By Shmuel Katz
Many of us follow sports in one form or another. We enjoy going to sporting events, encouraging our kids to participate, and even playing sports (for the less couch potatoish among us). Our family is no different. What is different is the who and what.
Being a native Chicagoan, I have always been partial to Chicago sports teams (well, except the W. Sox, who don’t count anyway). My kids, wanting to share something with their Abba, have followed suit for the most part. Especially Chaim, who (despite living in New York for most of his life) roots for all my teams. Our youngest two boys are different.
They still like my teams for the “American” sports (football, baseball, and hockey). But in basketball and soccer (the non-American sport) they have come to love Maccabi Tel Aviv, a perennial powerhouse in the Israeli professional leagues.
We have gone to a few games (both sports). As part of their marketing, the teams like to reach out and provide free tickets to some of their less popular games (in an effort to win the kids’ allegiance at a young age). We have gone to games with tickets provided by our local basketball league and Nefesh B’Nefesh, among others.
Sporting events here are radically different. The atmosphere at the games is more like a college game than a U.S. pro game. The cheers are coordinated and run throughout the game (no matter what happens). The noise level is unreal, especially after a goal is scored in soccer (I cannot describe the pandemonium that follows a soccer goal). From what I have heard, this is very European. And, true to form, both Mordechai and Moshe have become major Maccabi Tel Aviv fans.
They know every cheer, every song. They know all the players. They follow the scores. And they love going to the games. It helps that as a perennial powerhouse and one of the most successful teams in the league, they are well financed and have nice stadiums to play in (some of their competition play home games in what almost looks like high school gyms).
And this week they had what to cheer for. Despite a disappointing season, the team made it to the Euroleague Final Four. The Euroleague competition is basically the championship for European teams. Each country sends the winner of their national league to compete in the league. They play a few rounds of playoffs, whittling down to the final four teams who play for the championships, this year held in Milan.
Friday night (in a game we could not watch, for obvious reasons), we beat the Moscow team to advance to the finals. On Sunday night, the night that much of the country spent making bonfires deep into the night, Maccabi TA played Real Madrid for the championship.
Watching the game (or at least the end of it), I was stunned. Apparently, 10,000 Israelis flew to Milan to attend the final game. The atmosphere was almost like a home game for Maccabi. And our kids were all cheering (at home) along with the crowd.
Down the road from a neighborhood bonfire Moshe was participating in, a couple of neighbors had brought a screen and projector and were actually watching the game in the middle of a field! Mordechai’s buddies all postponed their bonfire from 8 p.m. to midnight, so they could watch the game together. And we WON (in overtime)!
I have to say that even though I am not really a fan of the team, I definitely feel a sense of national pride. It’s not as if I (or anyone I know) did anything. Even worse, as a professional (and not national) team, Maccabi has a whole bunch of Americans playing for them, so I can’t even say that it was a bunch of Jews who played. Yet it was cool to see the Israeli team win.
Now here’s to hoping the Blackhawks follow suit! v
Shmuel Katz is the executive director of Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah (www.migdalhatorah.org), a new gap-year yeshiva. Shmuel, his wife Goldie, and their six children made aliyah in July of 2006. Before making aliyah, he was the executive director of the Yeshiva of South Shore in Hewlett. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.