in between the girls and boys games, the Dance Team performed an energetic arrangement.
“Sometimes, there’s a lot of distance between the different departments at GOA. It was great to have them come together and perform for everyone,” Kessler said.
Tri-Schechter was far from the average basketball scrimmage and it was especially momentous due to GOA’s victory in both games. This year in particular, GOA enhanced the experience dramatically beyond a simple sports match.
“I didn’t get to go last year, but this year totally made up for it,” Schechter Long Island senior Zachary Zabib said.
For all the excitement and activity at the event, perhaps it was best described by junior Dena Feldman:

“It was fun.”

President Trump Preaches Unity to a Divided Nation

Samantha Rigante ‘21

In his first State of the Union address to Congress, President Donald Trump highlighted the strengths of America and its people and preached unity to a historically divided Congress. In Trump’s hour-and-twenty-minute long speech, he stayed on script and introduced the country to his upcoming plans, while reminding everyone of all of the campaign pledges and promises he has fulfilled and is currently working on.
After entrances from Trump’s cabinet, the Supreme Court Justices and both chambers of Congress, Trump entered amid mounting applause from Republican lawmakers. On his way to the Capitol, protesters stood and demonstrated against the divisive president.
Trump began his State of the Union by addressing the “new tide of optimism sweeping across our land.” The President then mentioned Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), who was wounded by a bullet earlier last year while playing baseball on the Congressional baseball field.
The President highlighted the Las Vegas shooting, which, in October, killed 59 and wounded 422, making it the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
“In the aftermath of that terrible shooting, we came together, not as Republicans or Democrats, but as representatives of the people,” he said. “But it is not enough to come together only in times of tragedy.”
Trump spent a majority of his speech addressing the campaign promises he kept while announcing his plans to further strengthen the United States. The first achievement that he touched upon was the current state of the economy. Since Trump had taken office, the DOW had spiked almost 44 percent, which represents major growth regarding the economy. Trump also mentioned the fact that unemployment rates, especially among African-Americans and Hispanics, have been the lowest ever recorded in American history.
Trump also spent a significant amount of time discussing the tax overhaul bill that Congress had passed December 2017. Trump told Congress that this tax bill significantly helps small businesses and middle-class families. Trump also called the old tax system “broken” and said that, “This is the last time you will ever file under the old and broken system.”
The President did not spare “disastrous” Obamacare from attacks. Since the beginning of his Presidency, Trump has criticized Obamacare and the individual mandate which stated that every person living in America must have healthcare. Trump reminded the country that the tax bill, which was one of this administration’s legislative achievements, repealed the Obamacare individual mandate.
Again, President Trump strived to unite the country, stating that, “This in fact is our new American moment. Right now has never been a better time to live the American dream …Together we can achieve absolutely anything.” Trump, while commenting on how American businesses are doing better than ever, also said that, “Together, as one American family, we can do anything. We all share one home, one heart and one American flag.”
In his speech, Trump told Congress that law enforcement officers and veterans are “heroes that deserve our total and unwavering support.” He also attacked the “Take a Knee” movement which he has criticized harshly in the past. He also mentioned the Second Amendment, which gives Americans the “right to bear arms” and said about it that, “We are totally protecting our Second Amendment, and have taken historic actions to protect our religious liberty.”
Trump told America his plans to reduce prescription drug prices, which, in America, are currently higher than most other countries. He told Congress how this is going to be one of his “greatest priorities” in the upcoming year.
