Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Esser Agaroth on the Maccabiah Games

כ"ג לחודש החמישי תשע"ג

Ironic, is it not, that the Maccabiah Games, an imitation of the Greek Olympics, are named for the Maccabim, who fought off the Greeks, their Jewish, Greek-wannabes, and their assimilation oriented influences?

And, here we are, holding our own version of the Hellenist Olympics, because they "used to laugh and call us names," and never allowed us to "join in any [of their] reindeer games." 

Our bright, red noses lit up the sky with Nobel Prizes, and medical and high tech innovations. But these acknowledgements from the goyim were not good enough.

The lack of a bit of skin got in the way for most of us. Some of us found ways to "cover up" enough to participate.

Mark Spitz, then and now.
Gal Fridman, Athens, 2004
I remember the excitement as a kid, when Mark Spitz won an unprecedented seven gold medals in Olympic swimming. I had been living in Israel for some time already when Gal Fridman won the gold medal in windsurfing, Israel's first gold medal ever.

An acquaintance of mine, Effie Kivelevitch, a "nice Jewish boy," and and former yeshiva student from New York, became Mr. Israel 2009 for his weight class in bodybuilding. What could be more Greco-Roman body conscious than body building?? But, how could his fellow America Jews not cheer and whoop-whoop in excitement??!! Furthermore, Kivelevitch's hard work reinforces the very important important message that Jews do not have to remain locked into a wimpy, neurotic, and nebachy stereotype. We can once again become physically strong, as well as scholarly, like the Jews of old.

There have been other athletes who had to face the challenge of being both Jewish and an athlete head on.

Who does NOT recall his father or grandfather telling him the story of how Los Angeles Dodgers' Sandy Koufax refused to pitch on Yom Kippur? That might not impress too many religious Jews now. But, in during the assimilation of the 1960's, his action made a significant impression for its time. This video about this story is well worth its 2 minutes length.

The teenaged son of friends of mine once told me about Tamir Goodman.

Tamir Goodman (Wikipedia) was dubbed by Sports Illustrated magazine as the "Jewish Jordan", is an American-born Israeli retired Orthodox Jewish basketball player.

Goodman received a scholarship to the University of Maryland, which had one of the top-ranked basketball teams in the country. He said that the news of his plans to go to Maryland attracted over 700 media requests that week. The team's schedule of practices and games meant having to play on Friday nights and Saturdays, against the rules of Orthodox Judaism, so he declined Maryland's offer.
Goodman then accepted a scholarship from nearby Towson University....He eventually fulfilled his dream by signing with the Maccabi Tel-Aviv professional basketball team.

Just last winter, 18-year-old Akiva Finkelstein from Beth-El chose to withdraw from an international boxing tournament in Armenia, rather than violating Shabbath, by being weighed on an electric scale.

Ofir Kriaf
Last month, I saw a short video bio of Beitar Yerushalayim's star midfielder Ofir Kriaf. It included a spot of him in tallith and tefillin, praying at the Kothel (Western Wall), and talking about the importance of his family. Doesn't sound like a big deal in Jerusalem, in this day and age? It's done all the time, and may have been done for publicity? I don't think so, not in the least. And, don't forget. Fans young and old, pay attention to these things. It makes an impression on them, especially the highly impassioned, and sometimes disenfranchised, fans of the Beitar Yerushalayim team. At the tender age of 22, when Kriaf's career is just taking off (בע"ה), he is truly not just a role model, but a Jewish role model.

Just the other day, I heard that the members of the Israeli women's lacrosse would rather give up their chances at winning the gold medal in their tournament in England, than play on Shabbath. (Tip: Jew In The City)

Sports have provided us with a history of events to rally around those of us who are "like us," to have role models, and to feel better about who we are.

But, are athletics an authentically Jewish conduit for achieving collective self-esteem?

I certainly do not agree with those rabbis who mock athletics in their entirety. Rather, I believe that there are appropriate times situations for athletics.

The examples set by all of the athletes above are commendable, even Qedushei HaShem to an extent.

And in this day and age, of taking pride in assimilation, and of being more goyshe than the goyim, I am willing to accept almost anything which has the power to raise the confidence and self-image of Jews. Even the often disenfranchised Beitar Yerushalayim soccer team fans receive more in the way of a boost to their Jewish identities from being a fan and member of a proud Jewish group, then they would ever receive from the Israeli public education system. Sad and pathetic, but true.

What do Jewish sources say about athletic prowess?

It seems to me that it has always been mentioned and praised in the context of war, and in the defeat of our enemies.

So, let us continue to route for our Jewish sports stars, and follow those examples which are positive. But let us also keep athletics in perspective, and ask ourselves, what should the final goal of building muscle, strength, endurance, and skill really be?

I guarantee you that it not to be just like the goyim, with our own athletics teams, and our own athletic competitions.

Rather, it is to prepare ourselves physically and mentally to do what will eventually need to be done. Defending fellow Jews from attacks, hiking in the Shomron, shopping in Downtown Jerusalem, or just trying to live normal lives in South Tel-Aviv, are only a few of today's necessities for such abilities.

Who knows how else they will come in handy, this fall, next year, or in five years.

Best be prepared.


Ariel ben Yochanan said...

B"H - I don't agree, of course! :) It's like saying ye! to Magen David tattoos: These things just don't go together and if you think you or others can be "good Jews", specifically by not following Torah, well, you're wrong. Let's not forget Jews were forced into being gladiators and many lost their precious lives that way.

Esser Agaroth said...

Well, unfortunately, many of us are at a very low level spiritually, and with a low connection to the Land, HaShem, and Torah.

So, if Goodman and Finkelstein can inspire even one Jew to keep Shabbath, and Kivelevitch can inspire one wimpy accountant to build muscle (for the coming conflicts), and Kriaf can inspire one boy to start putting tefillin on, then it's worth it.

Sports aren't going away, so lets use them for appropriate goals.

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