By STEVE WENICK
The din of the raucous crowd suddenly grew silent as the introductory bars of Hatikva signaled the beginning of Israel’s National Anthem. When the lyrics, “To be a free people in our land,” was carried aloft by the voices of 10,000 strong, I welled up with pride and was thankful that there was a homeland of the Jews and for the Jews‑The State of Israel.
The Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv was the venue for the game between the archrivals of Israel’s basketball elite, Maccabee Electra Tel Aviv and Hapoel Migdal Jerusalem. What I thought would be just another basketball game between two teams turned out to be a game changing experience for me. As I looked around the arena I saw Israelis of every stripe and color streaming through the gates and shimmying their way along the rows of partially occupied seats before finally locating and settling down into their own seats. For me this was a special occasion because it was the first time that I took my grandson Adam to a basketball game in Israel.
We took our seats in the upper level with a good view of the court. As an American it was odd for me to see thousands of Jewish sports fans with a good number of them wearing kippot and tzitzit at a basketball game, or any place for that matter, other than a synagogue or Hasidic fabrangen. The arena looked very much like those in the States sporting a dizzying array of flashing advertisements chasing each other around the perimeter of the upper deck cheap seats accompanied by the reverberation of spirited cheers, head throbbing drum beats and blaring horns, all seemingly conspiring to assault our senses.
No matter where you go or what you do in Israel the people never cease to amaze me. One of the most interesting things about Israel is its diversity and contrasts in cultures, even at a basketball game. Outwardly some of the differences are obvious. It easy enough for one to differentiate the multiplicity of Jewish types by modes of dress especially among the men. For example there are the seculars who do not wear a kippot, the modern Orthodox who wear knit kippot, and the Lubuvitch Hassidim who, in addition to donning black kippot, graciously wear their acceptance of everyone.
Of course absent were both the Haredim, with their 17th Century Polish Gentry style clothing which only comes in two colors, black and white, and the off the wall Satmars who wouldn’t be caught dead at such a frivolous event like a basketball event. However it was not the outward display of piety by manner of dress and strict adherence to ritual that struck me the most that evening. Instead it was the single sentence of concern uttered by a kind and thoughtful young woman working behind the snack bar in the arena wearing the nametag Anat.
The opening buzzer announced the tap off and the game was underway. The game was played like any ordinary American professional game except the quarters were ten minutes instead of twelve minutes long. The refs called fouls and were roundly booed and cursed. There were the inevitable slam-dunks that delighted the crowd, as long it was done by the home team, otherwise the response was dead silence. By half time the home team trailed by a few points – not to worry.
The half time crowd descended upon the snack bars like Biblical locusts on crops. The usual fare of hot dogs, nachos, pizza, bagelach (pretzels), chips (French fries) was being hawked along with some not so usual sporting event snacks such as: hot soup with pita and baklava. Notably absent were the beer-guzzling inebriates spouting obscenities and proudly sporting their teams’ colors.
During halftime my grandson Adam decided that he wanted soup and in spite of his being only 12 years old he boldly stepped forth and wedged himself into the nonexistent line. When the young woman behind the counter finally saw his small frame crunched amidst the crowd and heard his pre-Bar Mitzvah voice above the din she asked him if she could help him.
Adam wanted a cup of the bean soup with strips of savory lamb floating in the broth but before he ordered it he asked if it was kosher. The server said yes the soup is kosher however the snack stand is open on Shabbat. She could have stopped after saying that the food was kosher without qualifying her statement by telling him her stand was open for business on Shabbat. But by her informing Adam that the stand is open on Shabbat she performed an act of kindness born of her awareness that there are observant Jews who will not eat food prepared by a store which is open on Shabbat, even if the ingredients used in its preparation are kosher.
I was impressed that although the young woman may or may not have observed the laws of kashrut in her own life she was kind enough to respect the practice of someone who did. She could simply have said that the soup was kosher and left it at that; Adam would have not known the difference. Knowingly or not that young woman, by her single act of respect for Adam’s adherence to kashrut, had adhered to the Biblical injunction, “…nor put a stumbling block before the blind” (Leviticus 19:14). Adam did not order the soup.
As we left the arena disappointed that our team had lost the game I knew that in a day or so I would forget the loss and leave my disappointment behind. But what I will not forget is the memory of that single slam-dunk act of kindness performed by the young woman wearing the nametag Anat.