Friday, May 21, 2010

A Zionist’s Guide To The World Cup

My nephew Doug Klein(through marriage to Debra),an avid sportsman (and wrestler) asked me to post the following Guide to the World Cup:

A Zionist’s Guide To The World Cup

A famous non-Zionist, Leon Trotsky, once said: “You may not be interested in strategy, but strategy is interested in you.” Likewise, you may have no interest in international soccer (or “football” as those snooty foreigners call it), but you should. Not necessarily for the soccer, but for the politics.

Suffice it to say that the most important event for the majority of the world’s population for the calendar year 2010 will be next month’s FIFA World Cup in South Africa. The whole world will be watching, and every participating nation’s collective self-esteem will be at stake. As such, the eternal question arises: “Is it good for the Jews?” Quite simply stated, we want our friends to do well on the world’s biggest stage, and we want are enemies to suffer embarrassing and ignominious defeat by others wearing short pants and cleats.

(One note about methodology: democracies tend to be better for the Jews than authoritarian regimes.)

To that end, here is your convenient guide for whom to root for and for whom to root against.

Group A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, France.

South Africa: The great struggle for freedom and against apartheid notwithstanding, the Republic of South Africa has been no friend of Israel in recent years. Moreover, it has been one of the strongest non-Arab supporters of the Palestinian cause. Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu, a strident anti-Zionist, is a national hero. The vote is no.

Mexico: On the whole, Mexico is a bit pareve on Israel issues, shading slightly in favor of the Arabs. On the other hand, Mexico boasts a vibrant Jewish community. The Mexicans are the arch-rivals of the USA, though, so probably best to take a pass on them.

Uruguay: Well, it’s never been much of a democracy and, like its neighbors, has played host to any number of escaped Nazi war criminals, so Uruguay is a no.

France: Traditionally, this would be a no-brainer. From the Dreyfus Affair to Francois Mitterand, France has been one giant bummer for the modern Jewish experience. The election of Nicholas Sarkozy, though, is a little bit of a game-changer. In this World Cup, better the French than the Brits (see below). Root for France to win the group.

Group B: Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea, Greece

Argentina: Even more ex-(and not-so-ex-)Nazis than Uruguay. Throw in the government’s apparent involvement in obstructing the investigation in the 1990s bombings of the AMIA headquarters and the Israeli embassy, and it becomes nearly impossible to ever root for Argentina in good conscience.

Nigeria: Typical for a Third World country, Nigeria generally takes the Arabs’ side in international forums. Add in the fact that the country is usually run by some form of authoritarian government. Take a pass on Nigeria.

South Korea: Aside from Jewish servicemen serving in Korea, there has not been much connection between Korea and the Jewish Question; therefore, Korea is the obvious choice for Group B.

Greece: The Jewish community of Salonika was almost totally wiped out by the Nazis during the Shoah. To this day, Greece has done little to come to terms with the near total destruction of its pre-war Jewish community. No. (Let’s not forget, either, that the Greek squad ended Israel’s best chance to qualify for the World Cup since 1970.)

Group C: Algeria, England, Slovenia, United States

Algeria: This is a no-brainer.

England: Also a no-brainer. The home of polite anti-Semitism and Vanessa Redgrave. Never mind that they speak English and David Beckham is into kabbalah.

Slovenia: Although Slovenia lacks the anti-Semitic reputation of its Balkan neighbor Croatia, this is probably because Slovenia historically possessed less Jews to hate. No.

United States of America: A.K.A. Sweet Land of Liberty. Of thee I sing. Let’s just hope that Landon Donovan can find a way to score two goals per game. Oh, yeah, and somebody to play left back. But I digress….

Group D: Australia, Germany, Ghana, Serbia

Australia: Home to one of the most vibrant Jewish communities in the world, the English tradition of disdain for all things Jewish was not entirely transported here with its convict-settlers. Besides, Mel Gibson is not really Australian. The Socceroos get the old okey-dokey.

Germany: While Germany has done more than any other European country to come to terms with its recent past, it is still Germany. I know it is not fair to visit the sins of the grandfathers onto their descendants, but seeing proud Germans singing their national anthem (which has the same tune as “Deutschland Uber Alles”) just doesn’t feel right. Oh well. Tough #$&%.

Ghana: Though there has been a history of positive diplomatic relations between Israel and this west African state, it remains a Third World country with an anti-Israel voting record at the UN. Nothing to see here, sports fans.

Serbia: One of the few countries in the world more unpopular than Israel. The Serbs deserve much credit for putting up such fine resistance to Nazi occupation during World War II. In doing so, many Serbian Jews managed to survive. Still, Serbia is a proud Slavic country, and that never seems to be good for the Jews.

