I love the Olympics, always have, both the summer and the winter games.
I enjoy the summer games because who doesn’t like watching running and jumping and shot-putting? Plus, I’m a real sucker for archery.
And I love the winter games because I grew up in Denver, a veritable winter wonderland where snow sports are everywhere.
Snow in Denver, unlike in Jerusalem, is normal, natural.
As such, I grew up skiing. Every winter Sunday as a teen, I would get up early, board the JCC bus full of rowdy kids throwing orange peels and apple cores at one another, and head to the hills and the Winter Park Ski Resort.
There, for a mere $7.50 a day (8 percent of the $95 it costs today), we would purchase daily passes and parallel and schuss down slopes that had Alice in Wonderland names like Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum, Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter.
Well, some of my friends would parallel and schuss down those slopes. I would mostly slip and bumble my way down. I liked it though, or at least convinced myself that I did.
So what if half the time I couldn’t feel my appendages because they were frozen, or that when I could feel them they hurt like mad because I fell on them time after time after time? This was what Coloradans did.
We drank Coors beer. We rooted for the Denver Broncos.
We skied. Rocky Mountain High, and all that.
Until one day I had an epiphany about skiing. Let’s face it, I told myself, you are not skiing legend Jean- Claude Killy. Why pay a lot of money to stand in the freezing cold, waiting in long chairlift lines to get to the top of a mountain, only to slip and slide and eventually injure myself trying to make it down again? In other words, why pay good money to freeze and get hurt? I realized that if my favorite part of skiing was sitting in the warm lounge with the fireplace, sipping apple cider with cinnamon sticks while looking through the big chalet windows at the mountains covered in white, why not just stay in the lounge, sip the cider and enjoy the view? And there ended my skiing career.
This does not mean, however, that I don’t like to watch a good ski race. I do, and as a former Sunday skier I can appreciate the tremendous skill it takes to race down those hills at breakneck speed without careening wildly out of control. So, of course, the Winter Games from Sochi were, over the last two weeks, constantly on the television in my home.
BUT SOMETHING wasn’t right, something didn’t fit.
And that something had to do with listening to Israeli announcers broadcast the games in Hebrew.
At the risk of sounding a tad arrogant, I don’t need Israelis telling me about winter sports. I mean I’m sitting there listening to some guy intersperse his Hebrew commentary with English words like “back-to-back” and “slalom,” and “run,” and I’m thinking, “C’mon guys, who are you fooling? You can tell me about soccer, you can wax on about drip irrigation and cyber security, but you’re not going to educate me about the men’s downhill.”
Same with watching the figure skating competition.
Figure skating takes place on ice, and – let’s face it – there isn’t a lot of ice here. It seems forced, downright unnatural, listening to Israelis discuss a sport that they didn’t exactly grow up participating in.
Some of the irritation dissipated when I realized the skating commentator was probably a Russian immigrant, who certainly knows from skating.
In fact, one of my favorite parts about figure skating, after having watched yet another twist and twirl and triple axel meticulously executed, is seeing how so many countries in the competition have someone with a Russian sounding name skating under their flag. There was a Savechenko competing for Germany, a Moscovitch for Canada, Shnapir for the US, Alexander Majorov for Sweden, and Krasnopolski for Israel. I should only live long enough to one day see a Smith, White or Jones figure skating for Russia.
So, no, hearing Russian-accented Hebrew commentary on figure skating is acceptable. But Hebrew playby play on hockey, or curling, or the sport called skeleton – essentially a glorified sled where the sledder goes down the track headfirst – is a bit much.
AND ALL that got me thinking about how certain things just don’t fit in here. It’s natural, of course, for immigrants to want to bring what they enjoyed from their homelands to their adopted home. But not everything is transferable.
Stretch limousines, for instance. I was trying to maneuver my tiny Daihatsu Sirion through a narrow Jerusalem street the other day when, much to my chagrin, I saw parked up ahead a black stretch limousine.
This car belongs in Manhattan, or London. It doesn’t fit in Jerusalem, is not part of the scenery, and seems wildly out of place. It certainly can’t maneuver the narrow Jerusalem streets.
Or Valentine’s Day. Why does Israel need Valentine’s Day, which is celebrated on February 14? What, does the country own stock options in Hallmark cards? What is the connection between Israel and Valentine’s Day? St. Valentine, for whom the day was named, was a Christian martyr, and Jews were massacred on that day in Strasbourg in 1349. Besides, Judaism has its own amorous day: Tu Be’av.
The Wife, bless her good Midwest American soul, can’t get another American holiday out of her blood: Groundhog Day, that day – February 2 – when if a groundhog emerges from its burrow and doesn’t see its shadow, then lore has it winter will end early. She has actually set up a local Groundhog Day Club that meets annually on that date.
“Honey, it just doesn’t fit here,” I entreated in the beginning, trying to talk her out of the idea. I reminded her of two things: there is no Hebrew word for groundhog, and winter ends here immediately after Purim, no matter what the groundhogs do.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “You’re not invited anyhow.”
Starbucks is something else that doesn’t fit in our environment, as the coffee giant found out a few years back when its efforts to penetrate the Israeli coffee culture already saturated with Turkish coffee and café hafuch (latte) failed miserably.
Recreational trailers are incongruous on our byways, because gas is so expensive. And the mantra many parents in America drill into their kids – “Don’t hit back” – also has no natural place here, since in this society if your kids take that saying to heart they will journey through life continuously getting whacked.
No, we are what we are; some things just cannot be imported. Except, of course, skaters with Russian- sounding names who then go on to represent this country – a land bathed in seemingly endless sunshine – in the Winter Olympics. Their appearance in those games then makes watching winter sports in Israel a more reasonable fit… sort of.
A collection of Herb Keinon’s Out There columns will be published in the spring.