They urged, cajoled and warned us not to miss the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch South Africa play in the Soccer World Cup, but I did. Even having our Mincha minyan at halftime didn’t get me there in time to see our two historic goals. South Africa charged onto the field, fired by a burning urge to score and, within 20 minutes tore through Le Bleu’s defence, throwing our country into delirious euphoria. The next miracle came quickly, seventeen minutes later, as team SA plowed on at full throttle. Unbelievably, it began to look like we would win this game and maybe, just maybe, we would even make it through to the next round. But the wind was out of our sails by the second half, we lost our burning drive and faltered on the field, conceding a goal and our chance to move on to the next round.
Between the shouting through the screen (I’m sure the players can’t hear your instructions, but you all scream anyway), someone made a profound observation: If not for the half-time break, Bafana would most likely have kept up their winning streak. Something happened inside that dressing room. Our guys had the chance to stop and reflect on the state of the game. They had time to realise that they were doing well. They faced the danger of becoming complacent.
Today, the 12th of Tammuz, commemorates the day that the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe was miraculously released from Soviet prison after having being indicted on the capital offence of crimes against Stalin’s Motherland (his “crime” was strengthening Judaism in that country), To live as a Jew under the Communists was dangerous at best, yet thousands of Jews rose to the occasion and kept the flame of Yiddishkeit alive under the most challenging circumstances. If you were Jewish in Stalin’s prison-State, you knew that if you didn’t fight hard to keep your family Jewish, your Jewish line would die with you.
Ironically, when those hard-nosed Russian refuseniks eventually reached the safety of Israel or the United States, many of them became secular. They quickly exchanged the Judaism that they had fought so hard to maintain in the U.S.S.R. for the easy life of the U.S.A.
We’re living through the second half of Judaism’s campaign for survival in the 20th and 21st centuries. During the first half, our zaides and bobbas fought for Jewish values with the urgency of people who knew their lives depended upon it.
We are their priveleged grandchildren who don’t face the crisis of survival against overwhelming hatred. Our challenge is to keep pushing as hard as they did, even as we feel comfortable with our position. We’d better not do a Bafana in G-d’s grand game of making our world a holy place.a