Group E: Cameroon, Denmark, Japan, the Netherlands

Cameroon: (See Ghana, above.)

Denmark: Famous for saving most of their Jews during the Nazi occupation, Denmark is the only country in Scandinavia that allows shechitah. Also, the whole controversy about the cartoons of Muhammad originated here, so it can’t be all bad. No doubt, Denmark is home to a lot of snooty Nordic anti-Semites and anti-Zionists, but one could do much worse than root for them to win.

Japan: Bataan Death March…Sugihara. Sugihara…Bataan Death March. Japan is problematical, but from a Zionist perspective, ultimately okay.

The Netherlands: Yes, they have a huge problem of a growing indigenous Muslim population, but they know they have a problem. Root for them while you still can. Besides, it’s hard not to have a soft spot for the plucky Dutch after their Queen rode her bicycle during the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973.

Group F: Italy, New Zealand, Paraguay, Slovakia

Italy: Okay, so they were on the wrong side of World War II, the Italian Jewish community made out better than most communities in Allied countries, such as those in Poland, France, and Greece. Moreover, their President likes Israel almost as much as he likes attractive young women. Viva Italia!

New Zealand: On the one hand, the Kiwis have a snowball’s chance in Johannesburg of winning a match. On the other hand, the obsessively anti-Israel Helen Clarke and her Labor Party were voted out of office and replaced with the pro-Israel Conservatives. Okay to cheer for; just don’t expect them to win.

Paraguay: Nearly as many Nazi war criminals there as in Argentina. Absolutely no.

Slovakia: What? The more anti-Semitic half of the former Czechoslovakia? You must be joking.

Group G: Brazil, Ivory Coast, North Korea, Portugal

First, a note on Group G. Every World Cup has--in the pleasant, soothing terms of international soccer—a “Grupa Del Muerte”—a “Group of Death” so called where all four teams are good and anyone of them is capable of advancing. If one is talking solely about soccer, Group G is not the Group of Death, as Brazil should have a field day. It is a different story for us Zionists.

Brazil: Haven for ex-Nazis. Current President curries favor with the Iranians. Better they should lose.

Ivory Coast: Yet another member of the Third World bloc in the UN which routinely votes to condemn Israel. Also has a democracy deficit. The only reason to cheer for the Ivory Coast is that the other members of this group are such cholerias.

North Korea: A Stalinist dictatorship that sells nuclear weapons technology and Scuds to Syria, Iran, and other lovely places. I think not.

Portugal: Most people remember that 1492 was the year the Jews were finally expelled from Spain. 1493 was the year they were expelled from Portugal. May they merit an early exit from the World Cup.

Group H: Spain, Switzerland, Honduras, Chile

Spain: Anti-Semitic then, anti-Israel now. There is nothing new under the Spanish sun.

Switzerland: The Swiss did everything they could to profit from the Nazis both during and after their tenure in Germany. Now, they are attempting to do the same thing with our friends in Iran. No.

Honduras: No real history of anti-Semitism here and a history of cordial relations with the Zionist entity. They are the pick of the litter in Group H.

Chile: Although it has the strongest democracy and the best economy of any country in South America, it is still hard to cheer very much for countries from that region. Still, if you must, you may do so without much enthusiasm.

In the final cheshbon, let’s pull for a USA-Australia final. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Muse: Shavuot 2010

Historically the religious community in Israel and in the Diaspora associates Shavuot with the Giving of the Law, the standing of our ancestors at Sinai (or Horev) on Shavuot. It is a holiday marked as the culmination of the freedom process that began on Pesach, completing the cycle with the receiving of the Law. Our rabbis tell us that it is customary to decorate the synagogue with “greens” or flowers because Sinai was surrounded in shrubbery and flowering plants at the moment that the Law was given.

Upon closer examination it may appear as though there may have been a distortion made by our esteemed sages and rabbis as to the meaning of the holiday. In reality, Shavuot is a national festival celebrating the offering up of the “bikkurim” at the Temple. The holiday is centered on ownership of land and nationhood.

This makes sense. Passover is the freedom holiday marking the beginning of a trek through the desert to claim the land promised to the patriarchs, and reaffirmed at Horeb. It was at Horeb that God gives the charge to take possession of the land promised to the patriarchs. Shavuot then, is the culmination and fulfillment of the promise. It is on Shavuot that the Israelites can bring the “bikkurim” to the Temple; the time determined by the counting of 49 days from Passover. It is a mitzva t’luya ba’aretz; a mitzvah that can only be fulfilled when living on the land.