On trade deals, the President said that, “From now on, we expect trading relationships to be fair and very importantly to be reciprocal.” Trump has been a known critic of what he calls “unfair” trade deals such as North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and said to the country that the “era of economic surrender is totally over.”
President Trump also asked Congress to pass an infrastructure bill. He told Congress to “permanently fix the infrastructure spending deficit” and to “come together to give us the safe, fast, reliable and modern infrastructure that our economy needs and our people deserve.”
One of Trump’s biggest campaign promises and administrative goals is to reduce the influx of illegal immigrants. As a way to state his promise of closing the border and building a wall, Trump said that, “For decades, open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities.”
Trump called on Congress to “finally close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13 and other criminals gangs, to break into our country.” Trump emphasized the point that, although, Americans help more underprivileged people than any other country, “his greatest loyalty, my greatest compassion and my constant concern is for America's children, America's struggling workers and America’s forgotten communities.”
Again, Trump announced his upcoming plans. He noted a four-part immigration bill that would help protect Americans and involved building a border wall, extending citizenship for “dreamers” – minors who were taken into this country as children – and ending the visa lottery, an immigration system that randomly picked participants for green cards. Trump also mentioned that his immigration bill was going to end “chain migration” which drew boos from Democrats in the crowd. Trump said that, as President, his, “duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans — to protect their safety, their families, their communities and their right to the American Dream.”
The President then said that these immigration reforms will help support his plans and response to the “terrible crisis of opioid and drug addiction.” Trump, told Congress that “We must get much tougher on drug dealers and pushers if we are going to succeed in stopping this scourge.”
President Trump said that, in order to fight terrorist regimes and powerful countries that have “conflicting interests” like China and Russia, he was calling upon Congress to pass a bill funding the military. He noted he he wanted to “rebuild and modernize our nuclear arsenal,” so that it would “deter any acts of aggression by any other nation or anyone else.”
Trump then informed Congress of his plan to “extinguish ISIS from the face of the Earth.” He reported to Congress the fact that America and its allies had “liberated very close to 100 percent of the territory just recently held by these killers in Iraq and Syria and other locations as well.”
After recounting to Congress how he had moved the capital of Israel to Jerusalem, Trump stated that he wanted Congress to “pass legislation” that would insure that “American foreign assistance dollars go to American interests and friends of America, not enemies of America.”
The President then told Congress of his challenge in facing the “cruel dictatorship in North Korea.” He said that “North Korea's reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland,” but that America is “waging a campaign of maximum pressure” to “prevent that from ever happening.”
Trump, while speaking on North Korea, directed the attention to the parents of Otto Warmbier, a college student who, after being sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea, returned last year severely injured. Warmbier died days after his return. To his teary-eyed parents, Trump said “we pledge to honor Otto’s memory with total American resolve.”
The President ended his message on North Korea by honoring a North Korean defector, Ji-Seong Ho, who, after living in the regime, ran away to South Korea. Trump said his “great sacrifice is an inspiration to us all” and that his story is a “testament to the yearning of every human soul to live in freedom.”
President Trump closed his first State of the Union speech by testifying to the “yearning for freedom” in Americans.
“That is what our country has always been about,” he said. “That is what Americans have always stood for, always strived for and always done.”
Trump finished with observing the spirit and resolve of the American people. The president said that “It’s the people who built this country. And it’s the people who are making America great again.
“As long as we are proud of who we are and what we are fighting for, there is nothing we cannot achieve.”

