“Um, Rabbi? Don’t you feel a little bit weird with a cross on the back of your car?”
I fielded this question recently on a jaunt down to New Orleans for a weekend of football and food. The inquiry came when my passenger, an Atlanta Falcons fan, noticed my Mississippi license plate, with its Saints loyalty on proud display. No doubt, my companion was puzzled that a Jew (kal v’chomer a rabbi!) would choose to put something that looks like a cross on his license plate.
But it’s not a cross. It’s a fleur de lis. And while this flower has had some interaction with the cross, that’s not what it represents to me. As I began to explain this, it got me thinking, oh, this is gonna turn into a blog post. And here it is.
The fleur de lis (sometimes spelled fleur de lys) is French in origin. The little symbol decorates flags, yards, jewelry, and crowns. The earliest fleur de lis are thought to be representative of the iris flower. Long adopted by royalty, it’s no surprise that many may associate the fleur de lis with Christianity, because the vast majority of kings and queens who used the symbol on their crests and in their commissioned paintings were of the Christian persuasion. It became Christianized as well when drawn so specifically with the trinity of three leaves, with various interpretations as to what those three things meant symbolically. In addition to the trinity, some ascribe it to the Song of Songs (“lily among thorns?”), while others have associated it with Mary, with the flower representing virginity.
New Orleans, along with many other cities/regions that were under heavy French influence in the New World, adopted this symbol. And when, in 1967 they received their first NFL franchise, they named their team the New Orleans Saints, and adorned them with a fleur de lis where other helmets had lions or stars.
So not only does the fleur de lis have some religious connotation in its past, the name of the football team that now claims the flower is the Saints – yeah, a bit of religion embedded there, too. Their moniker is no doubt an allusion to November 1st, AKA All Saints Day. Also, the jazz hit “When The Saints Go Marchin’ In” came to represent the city. Catholic influence can be seen throughout Louisiana, a state still made up not of counties but of PARISHES.
Hence, my favorite football team is surrounded by symbols with Christian connotations. But, as with any symbol, meaning and interpretation can change. So, too, can our connection to them.
I spent some time in the Superdome under the futile leadership of Aaron Brooks, but it was after Hurricane Katrina that all of a sudden I found myself purchasing shirts, flags, and hats adorned with the fleur de lis symbol. For the longest time, perhaps because they were the Ain’ts, it seemed as if there were more LSU decals than Saints floating around the city. But, as we began to resurge, as the team began to be a symbol for the entire city, the fleur de lis lost its old connotation.
Like the flower it is, the fleur de lis began to unfurl again and show us that spring had sprung. New Orleans would be in full bloom again. The fleur de lis gave hope to all, regardless of their religious affiliation.
After years of trying to figure out how to watch my team play while I was elsewhere, living in this city or that country, I’m proud to have finally returned to the region that I call home. It’s exciting for me to look around and see that I can connect with my neighbors over a symbol and a team, that our faiths and unique backgrounds can come together and be united. We can cheer for touchdowns, or be despondent over the most recent free agent departures. All this is only evident when we display our symbol—on our shirts, on festive game day cookies, and yes, on this rabbi’s license plate.
The Jewish world is full of debates. Get the latest in MyJewishLearning’s weekly blogs newsletter.
Get ready, sports fans! It’s time for Mensch Madness, Round 2, and the Men’s Semi-Finals with Moses (1) taking on Hillel (3)!
We’ve got a sold out crowd here in the arena today, as our number one seed takes on an underdog winner! Seemingly everyone is on Hillel’s bandwagon, with a large contingent of college students filing their way into the stands. Moses, however, seems to have the celebrity backing, as everyone from Maimonides to Mendelssohn has been spotted sporting light-up promotional toy “staffs.”
Let’s check out some quick background on our teams. Michael Shapiro’s preseason rankings had Moses listed as the #1 most influential Jew of all time, whereas Hillel the elder just barely cracked the top twenty-five.[i] Don’t be fooled by his nickname “The Elder” – Hillel is actually significantly younger than Moses. Some people have some concerns about Moses’ knees and how they’ll hold up over the length of the entire post-season, especially considering his most recent ACL surgery.
