>(This article was published in the Jewish News 15th July 2010)
Another World Cup has come to an end, and we have four years to wait until Brazil 2014.
By any measure it has been a disappointing competition for the England team, as our ‘golden generation’ meekly surrendered in the Round of 16. However, over in Europe, the whole of Spain has been united in euphoric celebration of their first World Cup success – I know that I’m not supposed to covet, but I am a little jealous of the Spanish nation who will continue to rejoice for many days, months and years to come.
As a Jewish community we got to watch our co-religionists Benny Feilhaber and Jonathan Bornstein represent the United States, disproving the commonly held assumption about Jews and sport.
However, there is more for us to take away from South Africa 2010, and the way that events transpired offer us important lessons for our Jewish community.
I’m no football expert, but it seems clear that England suffered from a lack of team spirit, and a culture of individualism. We have world class players, but they failed to combine to create a world class team (and we weren’t the only ones, just look at France and Italy). In contrast Spain battled through with each player demonstrating a commitment to his colleagues and country.
In the wilderness, despite the entire Israelite community being divided along tribal lines, we moved forward together as the Children of Israel. The twelve tribe squad flourished when able to work together and, for forty years, passed undefeated through the wilderness, defeating all comers on our journey to the Promised Land, our own special prize.
All too often today we have a fractious Jewish community divided along ethnic lines, political lines and religious lines. We focus on our individual place and our individual community rather than the Jewish people. All too often we divide internally along various lines and forget the important teaching: ‘All Israel are responsible one for another’ (Talmud Shavuot 39a).
Last month I was privileged to be a delegate at the World Zionist Congress, one of the most impressive elements of the Congress was the way that it brought together Jews from across the globe representing virtually every position within the Jewish community. There was something wonderful about the way Jews came together with a common purpose and identity.
Returning to the less than wonderful England team, it is also clear that we suffered from a lack of real leadership. Rio Ferdinand’s injury on the eve of the competition was unlucky, but there appeared to be no obvious leader on the field, and our leader on the sideline failed to deliver. Again we need only look to the Spanish and the way that they were led on and off the field by Vicente del Bosque and Iker Casillas – that’s another part of the reason why they’re World Champions, and we are not.
Back again to the wilderness, and we had an undisputed leader. Moses was the man who led us out of slavery and brought us to the edge of the Promised Land. Despite setbacks along the way (most notably when he was effectively sent off and told he would not enter Israel – Bamidbar 20:12) he always picked himself up and continued to lead from the front. And as he reminds us in this week’s Torah portion, he also selected other leaders from amongst the tribes to help and support him (Devarim 1:9-18).
Moses is in many ways a model leader, always putting the needs of the community above his own. It was never about personal gain for Moses, it was always about the Israelites and what was best for them. He is an example for anyone who seeks to assume a leadership position within our Jewish community, and he could also have a lot to teach Fabio Capello and the boys, although I am not convinced he would favour the Christmas tree formation.
The England team will have to wait until 2014 to try and win the World Cup again, but for us in the Jewish community, we can learn the lessons of their failure, and try to emulate the teamwork and camaraderie of the tribes in the wilderness, under the leadership of Moses, who succeeded in leading our people to victory.