Playing the game
The power of sport extends beyond its immediate, most obvious advantages. Yes, it is healthy; sure, it is good for our mind, our soul. No doubt, it is fun, but above all, sport’s biggest contribution to humankind is bringing people together.
Since the ancient days of Sparta, through the Olympics Games and other international competitions, sport has the ability to connect. Athletes and sport lovers from all countries, all backgrounds and cultures join together, sharing mutual passions and celebrating life. They put away cultural, political and religious differences. In so many ways stadiums, running tracks, fields and courts should be seen as sacred venues and treated as such. In today’s world, they are probably the only place people are blind to the differences of race, religion and nationality.
However, when it comes to Israel, we once again take a hit. Fairness and sanity have lost presence, and hypocrisy and hatred long ago took over.
Last week Israeli soccer fans awoke to a great disappointment. Argentina’s national soccer team announced it was canceling a friendly match against Israel’s national team. The official reason for the cancellation was that the players had faced serious threats, forcing organizers to eliminate the match.
Four years ago, in the summer of 2014, four-year-old Daniel Tergerman was killed while playing in his home with his favorite toy when a rocket shot from Gaza bombed his home. Little Daniel was wearing Lionel Messi’s jersey in all the photos we saw of him online. Today Daniel would be eight and extremely disappointed that his soccer hero surrendered to the hatred that killed him.
For Palestinians and their supporters, Argentina’s decision to withdraw from the game was seen as the biggest victory yet for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. They praised the Argentine team for taking a stand against Israel and its often-lethal treatment of the Palestinians.
It does not matter that Israel and Argentina have enjoyed excellent diplomatic relations, economic partnerships and cultural exchanges for many years. Terror, by its immediate definition to terrify people has once again raised its ugly head. The monster has spoken, as it always does, in its brutal and cruel words, preventing an innocent, friendly soccer game from taking place, on friendly grounds, in front of friendly fans.
On the same week the Argentinian team decided to abandon Israel, Tel Aviv dressed up in festivity, showing off its beauty with all rainbow colors in honor the 20th Gay Pride Parade—the largest ever. Tel Aviv, known as one of the world’s most gay-friendly travel destinations, hosted over 250,000 people, including 30,000 foreign tourists, Jews and non-Jews from around the globe.
Apparently, not all travelers were bitten by the hatred monster. Many of these 30,000 tourists celebrating in Tel Aviv, along with the hundreds of thousands of other tourists from far-flung nations, have filled and will fill the streets of Israel in this year of record numbers in tourism. Their great smiling, suntanned faces, enjoying our country’s wonders and beauty tells a different story.
It is not always easy to see beneath the headline, in between the black lines of threats and intimidation. How unfortunate that the Argentinian soccer team was not able to do so, and how beautiful that the rest of the tourists flooding our cities, can.
While the Argentinian soccer team chose to surrender to terror’s threats, their neighbors in Brazil chose to listen to a different tune. Two million Brazilians cheered for Israel during an annual Christian march in Brazil. Evangelical Christians waved Israeli flags and prayed for the Jewish state.
In New York, tens of thousands of Israel supporters took part in this year’s annual “Celebrate Israel” parade, displaying Israeli innovation and ingenuity.
All kinds of winds blow around us. They carry with them the distinct sounds from their far-off lands. Our air is thick with many voices, multiple tunes. We are valued by the melody we choose to listen to, the songs we sing, and carry on. We each have choices; the people of the world have choices. Surrendering to terror and seeing Israel through biased eyes is one way to go, certainly not the way the world of sports should go.
May we be blessed with winds that bring serenity and peace, and a level playing field, where we hear voices of friendship and love.
Leah Garber, Vice President. Director, JCC Israel Center