Monday, May 01, 2006

"I wanna be like... Moshe" - Sports in the Jewish State

Maccabi Tel Aviv failed in their quest to 3-peat as Euroleague champions, losing last night to CSKA Moscow... and I couldn't care less.

Don't get me wrong, I am as big of a sports fan as the next guy. Part of my daily routine consists of reading the sports section of the NY Daily News and NY Post and checking into a few times a day, all in an effort to follow the ups and downs of my NY Giants, Mets and Rangers.

And that's precisely the problem.

I still feel more of a loyalty, after 3 years in Israel, to NY sports teams than I do to their equivalents in Israel.

It's not due to a lack of effort on my part. True, I have never been a big fan of basketball, and soccer is not exactly a huge sport in the US, but even with that being the case, I have come to enjoy other "Israeli" staples such as hummus and Bamba, things which I didn't exactly grow up with in the US.

So, why won't I root for the sports teams in Israel?

The answer can be found by taking a closer look at Maccabi Tel Aviv.

No one can discount the fact that they are a very talented franchise - Israel's equivalent of the New York Yankees. They've won 45 National Titles, 35 National Cups, 5 Euroleague Championships, and have been to the Euroleague finals 12 times.

So, what is the secret of their success?

Paying top dollar for NBA washouts or wanna be's.

7 of the 13 players currently on the Maccabi Tel Aviv roster are either not Jewish, or are not citizens of the State of Israel. Basically, Maccabi Tel Aviv, along with most other sports teams in Israel (basketball & soccer) consist of a bunch of ringers; players who will play anywhere in the world for enough money.

That being the case, why should I settle for watching the 2nd rate talent found in the Israeli leagues - players who couldn’t make it in the big leagues elsewhere - when I can just keep following the real deal - even if the games are being played 6,000 miles away.

All that being said, I would be prepared to abandon my lifelong loyalties to my NY sports teams, provided that the sports teams in the State of Israel would begin to truly represent the Jewish State.

Imagine for a moment, that the rosters of all of the major league teams in Israel were full of the best Jewish talent that Israel and the Jewish world had to offer (and where no games would be played on Shabbat).

Imagine for a moment, that when the Israeli national team would compete in an international competition, that it would be truly representing the Jewish People and State.

Imagine for a moment the overwhelming sense of Jewish pride that this would create, not just within Israel, but around the Jewish world. No longer would a Jewish kid growing up in LA dream about being like Kobe Bryant; a kid in Chicago wanting to "be like Mike"; or a boy in NY wanting to be the next Derek Jeter.

They would now have a new group of sports starts to emulate and admire, and they would all be Jewish, and they would all be playing in (and for) the Jewish State and People. It would become the dream of young Jewish boys and girls all over the world to one day be good enough to play ball for the Jewish State.

This would, I believe, increase Aliyah to the Jewish State from all over the world. Special sports scholarships could be created to encourage young Jewish athletes to compete and study in the Jewish State, along with special benefits to enable their families to join them in Israel.

Not to mention, this would do wonders toward allowing Jews around the world to foster a positive connection to the Jewish State (and to the Jewish People), and not one based on charity, guilt or sympathy.

Now, that's a team that I could root for.


Except we're crap at sports! Did you forget this? Chess, maybe, but dream on!

By Blogger tafka PP, at Mon May 01, 12:06:00 PM GMT+3  

That's not entirely true. there are plenty of Jews who are talented athletes, and if it became something that Jews knew that if they excelled they could represent the Jewish people and State, I believe that many more would make an effort.

And, you know what, I would rather root for a team like that - that might not win very often, but that they were ours - then for a bunch of ringers, no matter how often they win.

By Blogger Ze'ev, at Mon May 01, 12:43:00 PM GMT+3  

But how different are Maccabi Tel Aviv to any other major sports team? Are the Yankees only made up of the best rounders players in the New York area? Arsenal, ostensibly an English team, have reached the Champions league final with just 2 English first team players, both of whom have been injured for the last few months.

On the other hand a number of top Israeli footballers are having success overseas and the national team, a truer representative of the state of the Jews than any one club, is all the better for it.

Yellow Boy

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon May 01, 02:14:00 PM GMT+3  

Yellow Boy:

1) That's my point. There is basically no difference between Maccabi Tel Aviv and professional sports teams i nthe US - they all just buy the best players avilable, and generally speaking, the players themselves have little loyalty to the jersey they are wearing.

That being said, if I have to choose between the two, I'll keep rooting for the NY teams, as the quality of play is better, and I dont see any glaring reason to swtich my loyalties for an inferior product.

