“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” (Bill Shankly)
As the Brazil World Cup draws near, I suffer sleepless nights and struggle with serious depression. In the name of Zeus, why is it that time after time we Jews find ourselves not at the center of these games? No doubt this is on the minds of all my readers.
I decided to conduct a careful study to discover the causes of this phenomenon. I concentrated on soccer because being Dutch by birth this is my expertise. First, I went to Beitar Yerushalayim’s locker rooms and put my ear to the wall. Then I traveled to the Hapoel Tel Aviv team, once more pressing my ear to listen. Finally, with that same ear, I walked into the rooms of Maccabi Haifa and again listened. My conclusion: there is only one way to fix this. Jewish soccer needs serious rabbinic advice.
The problem with us Jews is that we think we know it all better. True, most of the time we do. But when it comes to soccer, forget it. We have no clue. I, however, am not only Dutch, but also a rabbi, and a friend of Johan Cruyff’s. This combination is unrivaled. So I know what I am talking about.
Let’s be honest. Everyone knows the Jews run the world. We dominate the White House, control the financial world, and win all the Nobel Prizes. Our country is bigger than China, and we occupy more foreign territory than any other country in the world. We are by far the most irritating people on the planet. With such a reputation, winning every World Cup should be child’s play. So, why are we not even in the running?
I am actually pleased to have the opportunity to write about this. It is a shanda (a shame) that we are not the talk of the world’s sports community. When we defeat Arab armies, enter Gaza, intercept a flotilla, eliminate terrorists, they can’t stop speaking about us. We’re the most talked about country in the world. But when it comes to soccer, not a word! As if we don’t exist. It’s downright anti-Semitic!
So what is the problem? The trouble is that Jews don’t understand the inner world of the football. They think it’s a ball like any other ball. Wrong. Every Jew should know that one has to understand the personal feelings of the ball, its ups and downs. After all, it has a neshama of its own. You have to be in a relationship with the ball. Like a shidduch, a romance. Like, lehavdil, learning Talmud – debating all the options on the soccer field; the commentaries and the sub-commentaries.
A real Jewish soccer player knows where the leather wants to go, understands its difficulties and needs, and comprehends its relationship with other balls. One doesn’t just run after a ball. One identifies with it and gets into its kishkes (guts). This is not something you can learn; it’s in the Jewish gene. It’s mysterious and beyond description.
What a Jewish soccer player must always ask himself is this: how do I make the ball ripe for the goal? The player must not wish to toot his own horn. He must be preoccupied with only one thought: I am nothing, the ball is everything. I must cede my personality to it. I have to be the ball. That’s real soccer. At that point, the goal is suspended in the air, ready to be plucked. It’s as simple as that.
When I played with Johan Cruyff years ago on the famous Dutch Ajax team, there was one thing we both knew. You have to let the ball do the work. To put it in layman’s terms: you must stand exactly in the spot where you know the ball will come in a few minutes. True, it isn’t there yet. Perhaps it’s not even on its way. It may take twenty minutes. No problem. It’ll get there. Just have patience.
I remember how Cruyff and I stood in the middle of the field while others would be chasing the ball. The fans went crazy and started cursing us. But we would just laugh, order coffee, read the paper, recite some psalms, and wave to our women. We simply waited, motionless. Cruyff would stand with his head bowed, as if listening to something. And indeed he was. He was listening to the movements of the ball—its groans, its pleas. Then he would draw himself up to his full height and say to me, “Cardozo, 18 minutes and the ball is here.” And so it was. Yes, I stood offside and the goal didn’t count, but that’s of little importance. What mattered was the gesture. That is what we Jews call soccer. It’s not footwork; it’s seichel and neshama work. But some modern Jews still believe it has everything to do with the lower leg extremities, the building up of the torso, and the anatomy of the hip. Nothing will help them win the World Cup until they grasp the truth.
