Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Israel and the Continental Divide

At the European Lacrosse Championships in Amsterdam, the Israel team made it to the quarterfinals. The previous game was a huge upset win against Wales. Wales had been ranked 8th as of the year before. Also, it was rumored that Wales led the charge in trying to keep Israel out of the European league. It was a sweet victory.

After that win, I felt so proud of our team and of Israel. They'd really proven themselves and their country, and earned a well-ranked spot in the European league. I sat in the stands for the quarterfinal match between Israel and the Netherlands feeling full of patriotism for my country. They played Hatikvah and I stood and sang the words, then they played Holland's national anthem and I stood for that, too. I was that gloating, pregnant wife.

I spread myself and my lunch out on a bench at the sidelines, hoping that no one would come sit directly next to me so I could stretch out if my back started to hurt. There were plenty of benches and seating when the game began. After the first quarter, though, the area was full of screaming orange-clad fans. The spot that my cheese sandwich filled was the last resting place available. Soon enough, a very tall, very Dutch sixty-something mother came and pushed it aside, replacing it with her derrier. "I hope you don't mind," she said after affixing her seated position so that we were thigh-to-thigh.

On its home turf with a throng of fans dressed in electric orange, the Netherlands played extremely well. They were an excellent team, and as I watched them play, it was obvious that they had the full package - a great offense, a great defense, and a great goalie. To be fair, the Israeli team had only been playing with one another for a few weeks prior to the tournament. Israel trailed behind, but managed to score a few goals.

Somewhere in the third quarter when the score was about 12-3, the Dutch woman on my thigh turned to me and said, "Can you please tell me why Israel is in the European league?" I responded that Israel and much of the Middle East is on the continental divide. That it's sort of like Russia - part Europe, part Asia. She looked at me aghast. "I certainly never heard that. Tell me, why isn't Israel part of the EU then?"

At this point, I probably should have pointed out that Switzerland isn't in the EU either, though no one seems to question its position as a European country. Rather, I shrugged, and let the Jewish grandmother on the neighboring bench chime in, "No, Israel isn't part of the EU because it can manage its own economy quite well." End of conversation.

I saw the lady pointing at me while talking to other Dutch parents from afar a few times after the game was over. I didn't completely know if my answer had been correct yet, but frankly, I thought it totally inappropriate of her to ask me, an obvious Israel fan, such a question after Israel had been successfully participating in the tournament for the previous ten days. In fact, I was offended by it. Of course we're part of the European league. And while I'm at it, yes we're a country, and no matter how many goals your son's lacrosse team scores on us, we're not going anywhere.

I looked it up a few days later. Apparently Israel isn't on the continental divide between Europe, Asia and Africa. Though it's very close to being so. Geographically, Israel is located in Asia. Socially, Israel is considered part of Europe. So, when it comes to sports, Israel is included in European leagues and tournaments.

Does this mean I eat my words and that the woman was right to question? Or, does it still mean that despite all of that, the woman should have never asked me. That the asking of the question was one of those anti-Zionist inspired moments? I guess I'll never know, but something still doesn't sit right with me about it. To be honest, I think her motivation might have stemmed from a little bit of both.

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