A Look Back on 2017: Trump, Political Action and the Recently Un-Apathetic Voter

Eva Hale ’20

In 2017, America saw an outpouring of political action from people who were previously indifferent. Democratic gubernatorial candidates Phil Murphy of New Jersey and Ralph Northam of Virginia handily defeated their Republican opponents. A Democrat won a senate race in Alabama, something that hasn’t happened since 1992. And according to statistics aggregator FiveThirtyEight, the Democrats have performed, on average, 12 percent better than the partisan lean in their districts in special elections.
This year has seen Democrats utilize the power of the people.
Since Trump was elected, there has been unprecedented political activism. About half a million people marched in the streets of Washington in protest on the day after Trump’s inauguration and around four million marched in other cities and towns across the country. Many of those protesting had never before participated in a protest of any sort, especially not a political protest.
We can argue until our ears fall off about his policies, but there is no doubt that Donald Trump has ignited a spark. He has energized progressives, moderates and even conservatives who cannot stand the idea of Trump leading their party. In the last year, people have protested, rallied, gotten votes, knocked on doors and volunteered at unprecedented levels for causes they care about.
Conservatives were also energized by Trump, though not in quite the same numbers, as they felt he gave them a new voice. Trump’s unpolished style and political incorrectness motivated both anti-Trump activists and pro-Trump activists. The Left became active because of his crass, objectionable language which they viewed as repulsive and the Right became active because of the same crass, objectionable language,which they viewed as uncensored and real. Both sides became more active in their communities.
In New Jersey, there are five Republican-held congressional districts. These district tend to be thought of as safe for the Republicans but this year, they look to be far more heavily contested. The race for New Jersey’s 11th District, which is currently held by Rodney Frelinghuysen, has been rated a toss-up election by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
Last November, there was a town hall for the congressional candidates in the 11th district, which Frelinghuysen notably did not attend. Almost 150 people came and filled the room to watch possible candidates a year before the election. That kind of interest in politics unheard of in a usually uncontested House race.
The same was true for the seventh District candidate forum. Deborah Caplan of N.J. 11th for Change, a political activism organization, said to those who came, “[Thank you for] not just being a committed voter, but going out and working. [For] voting, getting your friends to vote.” Voters are getting involved, voters are getting energized, voters are volunteering and they are knocking on doors.
You can argue all you want about Trump’s policies, but you cannot dispute the fact that he is unwittingly leading people to spur social change. He helped revitalize feminism by giving younger women a reason to keep fighting and he pushed people to vote in and care about state and local elections.
This year, the country woke up. The country saw what happens when you stay home and they decided to do something about it. They decided to start activist organizations, they decided to protest and they decided to fight. This year, the people recognized their value. This year ended the narrative that “one vote doesn’t matter.”
One vote does matter. Use yours.

School Should Start Later

Fanya Hoffman ’19

High school is extremely stressful. The days are packed without a minute to relax. School starts early in the morning and ends late in the afternoon, leaving little time to complete homework, study for exams and sleep for the recommended nine hours. Although waking up early is a skill necessary for most adults in their daily lives, high school should begin later than it currently does, because it would allow more time for the students to complete all assignments and obtain a healthy amount of sleep.
If school began later than 8:30 a.m., students would be able to wake up later and be better prepared for the school day. Because students would have the flexibility to wake up later, going to bed later would be a more feasible option. According to the national sleep foundation, “the natural tendency for teenagers is to stay up late at night and wake up later in the morning.”
According to a study conducted at Harvard University, “Lack of sleep exacts a toll on perception and judgment. In the workplace, its effects can be seen in reduced efficiency and productivity, errors, and accidents.” In other words, students who do not get a healthy amount of sleep and who are forced to wake up to the sound of an alarm clock well before their body would have naturally woken them up, cannot possibly perform to their fullest potential in school.
Some posit that school beginning at this later time would be harmful to teenagers’ development and preparation for the world, as most jobs start early in the morning. While this may be the case, teenagers simply require more sleep than adults. The Center for Disease Control recommends a teen get 8-10 hours of sleep, whereas an adult only needs seven hours. At this crucial juncture in a person’s life, it is important not to overload with stress and exhaustion from work and sleep deprivation.
It is not unusual for a student to be working on homework until 11:00 p.m. or later. This is a clear issue if school starts at 8:30, because it is impossible to get a healthy amount of sleep.
The clear issue with starting school later would be that school would then have to end later. This could lead to problems for students’ afternoon routines beginning too late, especially for those involved in extracurricular activities. This does not have to be an issue, however, because the change does not have to be a drastic one. Pushing back the school start time by as little as half an hour would make a world of difference to many students.
The time at which school currently starts is unhealthy for students who are in the middle of the formative years of their lives. A later start time would allow students to have calmer mornings before school begins and more productive school days. Clinical recommendations on sleep exist for a reason, and it is time that those recommendations are taken into account by the institutions most responsible for the education, growth and maturation of teenagers. High school beginning later would benefit all students and allow them to succeed and excel in their studies.