The sages and rabbis in their wisdom, not wanting the holiday to fall by the wayside attributed a new significance to Shavuot as a result of the new reality. Living in the Diaspora it became impossible to fulfill the biblical commandment of bringing the “bikkurim” to the Temple. Without the viability of the command, the holiday would have lost it purpose had the rabbis not made the new connection, the celebration of the giving of the Law.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Letter to the World from Jerusalem

In honor of Yom Yerushalayim I wanted to share with you this powerful message (written after the Six Day War by Eliezer ben Israel) that has accompanied me since 1970.

A Letter to the World from Jerusalem
Eliezer ben Israel

I am not a creature from another planet, as you seem to believe.
I am a Jerusalemite- like yourselves, a man of flesh and blood.
I am a citizen of my city; an integral part of my people.

I have a few things to get off my chest. Because I am not a diplomat, I do not have to mince words. I do not have to please you, or even persuade you. I owe you nothing. You did not build this city; you do not live in it; you did not defend it when they came to destroy it. And we will be dammed if we will let you take it away.

There was a Jerusalem before there was a New York. When Berlin, Moscow, London and Paris were miasmal forest and swamp, there was thriving Jewish community here. It gave something to the world which you nations have rejected ever since you established yourselves – a human moral code.

Here the prophets walked, their words flashing like forked lightening. Here a people who wanted nothing more than to be left alone, fought off waves of heathen would – be conquerors, bled and died on the battlements, hurled themselves into the flames of their burning temple rather than surrender; and when finally overwhelmed by sheer numbers and led away into captivity, swore that before they forgot Jerusalem they would see their tongues cleave to their palates, their right arms wither.

For two pain filled millennia, while we were your unwelcome guests, we prayed daily to return to this city. Three times a day we petitioned the almighty: “Gather us from the four corners of the world, bring us upright to our land; return in mercy to Jerusalem, Thy city and dwell in it as Thou promised.”

On every Yom Kippur and Passover we fervently voiced the hope that next year would find us in Jerusalem. Your inquisitions, pogroms, expulsions, the ghettos in to which you jammed us, your forced baptisms, your quota systems, your genteel anti-Semitism, and the final unspeakable horror, the Holocaust (and worse, your terrifying disinterest in it), all these have not broken us. They may have sapped what little moral strength you still possessed but they forged us into steel. Do you think that you can break us now, after all we have been through? Do you really believe that after Dachau and Auschwitz we are frightened by your threats of blockades and sanctions?
We have been to hell and back – a hell of your making. What more could you possibly have in your arsenal that could scare us?

I have watched the city bombarded twice. By nations calling themselves civilized. In 1948, while you looked on apathetically, I saw women and children blown to smithereens, this after we had agreed to a request to internationalize the city. It was a deadly combination that did the job:British officers, Arab gunners and American made cannons.

And then the savage sacking of the Old City: The willful slaughter, the wanton destruction of every synagogue and religious school; the desecration of Jewish cemeteries; the sale by a ghoulish government of tomb stones for building materials, for poultry runs, army camps – even latrines.

And you never said a word.

You never breathed the slightest protest when the Jordanians shut off the holiest of our holy places, the Western Wall, in violation of the pledges they had made after the war – a war they waged, incidentally against the decision of the UN. Not a murmur came from you whenever the legionnaires, in their spiked helmets casually opened fire upon our citizens from behind the walls.

Your hearts bled when Berlin came under siege. You rushed your airlift “to save the gallant Berliners.” But you did not send one ounce of food when Jews starved in besieged Jerusalem. You thundered against the wall which the east Germans ran through the middle of the German capital - but not one peep out of you about the other wall, the one that tore through the heart of Jerusalem.

And when the same thing happened twenty years later, and the Arabs unleashed a savage unprovoked bombardment of the holy city again, did any of you do anything? The only time you came to life was when the city was at last reunited. Then you wrung your hands and spoke loftily of “justice” and the need for the “Christian” quality of turning the other cheek.

The truth is – and you know it deep inside your gut – you would prefer the city to be destroyed rather than have it governed by Jews. No matter how diplomatically you phrase it, the age old prejudices seep out of every word.

If our return to the city has tied your theology in knots, perhaps you would better reexamine your catechisms. After what we have been through, we are not passively going to accommodate ourselves to the twisted idea that we are to suffer eternal homelessness until we accept your Savior.

For the first time since the year seventy there is now complete religious freedom for all in Jerusalem. For the first time since the Romans put the torch to the temple everyone has equal rights. (You preferred to have some more equal than others.) We loath the sword – but it was you who forced us to take it up. We crave peace – but we are not going back to the peace of 1948 as you would like us to.

We are home. It has a lovely sound for a nation you have willed to wander
over the face of the globe. We are not leaving. We have redeemed the pledge
made by our forefathers – Jerusalem is being rebuilt. “Next year” – and the year after, and after, and after, until the end of time - “in Jerusalem!”