But there is something else. Our boys have to be much better prepared. They must study the grass type on the soccer field, the quality of air to be expected, and the direction of the wind. In what language will the fans be shouting? What types of trumpets and other musical instruments will they be using?
Israeli grass, for example, is different from Brazilian grass. The Brazilian stalk has fifteen percent higher glucose than the Israeli one, while its strands grow in the opposite direction from the way they grow in Jerusalem. This is because Jews speak their language from right to left. Over the course of hundreds of years, the shouting of Hebrew in the stadium caused a genetic mutation making the grass grow against the natural order of things.
Why is this important? Because when you want to kick the ball to the nearest soccer player, you need to know whether the grass is your enemy or your friend. Does it accommodate the ball, or frustrate it? It’s all about friction and pressure. We Jews know about these things. Our entire history has been one of constant friction, with each other and with the world. They have kicked us around left and right. But we have become immune and have outlived all our enemies. So some Jews think that the ball, too, is immune. But it’s not. It is sensitive to the core and just wants to score.
And what about the air? What is its composition? Some types of air have a higher salt concentration, while others carry more carbon-sensitive substances. Still others will consist of anti-leather components. And then there is fresh air as well as decomposed air. Has this any influence on the ball? No. But the player may think it does and substitute a hip fake for a double scissor move, leading to disastrous consequences.
Then there is the issue of the wind. What kind of wind is blowing in Brazil? Is it the same as in Tel Aviv? Definitely not. There’s a huge difference. We, here in Israel, have a west wind coming from the Western Wall, while in Brazil there is a South Atlantic wind blowing from the east. All this has an enormous effect on the direction in which the ball will fly.
And let us not forget about the famous Brazilian maraca, shaken by tens of thousands of fans in the stadium. Jews think it’s comparable to the shofar, but it isn’t. The shofar demands serious self-contemplation, while the task of the maraca is to irritate the opponent. Combined with the obsessive waving of the Brazilian national flag, it may push the ball toward a totally different direction than expected.
Jews may think these are trivialities that don’t matter at all. Wrong again. And that’s where we, the rabbis, come in. Our advice is indispensable. We rabbis have studied the Talmud and know that trivialities are the stuff the world is made of. We have contemplated and debated every detail of human existence, just as scientists dedicate their lives to studying the habits of insects, or the properties of a plant. To them every minutia is significant. They diligently inquire into the most intricate qualities of things, because God is in the details. And so it is with us, the rabbis. We are experts in how to make a problem out of every solution. Therefore, we are unbeatable, even immortal, and know exactly what soccer is all about.
So what needs to be done to ensure that next time we Jews win the World Cup?
The first thing we must do is send a group of Jewish scientists—botanists, geologists and meteorologists—to wherever the next World Cup will be held. They will need to test the ground and look into seed time, growing power, root-substances, and above all the pigment of the chlorophyll pellets. Similarly, they must examine the air quality and the various types of wind. Is there upbeat wind, or downbeat air? It is crucial to put all these winds and air substances in special wind sacks and send them for analysis to the Meteorological Center in Beit Dagan, located near Rishon LeZion.
Then, we should gather our players together and discuss with each of them what will be the consequences of playing his position on the soccer field. After all, a goalkeeper will draw different conclusions from the carbon substance of grass than will the center forward who needs to take a corner kick. (He especially needs to keep an eye on the cornstalk blade.) There can also be detrimental consequences for the left wingback, and for the way the fellow who stands offside deals with his breathing technique.
With a keen understanding of the emotional makeup of the ball and its neshama, we Jews will be able to start playing soccer properly and win every World Cup. Just don’t forget to say some of King David’s Psalms. It works wonders!
Of course, the United Nations will object and claim that we didn’t play fair, that we occupied the ball and denied it its freedom. But we will hold our heads high and proudly declare that the blame lies entirely with the rabbis!
That’s Jewish soccer talk. May the good Lord bless it!
Inspired by Dutch author and humorist Godfried Bomans (1913-1971)