While the capacity crowd at Sunday’s French Super Cup (Trophée des Champions) at Bloomfield Stadium enjoyed the action on the pitch – Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) defeated FC Nantes 4-0, and Lionel Messi netted a goal – the developments in the seats were no less significant.
The official sponsors of the match, the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem and the museum’s chairman, Mr. Larry Mizel, hosted a group of 1,000 Israeli Arab and Jewish children to promote tolerance and understanding in Israeli society. Arab children from Bet Jan in the upper Galilee, Nazareth, Baka al-Gharbiya near Haifa, and the Negev city of Rahat joined Jewish Israeli youths from Jerusalem and its environs at Bloomfield and were seated together in a special section of the stadium.
Jonathan Riss, the owner’s representative for the museum and the director of operations for the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem, which is scheduled to open to the public in September 2023, explained that sports can unite disparate groups and consequently, increase tolerance among such groups.
“Sports has to do with inspiration,” Riss said. “All of us have physical and mental limitations. The kids admire Messi because he can do things that they cannot do. For them, he is an inspiration. Focusing on a sports hero allows them to discuss something else together. Their passion is sports, and this brings them together.”
"Their passion is sports, and this brings them together"Jonathan Riss, rep. of Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem chairman Larry Mizel
Noting the common desire of young soccer fans to wear Messi jerseys, Riss said, “They are all wearing Messi shirts, and they can talk about Messi endlessly. That’s a good start for creating dialogue and eventually civil accountability. The key to any further dialogue in the society is by them understanding that they are part of a community and taking responsibility.”
The Arab and Jewish children sat together at the game and wore identical T-shirts.
“We are trying to promote a proximity of physical presence that will promote dialogue between them even if it is only about football at this stage,” said Riss.
The match was part of a joint initiative of philanthropist Sylvan Adams and the Comtec Group to bring major sporting events to Israel.
Sport can 'bring people together'
Riss noted, “The museum’s initiative to promote tolerance through sport is something that Larry Mizel, chairman of the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem, greatly believes in. It is important for him to bring all people together to benefit from this facility and also to benefit from the message of tolerance in the community.”
He noted that construction of the Museum of Tolerance has finished, and exhibits are being built and produced, with content overseen by Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Academy-award-winning documentary filmmaker Richard Trank.
“Until then,” he said, “we are focused on outreach activities, one of which is tolerance through sport. We believe that it can bring people together from different walks of life – Christian, Jews and Muslims.”
Riss added that the museum will be promoting joint sports activities for the Jewish and Arab children who attended the game. The children will be brought to the Museum of Tolerance after its opening for additional activities and discussions as well as for joint activities in other sports.
Referring to past confrontations in Jerusalem regarding tolerance and sports, Riss said, “People have suffered in the past for issues relating to sport in Jerusalem. We are bringing a new message to the city and to Israel. This is something that we want to be involved with and promote.”