Our guest referee for this game is Dwayne Johnson, and he wastes no time in tossing the ball up to start the game. Immediately, Moses jumps out to a huge lead. When he raises the ball in his arms, he has a clear avenue to the basket since, for some reason, Team Hillel stands in two rows and just watches Moses blast by. In a surprising move, Moses has elected to play barefoot. We got reports that say he took off his shoes after a local fan said something like: “You’re playing in the Garden! For Bostonians, you’re standing on holy ground!” This situation has not slowed his pace at all, as Moses continues his blistering barrage.
But, what’s this? As we near the half, Moses has charged off into the stands. Hillel begins to score at will! Where did Moses go?! We’ve just got word, our sideline reporter informs us that Moses saw an underage sheep wander off toward the beer concessions and is now carrying the animal back to the proper seat on his shoulders.[ii]
That’s the halftime buzzer. In a shocking surprise, Team Hillel is up, 34-40.
Our teams have returned from the locker and Moses looks angrier than when the taskmaster whipped that slave. We’ve gotten word he got quite the halftime pump-up, since the “Chairman of the Board,” Big Mo stormed into the locker room to give an inspirational speech. We’ll see if he bestowed any “championship knowledge” onto his namesake. Hillel starts out with the ball and is moving in a sluggish manner. I think this team may have scarfed too many matzah sandwiches in the locker room. Moreover, Moses’ face is shining so bright for some reason! Team Hillel seems to now be employing the “hack-a-shaw” method, swinging blindly nowhere near the ball… hitting Moses’ arms. I’m almost sure those are fouls, but for some reason still no whistles. Tired of not getting any calls, Moses has gone over to confront our referee. Holy Smoke! Moses has hit The Rock! That’s a technical foul, you cannot put your hands on a referee. That will give Team Hillel an opportunity to hit some free throws and have one last chance at a miracle upset. He hits both of them!
Here we go folks, we’re about to find out if, down by one, Hillel can overcome his renown calm demeanor and upset Team Moses! They inbound the ball to Hillel and, wait, a court side fan has asked him to explain the entire Torah on one foot. He’s completed that with barely two seconds left on the clock! He begins to move the ball down the floor…
TWEEEEEEET! Referee Johnson has blown the whistle. We have a call! Yes, that’s a double dribble! Moses’ Ball! Moses’ Ball! The game will end on a technicality! This is the worst playoff blunder since Chris Webber, folks.
That’s all from us here at WJEW Sports Radio. Our headline of the night:
MOSES MARCHES CLOSER TO THE PROMISED LAND. WILL PLAY FOR CHAMPIONSHIP!
As you may be aware, during this past year a young boy year fought a brave battle with cancer, and lost. His name was Samuel Sommer, affectionately known as “Superman Sam,” and his Mom, Rabbi Phillis Sommer, decided to document the family’s experience through a blog as they fought their way through life. He became an internet sensation, being sent on trips, dealing with hospital visits, and facing the potential end of his life. First the blog was created, but it caught fire and not only were social media sites, but actual news sites were covering his story.
I first became aware of this when people began to change their profile picture to the icon of Superman. A comic book aficianado, I immediately took notice. Then, my staff brought something to my attention that I hadn’t yet seen. St. Baldrick’s, an organization that raises money for children’s cancer research, was having an event… for Rabbis. It is called 36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave, and I signed up. At an annual convention for Rabbis, at least 36 rabbis will be shaving their head to raise money for these kids as well as to show support for their brave fight.
The shave will take place at the CCAR Convention in Chicago on April 1. Following the shave, I’ll share some more of my thoughts on the experience, here on the Southern & Jewish blog. For now, you can visit http://bit.ly/36rabbis to make a donation to St. Baldrick’s in memory of Samuel Sommer, and support Rabbi Kassoff, my other rabbinic colleagues, and me, as we prepare to go bald for children and a brighter, healthier future.
Moved by this post? Join the conversation through MyJewishLearning’s weekly blogs newsletter.