Yoni Berg


I never got into sports. It was just never my thing. I never root-root-rooted for the home team OR the away team. But this isn’t a bad thing.  My wife is happy that her husband doesn’t care about the playoffs of this or the championship of that.

Pictured: Not Me

But that doesn’t mean I don’t understand sports. As an avid watcher of TV and movies (some might replace “avid watcher” with “functioning addict”), I’ve seen my fair share of sports shows/films. Baseball movies, basketball movies, hockey movies, football movies, even dodgeball movies (dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge!) have ensured that I know the difference between a touchdown and a home run, at least.

So when I hear a good sports metaphor, I can appreciate it. Such was the case when I first heard Rabbi Mordechai Weiss explain his understanding of Jewish history. He told me that Jewish history is like “the big game:” the citizens of Israel are the ones on the field; the rest of the Jews, the ones in the diaspora, are in the stands. They may be cheering or booing, but they’re not in the game. Not until they make Aliyah.

Mind you, he told me this years before he made Aliyah himself. He was living in Connecticut, visiting a few times a year. But he understood that when it came to our history, he was an observer and not a player. Thankfully, he’s left his seat in the stands since then, and taken a position on the court (am I mixing too many sports metaphors here?).

But I have to say, I love that metaphor. It can be extended and extrapolated to so many aspects of our life here. For example, right now Bibi is trying to assign positions for his teammates, like some political quarterback arranging his receivers. Meanwhile, competing groups are rallying the fans to cheer us on (like The David Project, Hasbara Fellowships, Stand With Us, et al) or boo us (SJP, JVP, and other BDS groups) as we play.

But against whom are we playing? Is it Right vs. Left? Religious vs. Secular? Jew vs. Arab? Israeli vs. Everyone-else-in-the-Middle-East?

The answer is: all of the above.

How can that be? How can there be such confusion and lack of focus in one game?

To answer that, we have to look to Calvin and Hobbes.

Not these guys, but this way I avoid copyright problems.


Calvin and Hobbes, the titular stars of the incredibly popular comic strip by Bill Watterson, created an incredible game called ‘Calvinball.’ It’s a wildly hectic game in which you can make up whatever rules you want so long as it doesn’t change a rule made up by another player. The only permanent rule,as Calvin points out in one strip, is that you can never play it the same way twice. At which point Hobbes states that the score is 12 to Q. Basically, it’s controlled anarchy.

Israelball – the game we play here in Israel – is similar. “Rule #846: If you win a war, you have to give the land you captured to a bunch of people who weren’t even fighting.” “Rule #3402: The Prime Minister must lead his party according to the platform on which it was elected, unless he doesn’t feel like it; then he can just make up a new party and do whatever he wants.” “Rule #157: If someone brings a literal boatload of guns for you during a war, you have to sink it.” And those are just the rules we came up with ourselves. If we listened to all the people in the stands (or the “referees” in the UN), we’d have a million more rules contradicting a million others.

But you know what? The game is still going. We haven’t given up. And with our Coach and the Playbook he left for us, things are looking pretty good for our team. So to any of you reading this from the stands, come on down to the field. Israelball allows for any amount of players on the field at any given time. There’s plenty of room to play and we’re always looking for our next MVP.

About the Author
Proud resident of a town in the heart of Jewish history, still watching it unfold.