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No American sports team is more enmeshed in the heart and soul of a geographic region than the Boston Red Sox. Rooting for, praying for, and annually being disappointed by the Sox is as much a New England rite as autumn leaves, clam chowder and summers on the Cape.

Last week's historic victory over their hated rival and perennial persecutor, the New York Yankees, was cause for jubilation throughout Red Sox nation.

By becoming the first team in baseball history to win a seven game series after losing the first three games, the Red Sox ended their so-called 85-year-old "curse" and shed their reputation for inventing novel ways to lose big games.

Local Red Sox fans are also caught up in the celebration. Bernie Och of Haifa is a typical Red Sox fanatic. He moved to Boston with his family at the age of three, and the Sox soon became a life-long obsession. Och made aliyah in 1962 but continued rooting and mostly suffering for the Red Sox since then.

The only advantage for Och in being 9,000 km from Boston's Fenway Park is he's "slightly" less emotionally involved. "If I had been in Boston when the Sox lost to the Yankees in last year's series, I probably would have collapsed," says Och.

Och's connection with the Red Sox is intensely personal. "After I watched them being terrorized by the Yankees in the first three games of the series, I became convinced I was putting a hex on them. So I decided to stop watching the games and it worked. As the seventh game came around, it was pretty unbearable, but a friend in North Carolina encouraged me not to watch and promised to call me the second it was over if the Red Sox won. I got up at five in the morning waiting for a call and when the phone rang I realized a miracle had happened." So much for logic but, as the saying goes, the rest is history.

Red Sox following is a trait that's handed down through generations. Fourteen-year-old Amy Eisenberg of Kibbutz Sarid got hooked on the Sox while visiting her aunt in Massachusetts two summers ago. "My aunt taught me all about baseball, and I've been rooting for the Red Sox since. I got up at night to watch all the games, except on school days."

How young Americans develop an intense, often lifelong affiliation with baseball teams, is the subject of a book by University of Haifa literature professor, Bill Freedman. In "More than a Pastime: An Oral History of Baseball Fans," Freedman explains that baseball is so rich that it provides answers for children with various different emotional needs. This was even more so, for generations that grew up before the 1960s, when baseball was truly America's national game.

According to Freedman, "children with a moral bent get hooked on the `good guy-bad guy' aspect of the sport. Sensitive children can enjoy the aesthetics of baseball and children from dysfunctional families can see their team as a surrogate family."

"The ego becomes involved in baseball in a very personal way," says Freedman. "Since identity is formed during childhood and adolescence, it's easy to understand the importance that baseball can assume in one's life." Red Sox fan Och says that last week's events have made him believe that "miracles can actually happen."