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November 30, 2012

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PAGE 14A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, NOVEMBER 30, 2012 By Jacob Kamaras Jewish athletes from around the world gather every four years in Israel for the Olympic-style Maccabiah Games, not to mention the annual JCC Maccabi Youth Games in America. Most Is- raeli professional basketball and soccer teams preface their names with "Maccabi" (perhaps most notably the hoopsters of Maccabi Tel Aviv), and the athletic teams from Yeshiva University are dubbed--you guessed it-- the Maccabees. Does all of this mean Judah the Maccabee was a superstar athlete back in the day? Actually, history suggests just the opposite. The story of Chanukah was one in which the Jews--seeking to "Hel- lenize"--started to adopt Greek sports, only to have the anti-assimilationist Mac- cabees buck that trend as well as others that blended Jewish and secular lifestyles. "Calling Jewish sports teams Maccabees is a con- tradiction in terms because the historic Maccabees were anti-sports," Yeshiva Uni- versity professor of Jewish History Jeffrey Gurock told He explained that the Maccabees' goal was to "return back [to tradition], go away from these outside influences." Instead, Gurock said, the modern usage of the Macca- bee moniker can be traced to 1898, when social Darwinist Max Nordau--founder of the Jewish athletic movement-- coined the term "muscular Judaism" (muskel-Juden- thum) at the Second Zionist Congress. Nordau believed the existence of strong and physically fit Jews could defeat the classic stereotype that Jews are physically weak and instead depend solely on their wit. The great rabbinic figures of the Middle Ages were concerned with physical fitness, but sports remained "something foreign to Jewish culture" at the time, Gurock said. Nordau was looking to emulate Jews who fought against the world and were successful, and historically speaking, that was found most prominently in the story of Chanukah. "The only examples we have of Jews who were strong and successful were really the Maccabees," said Gurock, who is also the author of Judaism's Encounter With American Sports (2005). From that point on, Gur- ock said the name Maccabees became a "badge of honor" for Jews pursuing sports. The same year as the Second Zionist Congress, Jews in Ber- lin founded the Bar Kochba athletics association, after which Jews in Eastern Europe (Galicia, Bulgaria) followed suit, according to the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Russia's Maccabi society joined the fray in 1913, and in the 1930s Poland's Maccabi federation included 30,000 Jewish athletes in 250 clubs, YIVO said. Before World War II, "probably every European country from Poland on east had some sort of Maccabee team, or Maccabea Club," Gurock said, representing"an expression of Zionist pride." The trend continues to- day, with numerous Jewish sports teams calling them- selves Maccabees or some- thing similar--including the teams at Yeshiva University (YU). That led Gurock to another question: Since YU is an Orthodox institution, shouldn't it call its teams the "non-Maccabees," to ac- curately represent the anti- assimilationist protagonists of the Chanukah story? Not quite, he answered. "What we like in modern times [about the historic Maccabees] are not so much their religious values, but their success in competing against the world," Gurock said. Though the original Mac- cabees were against the con- cept of organized athletics, Gurock noted that they were still the first Jewish group to raise the question of "How can you be Jewish and engage in a foreign cultural activity called sports?" He explained that in ancient times, sports were associated with pagan culture and ritual rites, but in modern times, "the great challenge is to integrate that foreign cultural phenomenon called sports into Jewish cul- ture, so that the two can live side by side, which is often a difficult task." The Mac- cabees ultimately decided that mixing sports with their Jewish lifestyle would be too inconsistent, Gurock said. At YU, the athletic teams themselves--not the school's administration--decided how they should be named. Originally the "Blue and Whites," YU's teams were the "Mighty Mites" from the 1940s-1960s, when they struggled against athletically superior squads, according to Gurock. In the 1970s, the teams adopted their currents monikers: the Maccabees and Lady Maccabees. "It's not today a defiance of tradition, it's appropriat- ing the idea of struggle, of success and virility, and power, which is emblematic of sports," Gurock said. The name Maccabees fits, Gurock