Sunday, March 6, 2011

Israeli Football League

Last Thursday night I attended the Lions vs Rebels semifinal game for the Israeli Football League (IFL). When I say football I actually mean American football, for once. Both the Lions and the Rebels could be considered Jerusalem teams although the Rebels are technically from Judea (Southern West Bank) but most of their players live in Jerusalem. I am going to attempt to capture a fraction of how wonderful this whole experience was, if only i were a better writer...

Before my two friends and I arrived at the game I mentioned that I thought it was going to be something like a pee-wee football game with not many fans. I was only a little off...

To my surprise the stands were packed with some combination of anglo/english speakers, religious fanatics, and israeli youth. The latter being the smallest category. There were hot dogs and beers for sale, just as one would expect at a football game, although we were not sure if they would have beer so we brought some wine for ourselves anyway. We arrived just a few minutes before half time and I spent most of the time taking in the scene instead of watching the game. First, the field was quite small, 60 meters long (80 with endzones) and narrow, too. The uprights of the "goal post" were plastic poles stuck on top of soccer nets behind each endzone. As you can imagine these were entirely neglected the whole game, as if kicking a field goal or going for 1 point after a touchdown were simply not an option. In the middle of the field was, of course, none other than the New England Patriots symbol! I didn't know it then but the reason the stadium is called Kraft Stadium is because Robert Kraft (the owner of the NE Pats and the NE Revolution) supports American Football in Israel, or, the IFL. Super cool.

At halftime many of fans went on the field to toss around footballs, also typical. Apparently, however, it is also common to walk over to the other side of the field where the coaches are talking to the players in order to listen and then hang out with the players. My friends and I, cups of wine in hand, walked right over to go say hi to our friend who plays for the Lions. This was a little strange but whatever, very typical Israeli. After halftime my friends and I switched sides so that we were be sitting on what we thought would be the home (Lions) side. Although there were many Lions' fans in the stands there were also many Rebels' fans on the sideline right in front of us.

Almost all of the Rebels' fans were religious, and I always find it marginally entertaining to see religious Jews acting in such a rowdy manner, although you think I'd get used to it by now. Yelling, cursing, really putting down the other team, just as one would expect at any major football (or any sport for that matter) game in the states. I didn't even know Israeli's knew the game of football, so this was pretty entertaining. There were many vuvuzelas present to enhance the cheering, as to be expected, but I must admit I was a little surprised to see enormous shofars being blown as well. Although less surprised to see bottles of alcohol being passed around the stands.

The cheering was a hilarious combination of hebrew and english cheers and chants, but there was one that topped them all, the "yes we can" chant. That's right, in English, "yes we can" over and over again. For those of you that remember (i know, a whole two years ago) and can put two and two together, this cheer came about in Israel from, basically, making fun of Obama. I have heard many Isaeli's say "yes we can" in a playful, mocking matter in conversation (in fact, my teacher said it today in class!) but it was even funnier at the game. Everyone knew the cheer, it's just a regular old cheer to them now, and I enjoyed understanding the context that it came from.

At one point in the game the old, chubby, Jewish man holding the down box (just googled that- the sign telling the current down) turned around to the stands and said in a concerned manner, "where is my wife?" To which the ref right in front of him must have replied something like, "who gives a crap about your wife right now, pay attention!" But the old man continued, facing the crowd, not paying attention, "But I can't find her anywhere." Haha, only in Israel.

It was kind of comforting to be able to watch some live football over here, and to see players take off their helmets and be wearing kippas underneath. It was also fun to see the names "Goldstein," "Schwartz," "Horowitz," and "Ashkenazi" on the back of the jerseys. Speaking of Ashkenazi, the quarterback for the Lions, he is the son of the last Chief of General Staff (Commander in Chief) of the Israeli Defense Force, Gabi Ashkenazi, who just retired on February 14th.

All in all, I wish I had gone to more of the games this season as it was way more entertaining than I thought it would be. Oh well, there is always next year.

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