Going to a sporting event in Israel is a Jewish experience. It’s almost a religious experience. Some go to shul, others go to see the Hapoel and Beitar Jerusalem games.

I saw it when they had the Israel Baseball League for a summer of quintuple lower case ‘a.’ I saw it at the soccer/football match while eating sunflower seeds and spitting them out next to somebody who also said a blessing on the nuts. I just saw it last week at a local Jerusalem basketball game where former New York Knick Amare Stoudemire is converting to Judaism. Going to a game in Israel is a Jewish experience. It is a way to bond with the people of Israel, to cheer for your team together, and to hate all the other Jews who are rooting for Ashdod to win.

Come and join me in the Jerusalem basketball game experience:

Kosher Food

I didn’t have to go to a Baltimore Orioles game to find a kosher hotdog. They had it right there, at every stand, and it was the true kosher experience. Why? Because the hotdogs were extremely expensive.

Jewish Players

I thought Jews weren’t athletic. In Israel, apparently they are. Unfortunately this does not include people become Israeli citizens later in life like me.

Also, it was great to hear the announcer saying Hebrew names. I didn’t know what they were saying, but it sounded like “Moshe Feigelman dribbling the ball. Passes to Yehoshua Katzav who dunks on Dudi Eisenberg.” It legitimately sounded like he was listing the candidates for the upcoming Israeli elections.

They Take Defense Very Seriously

The coach screamed out “Hagana” and I jumped to the floor. I only know that word from its use as the name of the Israeli army and from a self-defense class I didn’t show up to. I didn’t want to take any chances. I know these people over here do Krav Maga.

Using the same word for army and playing defense really gives some of these players a purpose. The players feel as though they are protecting the country when they block a shot. One guy for the Ashdod did one of those Krav Maga fouls, where you take away the ball and throw the guy to the ground, while dislocating his arm. He may have been an excellent soldier, but in this case it got him a technical foul.

Religious Fans

Most people who showed up to the game also got to catch the evening Maariv service, with a minyan. It’s better this way than having them rush home to their local synagogue and then come back in the fourth quarter only to find that someone had taken their parking spot. Sure there’s no halftime show, but do you want to watch some guy you don’t know try to sink a shot from half court or talk to Hashem? I pick Hashem. He can sink a shot from anywhere.

In the middle of the prayers at the stadium, a guy threw in a request that God should help Hapoel Jerusalem win the game. Everybody said “Amen.” It was the most focused that I had seen anyone during the entire service.

Fans with Yarmulkes

Half the crowd was wearing Yamulkes. I felt like it was part of the Hapoel uniform. I already said “Amen” to them winning and Amare Stoudemire having a place in heaven. I never felt that way at a Knicks game. Never did I feel the need to ask God to intercede on behalf of Patrick Ewing.

The Mashiach Song

Everybody got into that. That’s Jerusalem tradition. Every sporting event, we sing “Mashiach Mashiach Mashiach, oy yoy yoy yoy yoy yoy yoy…’ Love it. We know that if we win the game, we are hastening the coming of the Messiah. I could have been learning Torah, but I feel like my being at the basketball game is a greater help to the Jewish people and redemption.

Religious Cheerleaders

It is such a pleasure to see modestly dressed cheerleaders, in skirts. It got us all going, bringing up the crowd’s level of fear of Heaven. After singing the Mashiach song, it just felt right. And we all got into it when they started dancing the Hora. Some girls were extremely modest. I am sure Sarah Bayla could’ve kicked higher if she didn’t have a jean skirt on.

Amare Stoudemire is Sitting on the Bench with Tzitzis and a Yarmulke

That is why people go to the games.

Nobody was mad at him for not playing. We were all too excited to see an ex-NBA star wearing a Kippah. People didn’t even want him to play, concerned that he would have to take off his tzitzis. It was the only time in Israeli history where people did not get mad at a religious person for not working.

Announcers and Play by Play Guys are Messing Up Every Players’ Name

It is still Israel. I have memories of going to a game and thought this Israeli guy was starting, by the name of Beelee Thompsone. I had no idea the guy was a former NBA player for the Lakers that I had seen years ago, by the name of Billy Thompson. Though it’s not important and none of the fans cared. Billy never put on Tzitzis.

When they announced that Thomas was starting I thought they were cursing.

Psyche up Guy Is a Religious Jew

He’s throwing in religious phrases too. He must’ve been a gabbai from a local shul, announcing, “And now… Thomas is coming into the game, b’ezrat Hashem (with God’s help).” It sounded like the last religious wedding I went to. “And now, michubad (honored) with the coming off of the bench – Tomer Itskovitz. A cousin to the Itskovitz family side.”

It Still Felt Like an American Sporting Event

They played Hava Nagilah. The difference is that this wasn’t a hockey game. The one thing that was exactly the same as an American basketball game is that all of the starters were American, with a random European guy thrown in the mix.

All in all, it was like going to a Jewish wedding and not having to bring a gift. There was singing, there was the Israeli jump dance, a guy who was paying no attention, a Hora circle, the Mashiach song, we davened Maariv, they mispronounced the names of the people they were calling up, and the food was overpriced.

In the end Ashdod lost. They had too many Jewish players on their team. Or maybe it was because of the prayer we said that Ashdod miss their shots. I still don’t know.. I am just worried that once Amare converts, it will ruin his game.

Going to a game in Israel, I feel like I am now a better Jew.