Jonnie Schnytzer
Constantly between shtetl & avant-garde.

Australia’s Religion of Sport

I could write a piece about Bibi’s upcoming speech in the U.S. or the elections but writing of such kind these days would be like pouring a cup of water into the ocean. Instead, I present an entertanining entery for all those who love sport and or religion.

Herein lies my humble attempt at what great men before me have set out successfully to achieve. I am not worthy, yet, to be put in their company however I cannot escape this labor which I love. I am talking about writing words which capture Australia’s religion of sport.

Walking out of a world cup cricket match at the M.C.G, India vs S. Africa, I grapple with the following idea: could it be that sport is indeed a religion? I ask this question in all seriousness.

Is not the primary purpose, or outcome, of religion to make man better? Is it not to give man hope and to congregate him with his fellow man? I further ask, does it not also act as a family oriented function which brings us closer together? Do fathers not speak words of truth into the ears of their boys and mothers softly whisper these very same notions into those of their daughters? Finally, and even to the agnostic atheist, is it not religion’s ultimate purpose to give meaning to our lives?

During our stay in Melbourne we didn’t get to any synagogues however we were blessed to be part of a profoundly religious experience. It was at the M.C.G with close to 90,000 congregants, and my beautiful wife.

Where does one begin when trying to convey, describe or even attempt to “pass on” such an intimate experience as a religious one? No. words such as “convey” or “describe” are better put away in safe keeping for another time when one wants to talk of more earthly matters such as architecture or shopping.

Inspiration! Exaltation! Admiration! Sanctification! – these are words better fitted and neatly placed on a page or two which are a soul’s attempt to transmit an utmost intimate religious experience of one soul and nearly 90,000 more. Here I begin.

We make our way, with a great many, all on one pilgrimage on that beautiful pathway which overlooks Melbourne’s place of sanctity. Beneath us are the train tracks (perhaps a corridor between this world and the world to come?) -the means by which the masses can enter into the Holy of Hollies.

Make no mistake, it’s not accidental, nor symbolic (there is no room for this word when one talks of the truth!) that man’s ascending path to the M.C.G requires him to leave the city behind him. There is no room for materialism where he is headed. In any event, [American] commercialism will never ruin the game just as colonial conquest has never ruined local spirit. We are on our way to a truly uplifting religious experience – and we don’t even know it yet. At this point in time, of our virginal ascent, we still assume the misleading presupposition that we are on our way to watch a mere cricket match.

As we circle the stadium to reach our gate (may the Lord forgive us, we are still under the impression that this is merely a stadium) we are accompanied by Levite-like music – the sound of thousands of supporters chanting (or, praying perhaps?) for their team. We are also accompanied by larger-than-life legends, regel bronze statues of men like Sir Don Bradman or Dick Reynolds. If the reader doesn’t recognize these names, simply replace them with the Patriarch Abraham and the Prophet Moses.

In any other circumstance one might find it suiting and appropriate to call these statues. But on this instance they are more like, and indeed it is more respectful to say, graceful giants who glance upon us as if to enquire – ‘are you worthy?!’ We silently gulp, shy and embarrassed, as we tilt our heads to the side. The role of these regel royalty is done. We are left but to walk in to the stadium modestly reminded that we are but earth and ash, however we yearn for true greatness. It is with this inclination of the heart that we may enter into this holy place where greatness happens.

A graceful giant glancing (courtesy)


Upon entering the holy space all men are equal. In this space man ascends beyond supposed differences such as skin color or race. In here, we all want one thing – to feel our gentle hearts throb with passion and excitement as we watch the limits of man’s potential. We watch man elevate himself unto the highest realms (one could quote philosophers on the matter but I fear it would take away from the pure truth of it). We come to attach ourselves to greatness and to fill ourselves with a secret sense of hope and exuberance.

At this point of passage, if the reader finds himself uttering, or even G-d forbid thinking ‘Oh but this is only a cricket match we are talking about’ let it be known that he is an infidel!

The game (though it really is no game but rather a glorified testimony of G-d’s presence upon earth no less) begins. In retrospect, the game’s pace is like that of the spiritual ladder of prayer. One does not merely jump into matters of holiness but rather, one slowly ascends.

The Indians win the toss and they choose to bat first. By 30 overs they have reached 150 runs with only two men taken out (rule of thumb, educates me the Brit beside me, is that the final score is usually double what has been achieved by 30 overs). One of the Indian pair batting reaches 99 runs and the crowd goes wild until the bowler is about to deliver his ball. All of a sudden, in this massive place of sanctification full of nearly 90,000 congregants, there is a soft slender silence which is then ever so elegantly followed by that heavenly sound of leather on willow. The Indian has hit a four.

The congregants create an earth quaking sound of AMEN which shakes the heart and fills the spirit with that which is good and true. It is at such moments that the ignorant are inspired and all evil enters into eternal erosion. Even the wickedest of men mends his heart and returns upon the path of the righteous in moments like these.

A holy temple has two purposes; to bring man closer to G-d and to bring man closer to man. At the G we sit between an English couple and a charming elderly Indian woman. Through polite conversation we acquaint ourselves. It is the game’s atmosphere that bounds us together when we feel the awe of G-d that is in man.

The Indians finish up with 307/7 and it is time for the South Africans to bat but the Indians are on fire and their heat almost sets the congregants aflame. Wicket after wicket like one sinner of Sodom and Gmeroa after the other they go off the pitch until the duty is done. South Africa meet their worst ever defeat in World Cup history.

A father hails his four year old son up in the air like a holy grail. A mother squeezes tightly unto her new baby, only several weeks old (education begins at birth). A young man standing close to the pitch who is clearly emotionally electrified holds up the following sign – Cricket is still religion. Tendulkar still G-d. If the reader doesn’t know of Tendulkar simply replace this name with a deity of his belief.


Make no mistake, sport in this land is sacred and any other definition is sacrilege. On the most spiritually uplifting day of our religious calendar, on the Day of Atonement, our congregations pray for around 5 hours and we hope our spirits are uplifted and purified. Today, we spent almost 8 hours at what I believe to be a word which starts with an S. No, not a stadium. We experienced a truly uplifting religious moment. I would simply call it a different kind of synagogue and it’s in the center of Melbourne, in the very belly and heart of this land called Australia.

About the Author
Jonnie Schnytzer, author of Mossad thriller The Way Back, is probably the only Yid to hold a PhD in Jewish Philosophy who can say that he once beat the head of the IDF Naval commandos in a swimming race. Jonnie is a researcher and lecturer with an academic forte in medieval kabbalistic manuscripts and lectures on a wide variety of topics relating to Judaism. Previously, Jonnie has served as Advisor to the CEO of Taglit-Birthright Israel, taught and led Israel advocay delegations with StandWithUs and directed the strategic partnerships of the Israel-Asia Center. Jonnie is a passionate Essendon Bombers supporter.
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