"Some people foolishly contend that it is just a football game. We see it as a great educational opportunity." These are the opening words of a booklet specially prepared for Jewish schools and youth groups in the U.K. ahead of Saturday's Israel-England Euro 2008 qualifier. The 18-page educational packet aims to put the momentous dilemma facing British Jews of which side to support in a socio-historical context.
It recalls Sir Basil Henriques, a pioneer of Jewish youth work who disparagingly described British Zionists as "squinting citizens" in 1945, Jonathan Pollard, the American Jew caught spying for Israel who undermined "the basic contract of Diaspora Jewish life," and even British-born cricketer Sajid Mahmood, who was taunted by chants of "traitor" when British citizens of Pakistani descent objected to his playing for England against Pakistan in 2006.
The introduction to the booklet, which was produced by the UJIA Jewish Life Educational Center in London and written by British-born Jerusalemite Jeremy Leigh, reads: "The qualifier for Euro 2008 is the moment that countless Jewish educators, passionate Zionists or angst-ridden/identity-obsessed English Jews have been dreaming of: a chance to live out the best Jewish identity discussion ever created, in real time. Put simply, which side are you on: Israel or England? Put not at all simply, what does your answer to this question say about you, your Jewish identity, and your sense of loyalty to the country of your citizenship?"
One of the activities in the packet designed to probe these issues is a role play which places participants in an imagined television studio and requires them to offer their commentary on the game. Suggested characters for role playing include Sir Basil Henriques, Israel's first prime minister David Ben-Gurion (who "never tired of reminding Jews of the opportunity to 'realize themselves' by returning to their natural homeland") and Norman Tebbit, a minister in Margaret Thatcher's government, whose infamous "cricket test" contended that the test of national loyalty lay in whether immigrants supported their native country's cricket team or that of their new homeland.
"It's a principle of informal education that it is better to use real dilemmas that arise naturally rather than a formalized curriculum," says Jonathan Boyd, director of informal education for the UJIA (United Jewish Israel Appeal), who commissioned the packet. "The game raises some great issues about loyalty and identity. It's one thing to talk about Israel versus England in theory but another when you are actually watching the game and hearing the national anthems and feeling your responses - which one you identify with more clearly and which one sends shivers down your spine."
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