explained, because the university is particularly proud of its Zionist orienta- tion. "It's the only place outside of Israel where before every game both the Star Spangled Banner and Hatikvah are played," he said. "So what more can you say?" By Judy Lash Balint Israeli parents have a love-hate relationship with Chanukah. They love the festive atmosphere, the public menorah lightings and sufganiyot (the Israeli doughnut), but schools are closed for nine days while of- rices and businesses remain open, so there's a scramble to find ways to keep kids occupied. Enter the commercializa- tion of Chanukah in Israel. Withwinterweather limiting A gift card good enough to eat. This Chanukah take a bite out of your holiday shopping with Too Jay's Gift Cards. With each $100 gift card purchase in any denomination receive a $10.00 Holiday Bonus Card with our compliments J December 31st. But don't! REAL. GOOD. 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This year's extravaganza, produced by Stage Design Israel, features eight LED screens and a revolving stage, designed and shipped over from the prestigious British Kinesys Design Com- pany. "The Israeli market is always keen on new effects," notes Design Israel's Eyal Lavie. Increasingly, Festigal has been criticized for its strong commercial message and high ticket prices. Last year, the Israeli Scouts Movement held demonstrations outside a couple of the performances and circulated an open letter Steven Rosenberg, M.D. Carlos M. 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Activists in Israel's sum- mer 2011 social protest movement also voiced ob- jections to the event, citing exorbitant ticket prices. "We parents will not continue to be anyone's suckers," said Tall Hayat, a Nes Tziona par- ent involved in the protests. While a large percentage of the audience gets discounted tickets via workers' unions and credit card companies, Hayat complains about the 170 NIS ($44) full price ticket. "The cost of enter- taining children has now reached hundreds of shekels and without any justification at all." It wasn't always that way. Festigal started as a lo- cal show in Haifa in 1980 as a competitor to the popular Israel Children's Song Festi- val, a song contest that ran between the early 1970s and 1987. Once the Song Festival died, Festigal began its com- mercial rise and became the proofing ground for dozens of performers looking for a showcase to gain recogni- tion. Over the years, cable TV became widespread in Israel and The Children's Chan- nel morphed into a prime form of entertainment for Israeli kids. Performers on the channel are featured in Festigal and are instantly recognizable to kids from 4-12 years old, the show's prime target market. The theme for Festigal 2012 is SpyFestigal (spelled out in English) and includes well-known entertainers such as Shiri Maimon, Asaf Herz, Dana Frider and Ethnix. In the promo video, the stars belt out a Hebrew version of Ricky Martin's "Livin' la vida loca." "Festigal has nothing to do with Chanukah," acknowledges Allison Som- mer, a mother of three from Ra'anana who has taken her kids to many Festigals. Sommer explains that the shows have two sections with a break where DVDs and Festigal paraphernalia is on sale. "There's definitely blatant commercial product placement at Festigal," Som- mer says. "It's a place for kids who are already exposed to pop culture on TV to see all their favorite performers in one fell swoop." Dr. Jeffrey Woolf, a senior lecturer in Talmud at Bar Ilan University and an expert in halakha and modernity, sees the Festigal phenom- enon as part of a deliberate move on the part of "certain elements in academia and the Ministry of Education to dejudaize the school cur- riculum and Israel's public spaces." Woolf says that the Macca- bees of the Chanukah story who resisted Hellenism "are exactly what today's secular Israeli intellectuals do not want to imitate." The intel- lectual elite, according to Woolf, has given up on the idea of Jewish particularism. Woolf explains that while the secular Zionists who built the country seized on Chanukah as a role model to fight for freedom and found the historical Chanukah story inspiring and a way to link Jews to their ideological roots, today the historical and religious significance of the holiday has dimin- ished. "Part of the reason for that is the failure of the reli- gious community to establish a common language with secular Israelis," he charges. Ironically, Woolf adds, almost every Israeli today lights a Hanukkia or takes part in a public candle light- ing ritual and eats sufgani- yot, but the message of the holiday has been lost and supplanted by Festigal-like commercialism.