The shameful divisions within our community.

March 23, 2010

Today I’d like to talk about what is without doubt the most bitter conflict to have arisen within our community in living memory. I refer of course to the case of Tottenham v Arsenal.  This fundamental division has existed for almost as long as there have been Jews living in London although for much of that time the two managed to co-exist in an uneasy but stable truce.

This all changed recently, and I can reveal that my very own synagogue was in the eye of the storm.

Let me give you the background.  About two years ago a young lad known as child P (because his name is Pinchas, Pinchas Tucker to be precise), attempted to come into shul wearing a kippah emblazoned with the Tottenham badge.  The wardens, being Arsenal supporters to a man, objected and refused the boy admission.  I felt strongly about the case as I am someone who married out; I support Arsenal while my wife is from a Tottenham family. In subsequent discussions, therefore,  I have supported the boy and his family as an “interested party”.

Over several months the child appealed first to the Services Management Team, then to the synagogue governors.  Each time it was decided that the wardens, being the guardians of the 3,500 year old unchanged tradition of “how we do things when it comes to football”, should not be overturned.

All the while congregants became more and more outspoken. Graffiti exclaiming “Child P (Pinchas) is innocent” started appearing in the local streets; lifelong friends fell out as their allegiances were painfully tested; and letters debating the controversy were even published in the synagogue magazine.  Before long there was an Arsenal section on one side of the synagogue and a Spurs section on the other.  Seas of blue and red-badged kippot marked this unholy division with various members of the CST positioning themselves carefully in order to maintain the segregation.

The anger and frustration eventually had to blow and it did that one Shabbat morning.  An elderly gentleman wearing his Arsenal kippah, returning to his seat having being called to the Torah, was smote down by the outstretched leg of a rival supporter.

This led to a complete breakdown in relations.  Both sides refused to attend any further CCC (Campaign against Chelsea Cupples) meetings and the shul board was damned as a toothless and irrelevant body.

Eventually the issue was taken to the highest possible authority  – the Rabbi.  As if a Chabadnik from Minnesota is going to have the slightest understanding of such a problem.  His ruling was that anyone should be allowed a shul honour based on regularity of attendance. This has delighted the Gunners because Spurs have a lunchtime kick-off tomorrow.

Hagbah: The worst honour

December 26, 2008

I had it all worked out so nicely.

Having pledged to myself at Yom Kippur that I would go to shul every Shabbat from now on (except when I’m on holiday, obviously), this week I was faced with my first challenge; a 12.45 kick-off at the Emirates, and against Man United.  Not a match to miss.  The rest of the games I can usually take or leave, but since they generally start at 3pm, there’s no conflict with shul.  In the winter, with a 5pm kick-off there isn’t even a conflict with Shabbat.  Those anti-semites at the Sky TV knew exactly what they were doing when they set this fixture.

What were my options?  Well, I could forget shul and blow the pledge.  Most other congregants with Arsenal season tickets would be doing just that.  Alternatively, I could use this as the opportunity to test my commitment.  I could make a tidy sum by selling the ticket and even give it to the Rosh Hashannah appeal.  How proud I would be of myself if I did that.  After all these years as a fair-weather Jew, this would be the first time, bar yom tovim, that I put faith in front of football.

But wait.  There’s another possibility.  The Haftorah reading finishes at about 11.15, giving me just enough time to slip out and be on my way to the ground for the match.  I’d be in shul for shacharit and the Torah reading and I’ll just miss the sermon, musaf and a few other bits and pieces.  I’d get to hear Lech Lecha, one of my favourite sedras, and God would be so pleased with me for making the effort that he would even ensure a victory for the Gunners.  Brilliant plan.

At least it was a brilliant plan until I heard my Hebrew name being called from the Bimah along with the word “Hagbah”.  Now I was stuffed.  This meant I would be hanging around until the end of the Torah service, at least 20 minutes beyond my planned escape, and then what?  I couldn’t just run off straight after “As of old”.  My absence would surely be noticed at Kiddish.  Could I quietly tell them I had a sore arm and I was worried that I might drop the holy scroll?  Of course not.  Perhaps this was the Lord’s way of pushing me a little further with my faith.  OK, I may be a bit late for the game, but so what?  Surely the honour of lifting the Sefer Torah outweighs a few minutes of a football match.  And if I did it, maybe my reward would be a victory for the boys?

Clearly I had no choice.  I reluctantly took my place on the Bimah and proceeded to undertake the honour.

I then sat through the Haftorah desperately trying to calculate how this was going to affect things.  Was there a quicker way getting to the ground?  Could I slip away a little sooner?  How about if I ducked out of the shul hall just as we were half way round the closing procession?  How long was the yarzheit list?

As the doors of the ark closed I evacuated purposefully.  They’ll think I’m going to the loo, I told myself.  Instead I dashed out of shul and sped down to the ground, only remembering to take of my cuppel when I was inching through Highgate.

In the end it worked out fine.  I was about 5 minutes late but missed no goals and was rewarded with a win.

I must be a good Jew.

Originally posted November 9th 2008