Eli Manning Must Go

David Wingens ’19

The New Giants recently completed one of the most crushing seasons in recent memory. They went 3-13, were the worst team in the NFC and were the second worst team in the NFL. To add insult to injury, the Philadelphia Eagles, their divisional rivals, had an amazing season and won the Super Bowl.
Before the season, football experts considered the Giants a serious playoff contender and gave them a good chance of winning the NFC East. What ensued was a major breakdown in every facet of the Giants organization. There were injuries, poor play and questionable coaching all around.
As a response to this miserable season, the Giants’ owners, John Mara and Steve Tisch, made unusually aggressive moves in purging the organization of much of it’s coaching staff and front office. The most notable hires were head coach Pat Shurmur and General Manager Dave Gettleman. These seem to be good hires, capable of putting the Giants on the right track.
There is really only one major piece of the puzzle yet to be moved – quarterback Eli Manning.
About a year ago, I wrote an article about the success of the Giants in 2016 and their future. I was, as a fan, perhaps a bit too bullish on their 2017 prospects, but I did note that Manning was getting old and must soon be replaced by some sort of successor. One year later, the Giants appear to be no closer to finding that successor. It turns out that Geno Smith is just as bad on the Giants as he was on the Jets and the other backup, Davis Webb, went totally unused in 2017, signalling a lack in confidence among the Giants top brass. The Giants organization has given no indication that Manning will lose his starting job for 2018.
Manning has been a great quarterback for the Giants and he has led them to success in two Super Bowls. He has at times shown flashes of brilliance, but he has never been elite and he is now 37 years old.
The only two active starting quarterbacks older than Manning are Tom Brady and Drew Brees, who are both first ballot hall of famers. Eli cannot be compared to these two. He has had a spectacular career, but he is not a first ballot hall of famer and he is not good enough to still have a starting quarterback job when he turns 38 next year.
The Giants have a good core team and certainly should not have gone 3-13 last year, but unfortunately they did, and have been awarded the second overall pick in the 2018 draft. This is a perfect opportunity to invest in the future of the team and pick a franchise quarterback, but that would require them to give up on Eli.

Names Not Numbers Helps Shed Light on Often Forgotten Reality of the Holocaust

Sam Lurie ‘19

“You have to eat sweet potato. It’s very healthy for you!,” joked Marsha Kreuzman during our interview.  “Sweet potato is very healthy for all of you, so please eat it! As for me… I prefer [to] die.”
It was this strange mix of humor and depression that filled most of my group’s Names Not Numbers interview with Mrs. Kreuzman, a survivor of five concentration camps. Through Names Not Numbers, high school students interview and film Holocaust survivors and learn to create and edit a documentary about their stories. My experience interviewing Mrs. Kreuzman will be one I always remember.  
One minute, Mrs. Kreuzman would be asking us to smile, or commenting on how we looked old enough to be professors, while the next moment she would lament how she wished to commit suicide.  
I wasn’t sure what to make of this. I have met survivors before, but never a survivor who brings in humor while telling his or her story and conversely, one who makes such depressing statements as “I still want to commit suicide today.”  
Most survivors I’ve met previously were obviously emotional telling their stories, however, they all ended with a message of hope; that they were still here, enjoying life, or that they had children and grandchildren who were abe to carry on their family’s legacy.
Mrs. Kreuzman did not try to deliver this message to us. She told us that she had no children, nobody with whom to spend the Jewish holidays. At one point in the interview, she plainly told us there is nothing to live for.
This has taught me an incredibly valuable lesson about the Holocaust. I used to believe that the one silver lining of this tragedy, was that in the end, we won the war and ultimately Israel. The Jewish people were still enjoying life today.
I now realize that this is not true for everyone.  
Mrs. Kreuzman survived the war, but her will to live sadly did not. It is important to remember that the Holocaust not only afflicted physical wounds on the Jewish people, but also invisibile, untreatable wounds.
As a member of the final generation with the privilege of meeting Holocaust survivors, it is my duty, as well as the duty of all Jewish people, to learn and pass on the stories of those who survived and those who did not.

