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Extreme Israeli Paddleball Ignites a Battle

The Israeli beach “sport” is causing quite a racket

by
Adam Chandler
March 28, 2013
(Wikimedia)

Israeli paddleball. When faced with the choice of entering the Mediterranean Sea during jellyfish season or sitting idly beachside while Israeli paddleballers in banana hammocks form a perfect storm of physical, aural, and visual nuisances, I know of some who would cast their lots with the jellyfish.

Matkot (paddleball) versus meduza (jellyfish). Both games with no winners. Those used to be the hazards of the Israeli beach. But now, matkot extremists have turned the annoying game into an Israeli bloodsport. And the people aren’t having it.

In recent years, the sport has mutated. That mutation—known as “Bat Yam style” for the Tel Aviv beach suburb where it was pioneered in the 1990s—turned the quaint seaside pastime into a fast-paced, hard-hitting game. Since then, the style has spread—and so too have calls to ban the sport.

“You can’t walk peacefully along the beach without getting slammed by the matkot balls,” says Tom Shinan, 35 years old, director of a 15-minute video assailing matkot released last summer. “It’s horrible.” He says he would “go to the beach and feel like I’m back in the army dodging bullets. That tic-tic-tic is everywhere.”

Shinan’s video, by the way, is a can’t-miss production. It starts with an old, kindly-seemingly matkot racketmaker who is struck dumb when asked if he realizes the horrible upshots of his vocation. Then, a voice offscreen begins:

You know how they say the Arabs want to throw us into the sea? Well, I say why not? But only the matkot players.

The furor may be warranted: Carbon paddles that are louder and achieve greater velocity, which means more bystanders are getting popped. There are tournaments. Public debates. Matkot even managed to cause one of the staunchest defenders of Israel to critique the Israeli sport. After being struck by a ball, Noah Pollak of the Emergency Coalition for Israel told WSJ:

It makes you think, is this the Zionism we defend?

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.

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