Will Israel make it to the World Cup?

On a lighter note, as a diversion from all the more serious news in the world, today Israel’s national soccer (or “football”) team faces off against Portugal in a qualifying game for the 2014 World Cup. You may be wondering: Does Israel have any chance of advancing to the World Cup?

Short answer: Yes, but the odds are slim.

Long answer: The last (and first) time Israel went to the World Cup was 1970, when it lost one game and tied two. Even though Israel is in the Middle East (aka “West Asia”), for soccer purposes it competes as part of the Union of European Football Associations.

With two games left to play in the current round of the qualification, Israel is in third place in its group, behind Russia and Portugal. At the end of the day, the first-place team in each group automatically goes to the World Cup, and the second-place team has a chance to fight over a limited number of additional spots against the other second-place teams. Third prize is you’re fired.

What would it take for Israel to jump into first or second place? At minimum, Israel has to win today against Portugal, and win its final game next week against Northern Ireland.

But that’s not enough – it depends what happens in Portugal’s last game (against Luxembourg), and Russia’s two games (against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan).

  • If Portugal loses to Luxembourg, and Russia loses both its games: Israel is tied for 1st with Russia. Ties are broken by the total goal difference for all games, and Israel is currently behind Russia by 6, so Israel needs to score high to make it into 1st. Otherwise Israel ends up in 2nd, and still has a chance.
  • If Portugal loses to Luxembourg, and Russia wins or ties either game: Israel finishes in 2nd.
  • If Portugal ties with Luxembourg, and Russia loses both games: There is a 3-way tie for 1st, settled by total goal difference. Israel is currently behind Russia by 6, and behind Portugal by 3.
  • If Portugal ties with Luxembourg, and Russia wins or ties either game: Israel is tied for 2nd with Portugal.
  • If Portugal beats Luxembourg, and Russia loses both games: Israel is tied for 2nd with Russia.
  • If anything else happens: Goodbye, Israel. Better luck in 2018.

Israel’s neighbors Jordan and Egypt are also still in the running (to represent Asia and Africa, respectively), so if everything aligns, it could end up being a block party. But one thing is certain: next week, Israelis across the political spectrum will be cheering for Luxembourg.

Why “Silver Linings Playbook” Matters

The following is a guest post by Efrem L. Epstein.  Efrem is the founder of Elijah’s Journey, an organization focusing on the issues of suicide awareness and prevention in the Jewish community.

For several months now I’ve joked about the potential lawsuit I could file against Matthew Quick, author of the novel “Silver Linings Playbook” from which the film nominated for eight 2013 Oscars is adapted. On first glance, Pat Peoples (renamed “Pat Solitano” in the film) could only be based on me. We’re both die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fans, who took up dancing as a hobby, spent time living in Baltimore, wrestled with issues of life’s purpose and idealized love and battled the demons of depression and won (K’eyn Ayin Hara). In reality, I am hardly the only person in the world who can relate to Pat. Depression affects 350 Million globally and, in the U.S. alone, there are 1,000,000 suicide attempts annually. Many are surprised to learn that reported suicides outnumber homicides by more than a 2:1 ratio (and if one were to account for unreported/unconfirmed suicides the ratio would likely be closer to 3:1). In thanking David O. Russell after her SAG-AFTRA Best Female Actor win, Jennifer Lawrence proclaimed, “You made a movie for your son so that he wouldn’t feel alone, and so that he could feel understood. And I think I can speak on behalf of most of us and say that you helped more than your son. You’ve helped so many sons and daughters, husbands, wives, everybody.”

The positive lessons that can be learned from Silver Linings Playbook are so numerous that at times it feels like an entire social justice curriculum…and a good one at that! Not only does the movie enlighten us about tolerance and acceptance but it also offers some fresh and rich insight on how we as a society can move past many of our stubborn stigmas regarding depression, mental illness and emotional disorders (three cheers for Pat’s character being portrayed as both desirable and dateable even with his demons and flaws). And let’s not forget the lesson about how so many of our personal relationships (romantic, platonic and family) can be improved through more open and honest lines of communication. Silver Linings Playbook has also been a wonderful conversation-starter that has prompted many public figures to further share their own stories. I strongly recommend reading former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy’s piece from The Daily Beast.

But the movie is especially poignant in my eyes for offering up a “playbook” of sorts for handling life’s curves. Life is, and should be, full of dreams but the dark side of dreams is that they often get shattered! Six months before Pat Solitano appeared on movie screens, Vice President Joe Biden gave many of us in the suicide awareness/prevention movement our own “Jackie Robinson moment.” Recalling the tragic accident which claimed the lives of his daughter and first wife, he recounted, “”For the first time in my life, I understood how someone could consciously decide to commit suicide…because they had been to the top of the mountain and they just knew in their heart they’d never get there again.” As we watch Pat move on from his old dreams to build new ones, we realize a truth of life: Bad things do happen to us and sometimes REALLY bad things happen to us, but even amongst our most shattered dreams there is always a road back to happiness. “Folks, it can and will get better,” Biden told the audience later in his speech.
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Holdin’ Down the Line for Hashem


You may have seen this one [youtube] making the rounds lately: former Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman (and Super Bowl champion) Alan Veingrad became BT and is living the life of a seriously observant Jew. (Love the sportscaster’s patter at the end: “he studies, he prays, the whole nine yards…”)

Actually, given the abundant opportunity for silly shtick, I think it’s a lovely, respectful piece.

