Rooting for the Home Team, Rooting for Israel

    January 2011            
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Rooting for the Home Team

By Yonatan Sredni

"Mazal Tov!" a text message on my cellular phone declares. "Way to go!" a friend passing on the street smiles. "Congratulations!" the subject line on numerous e-mails in my inbox reads. These expressions were coming at me fast and furious last week from both close friends and casual ones. I accepted them all with great pleasure, although I was totally undeserving. I did not get married, nor have a child, get a degree, win the lottery, or do anything else warranting all the expressions of joy. In fact, the real credit goes to a group of men whom I have never met, who play a sport thousands of miles away from my home in Israel.

All the well-wishers were well aware of that fact. I myself had done nothing to directly help the San Francisco Giants win their first ever World Series championship since moving to the city by the bay in 1958. Credit goes to the players, the manager, the owners and the front office of the club, not to the die-hard fan in Israel who hasn't attended a game at their waterfront downtown ballpark in nine years.

I rarely discuss Israeli politics and tend to shy away whenever the conversation turns to goings on in the Knesset, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman's 'Loyalty Oath' was no exception. The proposal that those applying for Israeli citizenship swear loyalty to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state didn't bother me much. Jewish State? Check. Democratic? Yup. End of story.

But as the 'Mazal Tovs' poured in last week by email, SMS, and Facebook, I started thinking about why they were directed at me. What had I done? What did the others see in me that caused them to congratulate me for something so (seemingly) trivial that I had no control over? Did I pitch masterfully in Game 4? Had I played stellar defense for San Francisco against Texas? Did I hit a towering homerun to give my team the lead? Obviously the answer the each of the above questions was no.

But upon deeper reflection, those who know me well know that my support of the San Francisco Giants is not a new development. I did not 'jump on the bandwagon' and only root for the team when it did well. As a teen, I suffered through their 100 loss season in 1985. I supported the club through the heartbreak of their World Series collapse in 2002. I've studied their history from Willie Mays to Willie McCovey to Will Clark. I spent many a Sunday of my youth watching ballgames in the frigid upper deck of their old stadium, Candlestick Park. I supported the team when others hated them (the Barry Bonds years) and stuck with them through thick and thin. While a fan of a team like The New York Yankees can bask in the club's multiple championships, a San Francisco Giants fan has had to stick with the team throughout its long title drought.

No, I did not directly help the team win it all this year, but I did support them, in good times and bad. I was 'loyal'. The congratulatory expressions I received last week are less about the team's success, but more about an appreciation of my sincere loyalty to my favorite club.

The loyalty oath that the Knesset is proposing may not seem to be so critical in and of itself, but the message behind it is. Loyalty to one's country, one's home- and even one's favorite baseball team is not such a trivial matter. Loyalty is about commitment, support, about willing to 'take one for the team', about being 'a team player', and 'putting the team first'.

The 2010 San Francisco Giants were truly a 'team' in the sense that the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. It was not a team loaded with superstars (although cases could be made for their rookie catcher and some of their young starting pitchers), but with veterans, rookies, and a bunch of players cast-off from other teams. A new hero emerged every game, sometimes multiple heroes, but never the same player twice in a row. The 2010 Giants were a team where egos were checked at the door and the 'team' always came first. Perhaps that's another reason so many of my friends were glad they won. Even if it wasn't 'their' team, it was a team you could certainly get behind and root for.

In the unofficial anthem of baseball, 'Take Me out to the Ballgame' we sing, "Let me root, root, root for the home team. If they don't win, it's a shame." Obviously we root for the home team, but it strikes me as interesting that even when they lose, and sometimes they will, it's a shame, but they are still our home team. We'll still support them, win or lose.

The San Francisco Giants will always be the team I support, but once I left northern California to live in Israel, Israel became my home. The Giants are still my team, but Israel is now my 'home team'.

And perhaps that's what the loyalty oath is all about. If you wish to become an Israeli citizen, to live in Israel, you are pledging allegiance to the 'home team'. Never forget that not only is Israel your home, but you are also part of a 'team'. In good times and bad, we're still on the same team!

Go Giants!

Go Israel!

The writer has an MA in Creative Writing from Bar-Ilan University.


from the January 2011 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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