Shul without singing is like crowd-free football

Have you seen any matches since abnormal service resumed? That will be us when shul resumes.

July 10, 2020 15:03

At Liverpool’s end-of-season champions dinner there may be a toast to the President of the State of Israel and all but one of the players will rise. President Reuven Rivlin was quick to congratulate “the English team I have followed for so many years”, tweeting: “At the end of a storm, there’s a golden sky,” as if to remind the Reds their anthem was written by those kosher stage partners Rodgers and Hammerstein.

When Rivlin’s fandom began is unclear, but I’m guessing it kicked off around 1990, when Liverpool were the first English club to sign an Israeli player, Ronny Rosenthal. They went on to add Avi Cohen and Yossi Benayoun — names that don’t get chanted much nowadays when the current star, Mo Salah, is an Egyptian who apparently refuses to shake an Israeli hand, let alone toast a president, but let it be.

Liverpool has had its fill of religious sectarianism. The origins of football in Britain run along clerical lines. In Glasgow, Celtic and Rangers stand either side of the Irish Catholic-Protestant divide. Liverpool FC was founded by Catholics, Everton by Protestants. Sheffield, Bradford, Birmingham and Manchester have similar colorations, though I’ve heard it said lately that Man United is now definitely Ashkenazi and City Sephardi, perhaps because one is in the north of the city and the other lies south and its owners speak Arabic.

Where I come from, everyone knew Arsenal and Spurs wore tsitsit on their shirts, situated as they are in the North London gefilte fish belt. Arsenal used to be owned by the double-barrelled Bracewell-Smiths and Hill-Woods, who affected not to notice chopped liver on their terraces and did their best to keep it out of the boardroom. But these gentry were blown away by Premiership billions and the Gunners have since strayed far from Finsbury Park and their kiddush cups.

Spurs, on the other hand, were always out and proud, blue and white, the fans calling themselves yids before anyone else did. As a kid, I knew boys who had Dave Mackay at their party as a barmitzvah present.

In early rabbinic deliberations on a North London eruv, the strongest objection was that, if Jews were allowed to carry, they would go to Spurs or Arsenal on Sabbath afternoon, missing minchah. The rabbis were, as ever, completely right. As you can see, shul going has soared ever since and football can barely get a full team together.

From its beginnings, football has been Jewish. At the FA Cup Final, Frankie Vaughan would sing Abide With Me, an Anglican anthem so assiduously non-sectarian that Jesus got left on the subs bench and the only mention of God’s name is as “help of helpless”, which true fans thought to be a charitable reference to the opposing team.

It could be that the line “fast falls the eventide” is a hint of empty shuls at minchah, but maybe that’s taking things too far. The tune, by the way is accredited to a man called Monk, so not one of ours. Frankie, on the other hand, avowedly was and Wembley itself was well within the pale of settlement.

Lately, skullcaps have sprouted around Premiership grounds, knitted on Israeli kibbutz machines and sold in Shuk HaCarmel in the colours of Arsenal, Spurs, Man United, Liverpool and a whole gamut of Jewish teams all the way down river to Chelsea, last of the true-blue clubs, now known as Chelski. Not only is Abramovich its owner, but it even had an Israeli manager called Avraham who sent his kids to a Jewish school and never showed up to work on Yom Kippur.

So, in case you’re wondering why in these isolated months I have nothing better to write about than football it is because, yes, football is a Jewish issue and if you haven’t been watching it you won’t have anything to talk about at shul. And that’s worrying.

Have you seen any matches since abnormal service resumed? Heard the ghostly silence in empty grounds, broken only by an occasional profanity as a player is hacked to the turf? Felt the lack of herd support as a team sinks into the relegation mire, the absence of Delia Smith, the loss of a crowd to raise the Canaries team above their perch to enjoy another season of survival?

That will be us when shul resumes. Only a handful of people in the stands, no urgency to the action, no social interaction — and most crucially, no singing or loud chanting to quicken the dead, elevate the angels and prove that we can be worthier than we know we are, noisier, lustier, nearer my God to thee, for heaven’s sake.

Shul without singing is, like crowd-free football, a spectral simulacrum of true support.

We must find a way to sing in shul. Away the lads.

July 10, 2020 15:03

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive