jewin' the fat

The fine art of Fanaticism
July 13, 2009, 2:39 PM
Filed under: Comment, Identity, Israel, Zionism | Tags: , , , , ,

Sport is more an expression of culture in Australia, more tribal and clan-like, and the faith one has in a team, or sporting code, is more than the enjoyment of a spectator. It is the faith not unlike that which one might place in a deity or religious institution. In this big brown land, we dress up in special clothing, paint our faces and converge in our thousands to worship at the alter of ‘the game’, on fields of vast green, through those mighty conduits of the gods – ‘my team’. 

But I don’t think I realised just how much this really meant until I was invited along to the Sydney V. Essendon Aussie Rules (AFL) match on Saturday. 

Departing Sydney Swan's captain Barry Hall receives a standing ovation

Departing Sydney Swan's captain Barry Hall receives a standing ovation

Now, while I have always played, watched and loved sport, AFL barely registered a blip on my weekend gaming schedule. Sure, I know a few of the team names (mostly due to the variety of and assault(S)/drugs charges attributed to the players), but to me, the ‘players’ look like a ragtag assortment of boys whose mums wouldn’t let them play Rugby Union at school, for fear of injury.

It’s probably because they have no sense of direction (somehow running directly at goals is pushed aside, in favour of running at random in circles around the field, with no set trajectory at all), can’t catch, or throw (pick up the ball, run a bit,  drop it, pick up the ball, run a bit … until the whistle blows), there are no real rules that I could decipher, and for some reason, the winning team stays in the stadium long after the game is finished, singing their team-song in celebration.

But I value my life, so I decided to keep my opinions to myself for the duration of the game. At least until I was sure their team was going to win, and the potential for a violent rampage through the streets of Sydney was well out of the question.

But looking back on the experience, it suddenly dawned on me. Although the rules confounded and the supporters seemed content in their fanaticism, these Essendon supporters, happily jumping the fence to kick a footy around post-game struck me as all too familiar.

It’s just that instead of kicking a footy after a tough match, I was letter writing, debating, discussing, and instead of a weekly game at the Sydney Cricket Ground, my Zionism is a boundless, mobile sport, with home ground wherever I should choose to play.

It's my Ideology and I'll cry if I want to

It's my Ideology and I'll cry if I want to

As I watched this 20-something year old group of professional lawyers, nutritionists, accountants and football followers punching the air violently with their fists, leaping to their feet at the sight of  mark, heckling the weaker players, applauding or deriding the referees’ calls, laughing, crying, shouting, clapping, stomping – it appeared to be a passionate display of solidarity, a sense of brotherhood in arms, up against the mighty foe of the week. In this case, the Sydney Swans.

And looking around the stadium, it appeared the bug had caught on. Red white and black, faces painted in their war colours, carrying banners, hoisting their allegiances high in pom poms, balloons and accessories – it was a battle of the ages. It was an awesome sight, and I could feel the energy of the crowd, the euphoric mania of the supporters charging around the ground.

* * *

For those who do not understand the concept of Zionism, or the importance of Israel to the Jewish experience or Identity, it seems a messy, unnecessarily complicated affair. The rules are unclear, and the players appear uncoordinated, reactionary, and with little or no control over the game’s results. And the supporters?

Well, we probably look like my friends looked on Saturday. More than a little crazy, or at least enough to stick with their team, regardless of the outcome, or the opinions of their peers. Because it doesn’t matter if your team is at the bottom of the table, or who just got done for drug abuse, or whether your star player is about to retire. Because a sense of community and purpose cannot be bought, sold or traded. And because Zionism is a deeply personal commitment, to the rights and responsibilities of the Jewish nation to endevour to live in their traditional homeland in Israel, in peace and security.

And sure, we may not have flashy, brightly coloured uniforms, or a weekly ritual, but our connection to Israel and intention to protect and defend her is worn proudly, and we run out to face our opponents with grace, determination and strength.

Because it isn’t about the numbers on the scoreboard. It’s about showing up, and staying in the game – win or lose.


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