A Pesach Top Ten

It is fairly well known that, in Israel, many recognize and observe seven days of pesach and a single seder whereas, outside of Israel, many recognize 8 days of pesach and two seders as proper observance.

Where did the extra day come from?

A piece over at my jewish learning does a good job explaining:

The Jewish calendar is lunar. Over 2,000 years ago, a council of rabbis from the Sanhedrin, the ancient legislative and judicial body, held special sessions in Jerusalem at the end of each lunar month to receive witnesses to the first sliver of the new moon. Because a lunar cycle is approximately 29 days long, it was no mystery when the new moon should appear, but the Sanhedrin still declared months and holidays only on the basis of these witnesses. …
Once the sighting was legitimated, the rabbis declared the next day Rosh Hodesh, the beginning of the new month. Originally, beacon fires would be set on mountaintops to spread the word to distant Jewish communities already living in far away places such as Egypt and Babylon. Watchers on faraway hills set their beacon fires as soon as they saw them, continuing the relay “until one could behold the whole of the Diaspora before him like a mass of fire” (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 2:4)… Celebrating festivals for an extra day would ensure that, regardless of whatever confusion reigned about the exact start of the new month, at least one day of their celebration would be on the correct day.

Okay, that makes sense but we started to switch to a rule-based fixed-arithmetic lunisolar calendar system after the destruction of the second temple. That made the days designed to prevent error obsolete since everyone everywhere in the world used the same system and derived the days similarly. It no longer mattered how close one was to the Sanhedrin so why keep the extra days?

There are two major answers.

Our own BZ‘s:

At the end of Beitzah 4b that issue is addressed. “Now that we know the fixed new month, what’s the reason for doing two days?” The answer there is hizaharu b’minhag avoteichem (be careful about your ancestors’ minhag), because in the future there might be a decree preventing us from keeping the calendar…And we can even agree on the value of minhag avoteinu (see Beitzah 4b), and you can follow the minhag of your ancestors who kept 2 days, while I’ll follow the minhag of my ancestors who have been Reform for at least five generations.

The other common answer is given by a Rabbi from Aish here:

So why was a second day Yom Tov added? In order to make a distinction, to add to the Jewish awareness that one is living in the Diaspora and does not claim permanent residence in the Holy Land.

BZ’s answer to Minhag Avoteinu is compelling as is the issue that there has ceased to be a consistent mihag in the diaspora. The Reform, Renewal, Reconstructionist, and Conservative movements have all offered decisions permitting the use of a 7-day pesach. Here is some CCAR (Reform) analysis. The Cons and Recon movements both provide flexibility for local congregations but the result is that a majority of American Jews, and nearly all Israeli Jews fall under a 7-day authority. Many have been in such a situation for generations.

Now to respond to the idea that we should have an extra seder to remember we aren’t in Israel…
Was anyone really confused? In case you were here are ten ways to conclude you are in the US rather than in Israel that have nothing to do with extra days of passover.

10:The falafel is overpriced and underspiced.
9: Municipal services are transparent and efficient.
8: Sunday is for football not school.
7: Teacher strikes are generally limited to a few days, max.
6: People talk slowly and get uncomfortable with interruptions (supreme court excepted).
5: Holocaust jokes are rare and usually generate discomfort.
4: People have difficulty making political and religious assumptions based on the type of kippah a person is wearing. Many can’t remember the word and use “beanie” or “skull cap” instead.
3: Though people talk about God non-stop in government there aren’t religious parties associated with single religious approached.
2: Nation’s founders where individual rather than collective farmers.
1: Look around. No occupations and settlements for miles in any direction? You probably aren’t in Israel.*

*If you are, time for new bifocals.

kosher tailgate party

From my Uncle Richie comes this story about Jews at a tailgate party in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

What’s really cool about the story, imo, is that it’s from a regular old perspective — it’s not a Chabad story, it’s not even really a story aimed at Jews. Hidden inside is the subtext of a Packers offensive lineman who became baal teshuva, but at the story’s heart it’s middle America seeing religious Jews as, hey wait!, they’re normal folks who do this instead of going to church on Sunday.

Check this out:

The group’s morning prayers include the use of a prayer book.

Pretty awesome, no? In the end, the article finishes on a high note: “‘I think it’s important to be proud of being Jewish,’ said Veingrad, the former Packers offensive lineman.” Word.