Abba Hillel's 50-year Maccabiah tale

Hilly Linde 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Hilly Linde 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
My father, Hilyer Samuel Linde (7/8/28 - 22/4/13), was a great sportsman and a wonderful poet. He loved most sports and was very serious about following rules and etiquette, but he firmly believed in winning and losing graciously and with aplomb, accompanied by humor and a smile.
Ultimately, a game was just a game, and the idea was to have fun. It was how you played the game that mattered, and not the result. When I was training to be an athlete at Carmel College in Durban, South Africa, he wrote me a poem (with apologies to Rudyard Kipling) that nicely expressed his strong sense of sportsmanship. Here is an extract:
When the dreams you dream do not materialize And someone else receives that precious prize, My heart hurts for you my son When your sights are set to conquer all And before the winning post you fall, My heart hurts for you, my son When you train and suffer to make the team But in the selectors' eyes you remain unseen, My heart hurts for you, my son When your whole world collapses at your feet And your brave smile shows-not your defeat complete, My heart hurts for you, my son But when you're flat upon the floor And you dust yourself down and come up for more, My heart BURSTS for you, my son!
Hilly Linde, as my dad became known, was born in Johannesburg to Harry and Ada Linde. His dad, who was born in Lithuania, joined the British Army as a teenager and became bantamweight boxing champion in the Transvaal Scottish Regiment during World War I, played soccer for Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1922-23 and ended up as a golf professional at Randfontein in Johannesburg with a plus-3 handicap.
Hilly followed in Harry's footsteps, becoming an accomplished athlete, rugby and soccer player. In 1953 - exactly 60 years ago - he was selected to play for South Africa at the Fourth Maccabiah. He loved every minute of his trip to the fledgling Jewish state, making fast friends with the Israeli players who included such legends as Ya'akov Hodorov, Yehoshua (Shiye) Glazer, Eli Fuchs, Yossi Mirmovitch and Asher Blut. But in the men's soccer final (women's soccer was introduced at the Games that year), Israel crushed South Africa 4-nil. Still, the South African team returned home proudly with a silver medal. Hilly's 30 seconds of fame came a year later when the Israeli team toured Southern Africa. By then, he had moved to Salisbury (now Harare) and, like his father, was selected as the only Jew in the Rhodesian team.
It was May 5, 1954. The match took place at the Rayton Ground in Salisbury. Hilly Linde had been selected to play right wing, and by his own account was not enjoying a particularly good game. The referee disallowed a goal by Glazer in the 55th minute, but a minute later Shiye passed the ball to Mirmovitch, who put Israel one up. A header from Roy Coop in the 70th minute leveled the game for Rhodesia. A short time later, my dad - who was a long way from the Israeli goal - experienced what was to become his moment of glory.
“As fate would have it, the ball came to me on the right wing, and while trying to center it, the ball screwed off my foot, and spun towards the Israeli goal,” he once told me, modestly. “The goalkeeper came off his line to collect the ball, and much to his embarrassment, the ball went over his head and into the net. The highlight of my career was scoring the winning goal in that international against Israel.”
Linde had given Southern Rhodesia its first international victory. But, as the only Jew in the Rhodesian side, he also had the dubious honor of vanquishing a world-class team representing the Jewish state. The headline in the paper the next day read, “40-yard Lob Beats Israel.” He felt a hero and a villain at the same time, hailed by the Rhodesian fans but mocked by his Israeli friends as an “anti-Semite.”
My dad and his wife, Dolores, made aliya in 1997 and settled in Netanya. After excelling in lawn bowls in South Africa, they started to play at Wingate, and in 2002 had the rare distinction of winning the Israeli veteran men's and women's singles titles, as well as the mixed pairs competition.It was on the bowling green that my dad who was a member of the Netanya Bowling Club met up again with former Israeli soccer star Asher Blut, who played for Ramat Gan. They hadn't seen each other for more than 50 years! Hilly later moved from playing to coaching bowls, including to blind bowlers who called him “Hillel” (his Hebrew name). Dolores won two medals for bowls in the 2005 Maccabiah; her son, Denis Phillips, won four medals for bowls in the 2009 Maccabiah.
After a lengthy illness, my father died at home in Netanya in April at the age of 84. About a year before his death, he penned his last poem, which I read out at his funeral. Here is an extract:
O Israel, my Israel You sheltered me, with no strings attached.Your cordiality was indeed unmatched.A Semitic son from the Diaspora Came home to be with my "mishpocha."
Your Law of ReturnAssured my stay In an ambiance that day by day Endorsed my resolve to rearrange My past environment with a brand new change.My gratitude knows no bounds And I revel in the sights and sounds Of a vibrant nation, a true sensation!
I welcome all participants of the 19th Maccabiah in the spirit of my father¹s sportsmanship and love for Israel. We may support different teams, but we're all on the same side. As Abba Hillel would have said, “Play fairly, do your best, but most of all, enjoy yourselves!"
The writer is the editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.