This is why I am so incredibly thankful to be a part of Names Not Numbers, so that I can pass on Mrs. Kreuzman’s story and do my part in ensuring the Holocaust is never repeated.

Streams of Belief at GOA Enrich Exploration of Judaism

Ben Gutstein ‘20

Although there are official Jewish religious positions, if you ask any two students or teachers in Golda Och Academy about G-d, you will likely hear two very different interpretations. Many in the GOA community have thought about and describe deeply personal and diverse concepts of G-d.
Sophomores Noah Kamens and Naomi Esrig, although they are good friends, sit on opposite ends of the spectrum of belief. Kamens credits G-d with the creation of the universe, whereas Esrig cannot connect with any type of deity since there is “no substantial evidence” of G-d’s existence.
While they have divergent views on G-d, they both feel that Judaism is not a religion based solely on faith. They explained that Judaism is just as custom- and community-based as it is religious.
“The fact that people do not believe in G-d, does not necessarily mean that they do not believe in tradition,” Kamens said.
One may practice the customs and feel a sense of spirituality despite questions about G-d.
“My parents are Jewish, my ancestors were Jewish and therefore, I am Jewish,” Esrig explained. “Practicing the customs, even when you do not believe, is a method of connecting with the past.”
While some students are more decisive in their religious convictions, others like sophomore Mia Har-El and junior Gidi Fox have a more difficult time understanding the concepts behind G-d.
Har-El does not know if she believes in G-d, but what she can say is that one does not have to believe in order to participate in religious observance. Fox demonstrates the same sort of indecisiveness when discussing his view of G-d. He believes that there is no stereotypical form of G-d.
That stance is supported directly by Rabbi Waldman. She says that people get hung up on proving the wrong aspects of religion. She explains that attempts to imagine a bearded man in the sky as G-d is merely “grasping at straws.”
Even though everyone has differing views on G-d, there seems to be one constant. Students and teachers alike believe that religious writings contain many lessons relevant to human interaction and not just descriptions of G-d.
Rabbi Waldman says that there is a prodigious amount of information that could be taken from texts such as the Talmud and Tanakh, even if students consider themselves to be atheists. Esrig adds that despite her doubts about G-d, she has been able to internalize many lessons from learning Biblical texts over the years.
Most students also state that it is not necessary to accept ancient stories as fact in order to learn from them.
Kamens explains that the story about the Oven of Akhnai is an example of a Talmudic debate that is intended to teach an important lesson. In this story, the Rabbis emphasize the importance of human discussion rather than relying on G-d to set a precedent.
Rabbi Mayer points out that students with differing religious viewpoints bring diverse perspectives to the classroom.
“In my experience,” he said, “people who claim to be atheists oftentimes learn the stories with a cynical eye.”
Even if students do not have a strong belief in G-d, they can still learn important lessons from Biblical studies.

Opinions about G-d and tradition vary among the students and teachers in our community, but diverse views bring a richness to the educational experience of each person at our school.

