The headline in the Hebrew edition of Haaretz this morning said it best: Haven’t the Jewish people suffered enough?
It’s an inside joke, one that only Israelis who grew up in the 1990s might get: A catch-phrase from a famous recurring skit on a popular, now-extinct comedy show. The premise is simple: A sweet and mild-mannered man named Feldermaus appears in various international sporting events and tries to convince the referees that the Israeli competitor, representing the long downtrodden Jewish people, deserves just a little bit of a head start. The referees, of course, refuse, at which point Feldermaus unleashes his mighty catchphrase. Growing up, every time Israeli competitors failed to win something—an Olympic gold medal, a qualifying ticket to the World Cup, an Academy Award—my friends and I would look at each other dolefully and sigh, “Haven’t the Jewish people suffered enough?”
Apparently, we haven’t. In its most recent appearance in the European Champions League yesterday, against German champions Schalke, Israel’s premier team, Hapoel Tel Aviv, had one simple objective in mind: Like the men of ancient Masada, they wanted to redeem their pride; to go down in history as hardened warriors who, even in the face of certain demise, could rescue one final spectacle of bravery and grit. But the zealots atop Masada were merely surrounded by Roman legionnaires, whereas Hapoel’s men had to contend with Raul, the former Real Madrid legend, and with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, nicknamed The Hunter for reasons that became obvious in yesterday’s match, which Tel Aviv lost, 3-1.
Like a mediocre piece of chamber music, Hapoel started languid and mute. Their opponents, on the other hand, took the pitch in a frenzy, playing fast and furious soccer. Three minutes into the game, Raul had his first goal, assisted by Huntelaar.
In the second half, however, Schalke’s men must have realized there was no reason to run. They emerged from their locker room looking considerably calmer and more relaxed, and leisurely traipsed about, looking for opportunities. They soon found them: Raul scored another beautiful goal, and the excellent Jurado added one of his own to the festivities.
There was one lone hero in last night’s athletic massacre: Like the last man standing on Masada, Itay Shechter—he of the pull-your-yarmulke-out-of-your-sock fame—scored a goal seconds before the game ended. The Jews still lost, but now, at least, they had one lovely goal to sweeten the suffering.