However, if the teams in Israel were made up of Jews, there would be no question, regardless of the talent, where my loyalty would lie.

2) Your argument, that there are a number of Israeli athletes playing for foreign teams overseas is better for Israel than by them playing for their home team in Israel is the equivalent of saying that it's better for the Jewish State to have talented doctors, lawyers, scientists, teachers, artisits... use their talents for other countries, instead of investing them within the Jewish State.

By Blogger Ze'ev, at Mon May 01, 03:20:00 PM GMT+3  

1) Fine, fair enough, whatever, one always sticks with the team you grew up with.
2) Not at all! By playing in the higher quality leagues Israeli footballers such as Yossi Benayoun are improving in ways they couldn't if they remained playing league football in Israel. They are then far better players when they then join the national team in international competition. It is surely the national team who really represent the State, not any 'local' team.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon May 01, 03:50:00 PM GMT+3  

YB, so then we're left with a Maccabi Tel Aviv team (or any other basketball / soccer team ) in Israel that are full of a bunch of ringers.

We have the potential, in the Jewish State to create something different, something special - not just for external consumption, but also within - we shouldn't limit it to just the national teams, but our national teams should be put together from the all-stars of the all Jewish teams within israel...

By Blogger Ze'ev, at Mon May 01, 04:42:00 PM GMT+3  

Enjoyed the post. I definitely agree that Israel could be successful in drawing more Jewish athletes from al over the world. There are some great prospects in baseball and basketball who are Jewish and would have a much better shot of making it to "the real deal" if they played in Isreal. However, Israel would have to create competetive teams in their respective sports. If Israel also offered a decent salary I'm sure they could attract recent college grads who had an interest in furthering their career and/or making aliyah.

By Blogger bellanny, at Mon May 01, 08:01:00 PM GMT+3  

Hey bellanny, thanks for the comment. I read a bunch of your posts, and since it seems that you intend on making Aliyah and are also looking for a job in the sports industry, that you might just be the perfect person to help make this happen...

By Blogger Ze'ev, at Mon May 01, 11:17:00 PM GMT+3  

I'll keep that in mind. If all the above goes as planned I'll be sure to give you credit for the idea. Any position that you wouldlike to claim in advance ;-)

By Blogger bellanny, at Tue May 02, 01:16:00 AM GMT+3  

Well, Bellanny, I appreciate the offer, but I am not so sure it would work out. After all, I am a Mets fan and a Rangers fan.

I would question our ability to peacefully co-exisit, let alone work together.

By Blogger Ze'ev, at Tue May 02, 01:32:00 AM GMT+3  

:-) Never back away from a challenge. I always love a good sports debate, but as this is all circumstantial I will file it away for now.

By Blogger bellanny, at Tue May 02, 01:40:00 AM GMT+3  

Lucky for you, at least on the hockey side of things, there isn'yt much of a debate. Your Devils handled my Rangers pretty easily...

By Blogger Ze'ev, at Tue May 02, 09:37:00 AM GMT+3  

Ok- so if the whole of Macabbi TA got a quickie conversion? I bet you'd still prefer your Mets! And that's OK. (Sorry if that isn't basketball, I haven't a clue)

By Blogger tafka PP, at Tue May 02, 11:12:00 AM GMT+3  

It's called 'girsa deyankesa.'With bamba you don't have to give up anything-but the Mets!!
I am a big Hapoel Jerusalem and Maccabi fan.

By Anonymous daat y, at Tue May 02, 06:56:00 PM GMT+3  

One of the issues at stake here is that you Ze'ev don't get the concept of National team sports, because Americans don't get the concept. For all the sports which the whole world plays and not just the stupid ones which only americans play, then the important competitions are national ones, not club ones. Football, for instance, which you might call soccer is Israel's national sport - far more people follow it than basketball. And while Israel's football league is poor, our national team is slowly becoming something to be proud of.

As for your arguments - they don't actually make sense. The vast majority of people playing in the Israeli basketball league are either Israeli citizens and/or Jewish . And most israelis hate Maccabi exactly because they are "un-Israeli". HaPoel Yerushalayim won a major european tournament with nearly an all Israeli cast.

And even Maccabi TA have seven Jewish players - how many do the Rangers, or the Yankees or Mets or Jets or any of those other stupid teams who play American sports have?

By Anonymous H, at Sun May 07, 11:02:00 AM GMT+3  

What's fun is trying to explain to people why all of the best Israeli players play in Greece, Turkey or elsewhere. I mean, there's a logical explanation involving the dynamics of the Israeli league and FIBA regulations governing European zone eligiblity, but it's still counterintuitive.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu May 18, 02:20:00 AM GMT+3  

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