Stand up all those who aren't fired up for the World Cup and aren't eagerly waiting for the month of games that begins tomorrow. I'm not getting up; I'm sitting and writing a hymn to the ball and the players. Over the years, the number of detractors is diminishing; and aside from my wife, for whom soccer really is like a sleeping tablet, I no longer know many purists to whom the game doesn't speak at all.
I'm all fired up, too, and I have been ever since standing at the entrance to the Hapoel Rehovot stadium at the age of five and tugging on the sleeve of every adult with a ticket, beseeching: "Take me in with you; take me in with you." And like every true fan, soccer, and only soccer, turns me into that eternal child who dreamed of being legendary goalkeeper Yaakov Hodorov but only managed to stand between the posts for a few years for the Knesset team, which is known for being particularly weak.
Analysts and observers of the intellectual kind tend to define the soccer cult as a "new religion." And indeed, fans sometimes clasp their hands together as if in prayer, and their roars and groans are directed to the heavens in keeping with their team's performance; nevertheless, soccer is not a religion, but an opiate for the masses.
Had Karl Marx played soccer, he would have known - not a religion, and certainly not a monotheistic religion, because God isn't up in the heavens; he has both feet on the ground, on the field, and he is playing in the game. It's only his name that changes: sometimes he's known as Di Stefano or Garrincha, Puskas or Beckenbauer, Pele or Maradona, Cruyff or Platini, Romario or Zidane; and, in June 2006, Ronaldinho or Henry.
The final of the World Cup is expected to attract a television audience of some three billion people, or half the human race. If one subtracts all those living on the dark side of the television screen, in their Godforsaken locations, one can safely say that humanity, for the most part, will be participating in the World Cup. There is nothing else like it. Even if the first man were to fly to Mars, his flight wouldn't be watched by as many compulsive onlookers - even if it were George Bush in the company of Ehud Olmert.
So what is the secret of the drug?
Sworn culture lovers will ascribe artistic characteristics to soccer: "It's just like a ballet," they will say. But this is nothing more than an exaggeration. With all due respect to Ronaldinho, whose turns are breathtaking, and make us all look stupid, he's not exactly Rudolf Nureyev. Nureyev could have stirred enthusiasm and admiration anywhere - even in a huge stadium and under bright lights. It is doubtful, on the other hand, that Ronaldinho could be uprooted from that huge stadium, and placed on stage to pirouette past his markers.
Don't turn our soccer into something it is not - and never has been or will be - just to make excuses for our lowly addiction; it's Germany, the long-awaited World Cup has arrived, and up yours if you don't like our behavior. Our addiction to soccer, bordering on temporary insanity, is a sharp, traumatic response to the political and social correctness of all the other days of the year. It gives us an opportunity to unfetter the chains of political correctness that bind us to the point of pain. It is also a reaction to the accelerated processes of globalization that are crushing our "small piece," and turning it into a huge, international one that is no longer ours. The world of today may indeed be a "global village;" but in this village, of all places, the sense of alienation is only getting stronger, and we are panic stricken.
And at long last, we have a month that is post-globalization, or an end to globalization, and political correctness can go out the window, too. This month, nations and states can bid farewell to the world that has been forced upon them, and return to themselves, to mark out anew their geographic and mental borders, and fortify them - each country unto itself.
In June 2006, in Germany, globalization comes to an end - but only for a month, which is too short a time.
In each of us lives a nationalist and subdued member of the rabble, and the month of the World Cup is its time to shine. Here they come, the exorcised demons: This month, you can hate freely and openly; you have every right to curse and deride and slander; and you can go to a war in which, for a change, there is a winner, and red is a card at most.
For four years we get lost, and are erased, without identity or anything to identify with. But when the World Cup comes around, we can rally around the flag. And the miserable, whose motherlands failed to qualify for the tournament and won't be there tomorrow, will quickly find a new beloved mother, who will adopt them gladly. The month of the World Cup is a month without loneliness, without orphans, and Israel isn't a widower, too.
In the name of the vast majority of Israelis, we call out from this platform: Awake, awake, Brazil; awake, awake, utter a song, our song too; and a big jeer for recalcitrant Iran.
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