Maccabi and the Hand of God

I rejoiced when I heard Maccabi was out of the Euroleague, having advanced only to the quarterfinals. This is not a song of ascents to David, it's a song of the shortcomings of owner David Federman and chairman Shimon Mizrahi. Can you hear the schadenfreude of a Hapoel Ussishkin fan coming from me? Not necessarily.

This is a celebration of a defeat that will end up as a victory, if only Maccabi has the sense to understand what happened to them - what happens to a club whose members are betrayed, even if they are still wearing the same clothes. The yellow has long since faded.

For years there has been a debate as to whether Maccabi is "Israel's team." I myself used to complain about the airs - "the state is us" - but now I tend to think that there is something to it: Maccabi does in fact represent Israel, at least its ugly side.

It represents pretension: The tickets to the Final Four are in our pocket, and why should we travel to Paris via Belgrade; it's a waste of time? After all, in every national confrontation "with our backs to the wall" we were victorious, even before the first ball was heaved at the basket.

And it represents historical memory - how the Maccabees defeated the Greeks, renewing our glorious days of old. It's not only a sport, it's a symbol.

It represents the obsessive need to win: We'll buy every outstanding Israeli player and leave him on the bench to rot, but the competing team won't have him either.

Let recent arrivals and those who will soon be leaving play for us, a random collection of basketball players who are turned into league members in the name of the objective. A Filipina caretaker is seen as a threat, an American basketball player is seen as a promise.

There is no self-respecting team in the world that does not honor its obligation to educate and produce a reservoir of players from within; there is no team worthy of the name that sends a starting five of outsiders onto the court. Yet Maccabi's players were not nurtured from within its system.

Barcelona will not give up on home-made products. It has one Lionel Messi - someone who became a citizen at the age of 11, and another 10 who came up from the youth team.

Maccabi, on the other hand, likes foreign products. The native-born children get a number, but they don't really count. They work them to the bone before they take them to the diasporas of Spain, Greece or America. They have been totally erased, even from the promotional poster. It's easy to buy ready-made players in the market, it's hard to invest effort and raise players in a farm system.

What's so Israeli about Maccabi - after all, it is all foreign labor - except for the typical desire for victory now and at any price, to compensate for all the disappointments in our lives?

What's Israeli, except for the worship of zodiac signs and stars, who rise overnight and set overnight, like the Prophet Jonah's kikayon, which he did not grow? What's so Israeli here, except for a coach who summons God from the bleachers of the heavens, has him participate in the warm-up exercises and wins a game in the last second with one holy finger?

Where did the hand of God disappear to this time? And where was the owner of the hand at the decisive moment when we were losing? Lean Partizan Belgrade taught fat Maccabi a good lesson. And we should be grateful for such a lesson.

Exactly 33 years ago this week Maccabi played in Belgrade, in the European Championships Final Four. At the time Motti and Miki and Shuki and Tal, Ralph's children all, ran around the court. Then the team also won the game and the championship.