Law and Order: GOA Unit

Michael Lurie ‘21

Drugs and murder do not usually find a place in a school environment, but Mr. Stern and Mrs. Steinberg are helping students prepare for an upcoming criminal case regarding just that.
The two teachers have been coaches of Golda Och’s Mock Trial team for five years and are currently helping students prepare tirelessly for a final competition at the end of January. In this year’s case, the state is prosecuting Dana Martin for allegedly distributing a deadly batch of fentanyl to Zachary Simon.
Although every detail of the trial is important to prove the case, this year’s case has proven to have a number of flaws.
“There are a lot of technical issues involving the case this year,” Stern said. “It’s honestly not my favorite.”
Conflicting facts about phone numbers and dates occur throughout the packet, causing confusion amongst the lawyers and witnesses. One piece of evidence even includes the victim, Simon, texting from a phone after his death.
Nevertheless, the legal teams continue as best they can. The prosecution, led by attorneys Theo Deitz-Green, a junior, and Samantha Rigante, a freshman, have a particularly difficult job as the packet provides little direct evidence that Martin sold the drugs to Simon.
“I believe it’s going to be very difficult to win on a guilty verdict,” Stern said, “but knowing who’s involved, knowing how many veterans and skilled people there are… I’m not concerned.”
A guilty verdict does not necessarily mean a win for the prosecution, however. The trial is judged by a panel that awards points in a number of categories for each team. While Stern believes that the team will have great success, he knows that they have even greater potential.
“I would really like to have more time with [them],” he said. “Other schools that we compete against for example, Mock Trial is an elective.”
Even though GOA’s team meets infrequently compared to its competition, students still learn plenty about legal proceedings, including courtroom lingo and the way to address a judge.
“I think that students getting to see this can apply a lot of the lessons to their lives and to the social studies curriculum,” Stern said.
Students said they not only find the information they are learning necessary and useful, but some show interest in pursuing careers in the legal and political fields.
“I thought it would be interesting to see what a lawyer does in criminal cases,” Rigante said, noting she intends to have a career in journalism and finds law extremely relevant to the job. From understanding your rights to understanding a case, the experience Mock Trial gives her and others great insight on what a real-world case might actually be like.
“It’s not always how things are portrayed maybe on T.V.,” Stern said.

The first round of competitions were held January 21 and 22. Both the prosecution and defense teams won and moved on to the next round. Only the prosecution, however, competed in the second round and won again. Finally in the semifinal round, the prosecution faced off against Montclair Kimberley Academy and lost a close game.

Looking Forward to the 2018 Winter Olympics

Sophie Goldman ‘19

For two weeks this February, the world will be watching Pyeongchang, South Korea, as it welcomes athletes from around the world to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics. These Olympics will not only feature feats of athletic achievement, but a greater challenge: bringing countries together after a year fraught with political tension.
Since their revival, the Olympics have been a symbol for international unity. The Parade of Nations gathers athletes of all nationalities at the opening ceremony and the Olympic flag symbolizes five continents through multi-colored, interlocking rings. Above all, the Olympics are seen as a celebration of sports’ role as a promoter of peace. Before each Olympics, nations agree to honor the Olympic Truce, a commitment to maintaining peace for the benefit of all athletes.
The themes of the Olympic Truce are especially relevant for this year’s Games, located less than 100 miles away from North Korea. One of the biggest questions leading up to these Olympics has been the country’s participation. However, in a somewhat surprising move, North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un recently announced that North Korea is considering sending a delegation and expressed wishes for both sides to “ease military tensions and create a peaceful environment.”
South Korea has responded graciously to North Korea’s outreach, accepting both their efforts to join the Games and their offer to meet in the demilitarized zone. Furthermore, South Korea has agreed to postpone joint military drills with the U.S., creating a more peaceful environment in the country.
While relations between North and South Korea appear to be improving, some United States politicians have expressed concerns, particularly over North Korea’s participation. The United States has been known to boycott the Games, most notably when the Soviet Union hosted the 1980 Olympics. Now, with discussions of nuclear warfare, U.S. officials, including South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, have questioned the United States’ participation. On the other hand, President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly antagonized Kim Jong-un over Twitter, has taken responsibility for the recent diplomatic improvements and expressed support for the continued dialogue between North and South Korea and the attendance of U.S. athletes.
An additional issue is the participation of Russian athletes. After the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the Russian Olympic Committee was found to have supported doping efforts, giving athletes an unfair advantage and leading Russia to be banned from this year’s competition. While athletes from Russia can compete, they must do so under a neutral flag and the title “Olympic Athlete from Russia.” Despite this disgraceful lack of representation for Russia – neither the Russian flag will be displayed nor the Russian anthem performed if athletes win – President Vladimir Putin has not declared a boycott. By refraining from doing so, he has also helped to keep politics separate from the Olympics themselves.

The spirit of competition and a passion for sports will bring thousands of people together. While seemingly impossible, the 2018 Winter Olympics could also bring some order to the current political climate. This year, we can hope for the fulfillment of an Olympic goal: to “[build] a peaceful and better world through sport and the Olympic ideal.”

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