Olay Olay Olay Olay: Jewish Peoplehood and the Mondial (World Cup)

Last Updated on Monday, 14 June 2010 08:51 Written by bryfy Monday, 14 June 2010 08:51

Recently I was asked about one of my favorite sites in Israel and why it meant so much to me. It took a few moments but then I recalled a place in Israel that always makes me smile – the soccer pitch at Kiriat Moriah in Jerusalem.

This pitch (if you can call it that) is a broken up piece of asphalt with barely visible markings and nets with gaps in them the size of soccer balls. And for those of you who know Kiriat Moriah, and have lived there and eaten in her cafeteria, you may be even more surprised with my choice of favorite Israeli site.

But I hearken back once again to 1990 and World Cup fever had descended on all of us. As an Australian growing up on Aussie Rules and cricket I was rather surprised to learn that there was in fact a world sport and that involved a round ball. But after the initial shock I began to learn a thing or two. Argentineans and Brazilians, who had been best of friends for many months, could come to blows during a soccer match. Grown men could cry inconsolably as never heard of before Cameroon defeated their heroes. And everyone who wasn’t British seemed to despise England.

For us Anglos who unlike this time around did not have our own countries to support we did the age old Jewish thing when determining who to support during the tournament. We would always support the team who had done less harm to the Jews. Some games were easy: United States Versus Czechoslovakia; Korea Versus Uruguay; or Costa Rica Versus Scotland. But other games gave us more trouble. How do you compare Spain (1492), England (1290), Austria/Germany (no dates needed), Argentina/Brazil (harboring those from Austria and Germany) or the USSR (Refusenik era)? At the end of the day there simply weren’t that many teams left for us to choose from.

But the point of this story is not the World Cup itself but the World Cup replica that we conducted on that infamous soccer pitch at Kiriat Moriah. It was here that I learned two important life lessons. First, the skills of an Australian Rules footballer mean absolutely nothing when as a goalkeeper a team of Brazilians is firing a series of penalties right past my head. Secondly, Jewish Peoplehood can come to life in some of the most unexpected (or expected) places.

Our tournament was quite simple. 6 teams (perhaps there were more) – Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Israel (they were the teachers), 2 Rest of World of teams (that was us – England, Australia, South Africa and the Kiwis). Round robin tournament and then finals. To cut a long story short – we (the highly underrated Rest of World team) made it to the finals, managed a draw, fought hard in extra time, and then got beaten on penalties in the final against Brazil. Did I mention that I was the goalkeeper who let 5 Brazilian penalties fly straight past me?

Here it sounds like just another sporting story – but at the time it was the most important thing happening in my world. I can vividly remember some of the plays, some of the players and some of the parties after each game. I remember using Hebrew because most of the time that was the only language that we had in common – that and soccer – which I now fondly refer to as football.

Sometimes a blog entry requires more explanation – and perhaps the connections here between football and Jewish Peoplehood need to be made more explicit for some readers.

But for me, still wallowing this morning in Australia’s 4:0 defeat against Germany I want to bring this blog entry to a close.

And now, as I do every 4 years, I bring myself back to that dilapidated football pitch at Kiriat Moriah – and smile.


  1. Peter Eckstein   |  Tuesday, 15 June 2010 at 1:36 pm

    Not being fluent in the language of soccer/football (though I did grow up listening to my dad’s tales of when he, being the lone Jew, played on the early 50s Hungarian team against the Soviets, and how his team was ordered to lose) your piece made me smile. It’s nice for us to find things that folks love in common, setting aside ideology for the time being.

    Yay team (does one say that in soccer?)

    I wish bowling was as romantic.


  2. Daniel Needlestone   |  Tuesday, 22 June 2010 at 2:41 pm

    This post brings back so many memories of my similar experiences at Kiryat in 1998 – our valiant England team lost on penalties to Argentina – great to come across this site and the wealth of information within.

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