As you might have guessed, I’m a bit obsessed with the Olympics. They provide for hours of fun and excitement watching the competitions. But for me, they also bring about some serious questions.
A good number of Jewish news sources, most notably JTA, are following the medal counts of Jews and the Israeli team. I’ve seen friends on my Facebook minifeed join groups like “I’m Jewish and I’m supporting Israel at the Beijing Olympics.”
But frankly, I couldn’t care less if the winners of any medals are Jewish or not. Because I’m too busy rooting for the Americans.
Though I’m not an overtly or overly patriotic person, there is something that comes alive in me during the Games. Perhaps I associate the Olympics with Judaism because I get a great sense of peoplehood–something that so many of us seek in Judaism and come up disappointed.
I can’t possibly explain all of this excitement with my love of sports. After all, I don’t follow water polo, handball or canoing outside of the Games. But I spend hours watching, cheering, jumping, and screaming every two years.
Take for example Monday’s nights US victory in the men’s 4 x 100 Free Relay. They weren’t supposed to win. The French were favored. And until the last leg of the relay it looked they would win. But then Jason Lezak, came from behind, in what I still think should be physically impossible, to inch past the French:
With 25 meters remaining Lezak trailed Bernard by a half a body length. Bernard, who came into the race as the world-record holder in the 100 freestyle, over-swam the first 50, as Lezak had four years earlier, and tensed up in the final meters. Lezak hit the wall in stride, without any glide.
It was the perfect finish, and it was rewarded with a very precious medal. The Americans trimmed nearly four seconds off the world record that had been set the previous night to defeat the French by 0.08 of a second.(MORE)
I hooted and hollered, ran around the house cheering. I watched the medal ceremony with pride.
It only hit me much later that both Lezak and fellow relay teammate Garrett Weber-Gale are were both Jewish. And it didn’t make the slightest difference to me. I’m following the Olympics Jewishly for the ways that Judaism sneaks in. But I don’t cheer any harder for the Jewish athletes and certainly not the Israeli ones.
Were Judaism to come up with a way to harness this power of peoplehood and pride that comes out during the Olympics, could we solve our continuity issues?
I’m not sure, but I think there is a lesson to be learned here.