Chicago Cubs win the World Series.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
IBA English News once introduced me as “the most optimistic man in Israel.” It stuck with me, and it became the premise for my lectures about Israel and its future.
Whenever people would ask me why I was called the most optimistic man in Israel, I would joke that it was because I am a Cubs fan. I have always sincerely believed that the Cubs would win the World Series, the messiah will come, and there will be peace in the Middle East.
I joked that I did not know whether those three unlikely events would happen simultaneously or one immediately after the other. Most years, I would plan my fall speaking tours around the possibility that the Cubs would be in the World Series.
Growing up in Chicago, I went to many games at Wrigley Field and tried to watch all of them, memorizing the statistics of the players and dreaming about running the team someday. That task went to another Jew, Theo Epstein, but I continued to follow the team religiously from Jerusalem, waking up at crazy hours through thick and thin.
Following the Cubs from Jerusalem has special meaning.
The Cubs suffered through 108 years of disappointment before a visionary named Theodore redeemed them. The Jewish people overcame nearly two millennia of affliction thanks in part to their own Theodore, Herzl, who died in 1904, just four years before the Cubs last won a World Series in 1908.
Epstein built the Cubs from scratch, using pioneering strategies.
Israel was built through the hard work of its pioneers. The Cubs faced some of the fiercest fastballs in baseball. Israel faces much more powerful projectiles. The colors of the Cubs and Israel are both blue and white.
Just like Israel is inspired by its biblical history, the Cubs are inspired by their own legendary figures who led them through the wilderness but did not reach the promised land.
The Jewish people emerged with a state of their own in 1948.
Its national anthem, “Hatikva,” means “the hope,” and it describes the yearning of the Jewish people.
That longing for a Jewish state we can all be proud of continues, as the task of perfecting it goes on.
There have been plenty of successes, as well as challenges, like socioeconomic gaps, religious-secular divides, and ongoing diplomatic conflicts with the Palestinians and Arab countries. A recent joint Palestinian- Israeli poll showed close to half of both Israelis and Palestinians doubt a peace agreement can be achieved.
For the many who have given up hope, they can be inspired by the victory of the Cubs. The team’s long-suffering fans never did give up hope through all the decades of saying, “Wait ‘till next year.”
That mantra may have sounded defeatist, but it was actually naively sincere.
Several months ago, I joked to hundreds of Chabadniks on the Jewish Leadership Institute mission to Jerusalem that just as I symbolically said, “Wait ‘till next year,” on December 31 for the last time because I was so sure the Cubs would win this year, they should say the same about their longing for the messiah.
That holds true not only for Orthodox Jews. No matter where you are on the political map and the religious spectrum, the Cubs can give you hope that your dreams can be achieved and that you should not give up faith. If the Cubs can win the World Series, any challenge can be overcome – on a personal or national level.
Achieving peace in the Middle East and solving Israel’s internal problems are tasks many leaders have tried and failed to accomplish.
But Epstein proved that with the right leadership, nothing is impossible. That may sound like pie in the sky coming from “the most optimistic man in Israel.”
But I am not among a small group of Cub fans waking up at odd hours around the world anymore.
Now the world has seen that perseverance can bring success and even a World Series title. It may not happen immediately and it may require either the messiah or patience that too many Israelis lack, but may Israelis soon feel the joy Chicagoans feel now.