You always know when a football game is on...

Actually, at first we often didn't. We would hear screams coming from our neighbors' apartments and we would think that masked gunmen had broken into several apartments at once... in neighboring buildings.

Then we would think again, turn on the television, and sure enough, there would be Maccabi Haifa battling HaPoal Tel Aviv... or Manchester United battling Chelsea, or Beitar Yerushalayim battling Maccabi Netanya. The screams are always loudest here in the Krayot when Maccabi Haifa is involved, but it doesn't really seem to matter who is playing-- most males in Israel over the age of 10 will be found clustered around TV screens whatever game is on, in falofel joints and coffee chops, shouting whenever a player has a near miss or a miraculous hit on the goal.

By football, of course, I mean soccer-- cadur-regel, the world's sport that the US has somehow missed out on. We've actually watched games in the Mexican internal league, broadcast on TV with Hebrew commentary (barely masking the muffled Spanish voices beneath). We've watched an Israeli coach bring England's Chelsea team to the Champion's League Championship (kind of like the super bowl)-- and lose, and get sacked the next day, but it's still pretty incredible to watch an Israeli coach marshalling players from England, Spain, Senegal, Russia, what have you. While American football teams might draw players from as far away as Alabama AND Ohio, European football teams are mineature UN coalitions. This is the world's game.

I come from a football city in the US-- when our team won the Super Bowl a few years back, I tried to call someone on the phone and the lines were jammed. (The only other time that ever happened to me was after 9/11.) But still, while you might wear team jerseys in the street in my hometown, we never actually heard our neighbors shouting at their TVs... like so much else in this small country, communal experiences are more strongly shared here. In fact, so strongly that fans have actually been banned from their own team's games, collectively, for little transgressions like storming the field and stripping clothes off all of their own players and hoisting them through the air before the game is actually even over. (Seriously. No exaggeration whatsoever. This happened last spring, and they had to call the game.)

Last night, Maccabi Netanya played Maccabi Haifa in the Israeli premier league semi-finals, and it was a grueling game-- it went into double overtime and then penalty shots, in which players and goalies go one-on-one... and then into extra sudden-death penalty shots when the score was still tied. When Maccabi Haifa finally won, we muted our television-- it was about 11 PM on a school night-- and listened to the screaming coming from neighboring apartments.

Another current shared experience (maybe followed by a different demographic)-- Eurovision!! Israel's duet has made it into the finals!

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