Tonight there will be Lag Ba’omer bonfires burning throughout Israel. Whilst these fires burn Maccabi Tel Aviv will be taking on the mighty Real Madrid in the Euro league basketball Final in Milano, Italy, cheered on by the ten thousand Israeli fans that travelled all the way to support them.
We celebrate Lag Ba’omer for a number of mystical, magical reasons. Anybody who watched the semifinal between Maccabi and CSKA Moscow will agree that the very presence of Maccabi in the final is a miracle in itself, after their astonishing victory over the Russian team, overturning a fifteen point deficit to claim a sensational victory in the final seconds of the game.
We have become accustomed to see Maccabi Tel Aviv playing at the highest level in European basketball. But when one considers that the final of the European Football Champions League final that takes place in six days’ time in Lisbon, between two of the best football clubs on the planet, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, we realize how awesome having an Israeli team playing in the final of the basketball equivalent of the Champions League, actually is.
Some may claim that the majority of the Maccabi players are not Israeli – ironic when considering the Maccabee warriors the team is named after, fought against an enemy that aspired to assimilate them. But most top European basketball and football teams today have squads in which the majority of their players are not locals. This is the current reality of European club sport. And it does not take away from the heroic victory the Tel Aviv based team scored to reach the pinnacle of European basketball.
After the sensational Maccabi victory over CSKA on Friday evening, the clearly emotional TV commentator asked the legendary former Maccabi coach and current basketball analyst Pini Gershon, how he explains their victory which came about against all the odds. He said: “Tonight is Shabbat. For those who don’t believe in G-d, should now begin to believe – even though they played on Shabbat!”
Gershon’s words are rather telling when we recall one of the reasons the Maccabees succeeded in their battle. They decided to fight on Shabbat. Their rational was that one cannot win battles based solely on religious purity.
The festival of Channukah, the festival of lights, is renowned for that famous Maccabee victory in their revolt against the Seleucid army.
Tonight Maccabi will be fighting for the trophy at the time that the House of Israel will be kindling their Lag Ba’omer bonfires. Their very presence on that Milano court is a miracle and a victory in itself. Let us hope that the light of the fires of Israel will shine in the hearts, hands and heels of the Maccabi players as they confront the mighty Madrid team tonight.
And if they do not prevail, they shall still return home shining.