Op-eds

Shabbat and the Rugby World Cup Final

  • Howard Feldman 2018
I don’t remember which “breakthrough” agreement it was. But it was important. The Israelis and the Palestinians were finally about to reach an agreement on the White House lawns, and peace was about to come to the Middle East. At last. The only problem was that it was all to be announced on Friday afternoon in Washington, which meant that Shabbat would have already started in Israel (which is where we were that weekend).
by HOWARD FELDMAN | Oct 31, 2019

We had probably been married for about 11 years, which meant we were still getting to know each other. It might even have been that weekend when we finally declared the honeymoon phase over.

And all because I suggested to my bride that perhaps, given the gravitas of the event, we might consider leaving the television on. We wouldn’t be transgressing any rules, and could even leave the sound down so that we wouldn’t disturb the peace of the day.

It didn’t go well. Not at all. I would have thought that the given that the conversation was all about sanctity, she would have avoided the type of language that followed.

Which is why when my one son wondered if there would be anything wrong with leaving the television on this Shabbat to watch the South Africa-England game, I smiled at him sweetly and said, “Why don’t you go and ask mom?”

There is something 1995 about this Rugby World Cup final. The camaraderie and togetherness is immensely powerful. In the past few months, many South Africans have made a deliberate choice to shun negativity and embrace each other. The fact that we are in the finals plays perfectly into this.

When South Africa played in the finals in 1995 it was also on Shabbat. I recall it so clearly. We were staying at my parents for Shabbat, and had all decided that we would not get the result, but rather watch it on Betamax. The plan was ridiculously naïve given that Observatory is so close to Ellis Park where the finals were being held. It meant that without knowing the score, we would be informed.

Nevertheless, that was the plan. That was until some-time in the afternoon when I could take it no longer. And so, while everyone was sleeping, I snuck quietly down the stairs to our housekeeper, Jane’s, room, where I knew that she and her friends would be watching the game.

I found it full of people. Jane and her friends, a few of my friends, and some of my brothers’ friends had packed themselves into what was not a large room. Together, we all watched the end of the finals.

But it was an unforgettable experience. The day became a symbol for me. It was 1995, we were just post-apartheid and indeed, bridges could be built.

As much as I’m excited about the finals and as much as I care about the outcome, I have no intention of leaving the television on or watching the game. I have no intention of finding a “halachic” way to do so, and I am more comfortable than I have ever been about this.

For years, I allowed the negative anxiety of the outside world to infiltrate and pollute the day (even in my mind) and it’s only with maturity that I realise that we can’t have one without the other. If I allow myself the joy of this game this Shabbat, there will be something else to tempt me from keeping Shabbos next week, and so it goes on.

It doesn’t mean that I won’t be thinking about it and that it will be easy. But should I find myself wavering at any time, all I’ll do is ask my wife what she thinks.

Go Bokke and Shabbat shalom!

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