Friday, April 24, 2009
Photo (c)Avinoam Samin
This Postcard from Israel was originally published on 27 April 2006.
When I was a kid, I learned about the Hasmonean family known as the Maccabees in connection with the holiday of Chanukah. Later, on my first trip to Israel, I discovered another, more refreshing, kind of Maccabee. When I moved to Israel, I was introduced to yet another Maccabi, one that was even closer to my heart (and other vital organs). All of that seemed like more than enough to be going on with, but it turned out that I hadn't quite finished with all Israeli things Maccabee/Maccabi.
After a few months of living here, I figured out that the professional sports teams (mainly basketball and soccer) have names like Beitar Jerusalem, Hapoal Petach Tikvah, and Maccabi Haifa. The first part of the name denotes an association with what were once certain ideological/political movements. The second part are names of the cities in which the teams are located. I quickly realized that while there are dozens of soccer and basketball teams in Israel, there is really only one serious professional team in Israel: basketball's Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv.*
Maccabi TA (as the team is most commonly known at home - Elite is the name of the team's sponsor) is the only Israeli sports team to enjoy international success, as well as top ranking at home. The team plays both in the national league, and in what is called the Euroleague. Maccabi TA has won five European league championships, and is heading into this year's Final Four playoffs tomorrow night. They have the largest (approximately 10,000 seats), most deluxe arena of any team in Israel. And, according to the team's players, Maccabi also has the best fans in the world.
As you might imagine, there are some non-Israeli players on the team. In addition to Israelis such as Tal Burstein, Yaniv Green, and Sharon Shason, there are a number of American players (some of whom have married Israeli women and become citizens themselves). Anthony Parker, Maceo Baston, Derrick Sharp and Will Solomon are valuable additions to the team. Nikola Vujcic, from Croatia, is another top player. We even have a promising new player from New Zealand, Kirk Penney.
Israeli fans are passionate about their sports teams, and no fans are more dedicated than those of Maccabi Tel Aviv. During home games, the seats are awash in a sea of bright yellow shirts, punctuated with blue and yellow hats and scarves. The noise is deafening, with horns blaring, whistles shrilling, and sing-song chants being offered up to inspire the team to ever more daring plays and three point shots. Often you'll see members of Parliament, television personalities, former team players, even Cabinet Ministers in the crowd. An impressive number of fans travel to watch the team play in Europe, as well. In almost every post-game interview, players mention the support of the fans. After the last regular season game this year, as in years past, the coach thanked the fans for their love and support. Then the team members stood together in a line, raised their linked hands, and bowed to the fans, moving to each side of the court until they had offered their thanks and appreciation to all of the fans in the arena, as well.
As much as the team values its fans, we supporters of Macabbi Tel Aviv appreciate all the team does for us. For Maccabi Tel Aviv represents more than a basketball team to us. The thrill of the game takes our minds off of our problems. Often an important Maccabi victory is the lead story on the late news, and claims the front page of the morning paper. It's a marvelous thing to see joy and celebration in the news, instead of the more usual discord and suffering. The success of the team brings out feelings of pride, as well. Our team has the responsibility and honor of representing Israel in European sports, and does an extremely good job of it. We know that in Europe, as well as at home, and not unlike the Maccabees of old, Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv is a force to be reckoned with.
*Note: As of 2008, Maccabi Tel Aviv has a new sponsor: Electra.
(c) Amy Samin