I’m not a big sports fan. Never have been. But I used to manage the girl’s soccer team at my high school. And thus I’ve always had an appreciation for soccer, regardless of whether I’ve followed the game or not, which, really, I haven’t. But soccer is huge here in Israel. Walking around town the night of a big soccer match, you can hear the entire city shouting in unison from their windows when their beloved teams score or miss a goal. It’s a beautiful thing, really, for a nation, so divided by politics and religion to have even this one thing to rally around.
And so, when I heard that Israel was going to play France in a World Cup preliminary last night, I made it my mission to find the best place possible to go and watch the game: A pub with a big screen TV. And holy hell, it was glorious.
France has a tradition of antisemitism. It’s a fact that can hardly be ignored. And that streak of antisemitism prevails unto this day, which made this game between Israel and France all the more important, because it gave the Jewish people an opportunity to prove something: That we are neither weak nor inferior. It was my hope that we’d pummel them actually — that we’d avenge ourselves after centuries of Jew-baiting and hating, especially after Fabien Barthez said he wouldn’t play here — but the game ended in a draw. And that’s okay too. Because to me, that proves that we are no better nor worse than France nor anyone else. We are, in fact, their equals. And that too, is a beautiful thing.
So I sat at Rani’s Pub in Nakhalat Shiv’a, tossing back Goldstars with my friends, listening to French Jews having an identity crisis, and watching the Israelis erupt at every turn. G-d, it was magnificent. The energy was so intense, you felt like you were a part of something just by watching TV, knowing that the entire nation was watching along with you.
Generally I’m put off by rank displays of nationalism. On Tisha Ba’av I was at Kikar Safra with some friends where Women In Green and Manhigut Yehudit had organized a megillah reading and a march around the Old City in solidarity with the settlement movement. The crowd waved Israeli flags all about and it made me so, so uncomfortable (knowing their beliefs and their false assertion of representing Israel) I left just after the megillah reading.
But last night? I’m looking on television at all these Israeli flags, people in the stands wearing white and blue, kids with “Yisrael” and magen davids painted on their faces, with the crowd all the while (on television and around me in the pub) chanting, “Ay, ay, Yisrael!” and I, too, swelled with pride. This wasn’t the rank, ethnocentric nationalism I felt at the Tisha Ba’av rally. Hell, Israel’s top scorers are Arabs! This was a true display of national pride and unity: One which transcended ethnicity, religious affiliation, class, and every other human border imaginable. It was a moment of pure light, and I loved every minute of it.
Highlight of the evening: When French center David Trezeguet headbutted Tal Ben Haim, I called out, “Awww man, that’s so underhanded! It’s like the Dreyfuss affair all over again!”
Awww…So wrong.
So, word yo, props to Team Yisrael on last night’s match. We’re now tied with France at the head of our qualifying group, which means we move on to the next round. May it be the will of Hashem that we go all the way, and get the opportuntiy to shine this light throughout the whole world.