On the Same Team
A timely Tisha B'Av message from the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team.
I settled in to watch the movie "Miracle" with the campers of Sportstar Academy where I work in the summers, expecting to see a typical sports movie.
One scene in this movie, which tells the true story about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, grabbed my attention.
Herb Brooks was charged with coaching this team. He faces the daunting task of preparing college-aged players to play against experienced, professional teams from other countries.
Throughout the early practices with his team, Brooks asks players to introduce themselves to the rest of the team. The dialogue always follows the same pattern of the first introduction sequence.
The coach turns to a player and says, "What's your name?"
"Where you from, Mark?"
"Who do you play for?"
"University of Wisconsin, Coach."
Every player introduces himself the same way. Name, hometown, and in response to the question of what team they play for, they answer with their college name.
Five months before the Olympics, the team plays a practice game against Norway. The final score is 3-3 and Coach Brooks feels his team has not put forth their maximum effort.
As the team skates off the ice, Coach Brooks makes them stay on the ice to skate "suicides" -- skating from the goal line to 1/4 of the rink and then back, to 1/2 and then back, 3/4 and then back, and then the full rink and then back. This continues over and over again, with the coach repeating, "Again," dashing their hopes that this would be their last sequence.
The drill continues even after the arena manager turns off the arena lights and the medical trainer issues his warning. But the coach again barks out, "Again."
Hours pass with the team being forced to skate back and forth, over and over again. Players collapse, coughing and spitting up, but the coach insists, "Again!"
Suddenly, a voice from the line of players near the goal line calls out:
The hockey player is gasping for breaths and barely gathers the strength to continue…. "Winthrop, Massachusetts!"
Coach Brooks immediately asks: "Who do you play for?"
The player, eventual team captain, Mike Eruzione, struggles and says: "I play for….the United States of America!"
Coach Brooks softly replies, "That's all gentlemen." They could go back to the locker room.
He succeeded in making them identify as a unified team and not as individuals coming from their separate backgrounds and universities.
This sets them on their way to eventually beat the unbeatable Soviets in the Olympic semi-finals and ultimately win the gold medal.
This conveys a critical message to us as Jews, especially during this time of year as we lead up to Tisha B'Av.
The Jewish people have been persecuted for thousands of years. After each round of murder and torture, all we have wanted is a respite and the knowledge that it is over. But then, just like the coach barking out "Again!" we are forced to go through our next round of suffering. We survive, assume it is over, and then we hear the pounding "Again."
The ninth of Av is a date in the Jewish calendar in which we reflect on all of our suffering through the past 2,000 years. We attempt to correct our flaws and pray for salvation. In our time, this includes a respite for our brothers and sisters in bombarded Sderot and other Negev towns, for people who live daily with the threat of terrorist attacks, for soldiers who risk their lives for us daily, and for Jews around the world who live with the fear of anti-Semitism and what could come next.
As we experience Tisha B'Av and reflect on what it will take to get us out of this cycle of persecution called "exile," perhaps we should take Mike Eruzione's insight to heart.
Our Sages of the Talmud teach us that we are in exile because of the hatred of one Jew to another. The only way to correct that flaw is to repair ourselves in that realm.
Perhaps the answer to our suffering and long exile is to see other Jews as members of the same team and family.
Perhaps each time God puts us through another round of suffering, His proclamation of "Again," He is waiting for us to stop identifying ourselves as an individual Jew coming from his separate background and upbringing. "I'm modern Orthodox." "I'm Reform." "I'm a Hasid." "I'm secular." "I'm Conservative." "I'm yeshivishe."
Those characterizations polarize the nation and make it impossible for us to function together as one team. As individual groups, we cannot accomplish what we can accomplish as one team. We are held back by that same baseless hatred which creeps in when we are not one unit.
Perhaps God is waiting for all of us to proclaim in unison, "I am a Jew." Plain and simple.
Even more importantly, perhaps God is waiting for us to stop seeing others as "He's modern Orthodox." "He's Reform." "He's a Hasid." "He's secular." "He's Conservative." "He's yeshivishe."
Perhaps the answer to our suffering and long exile is reaching the point where we see other Jews as members of the same team and family. Jews and nothing else.