Finding the perfect pitch

Spanish sports journalist Elias Israel will take the microphone at Mishkenot Sha’ananim’s Spain in Jerusalem conference.

Elias Israel (photo credit: Courtesy)
Elias Israel
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Mention “Spain” and the stock image that comes to most people’s mind probably ranges from flamenco dancing to bullfighting and possibly the odd majestically appointed hacienda. Then again, sports fans would probably think of the great Iberian soccer clubs such as Real Madrid and Barcelona and the all-pervading passion Spaniards have for the game.
That is just one of the many facets being discussed at this week’s Spain in Jerusalem conference, which started yesterday and ends today.
One of today’s early slots (9:30 to 11 a.m.) is entitled “Kicking Out at Windmills – Literature and Soccer.” The inclusion of a lecture by Prof. Ruth Fine, head of the Department of Romance and Latin-American Studies of the Hebrew University, called “In the Footsteps of Don Quixote” seems perfectly natural. However, the Fine lecture will be followed by a talk by 42-year-old Spanish Jewish sports journalist Elias Israel called “The Phenomenon of the Craze of Spanish Soccer,” with some help from local sports commentator Nadav Yaakobi.
Spain has been a mecca for soccer fans since the halcyon days of Real Madrid, when Hungarian goalscoring machine Ferenc Puskas and Argentinean attacking midfielder Alfredo di Stefano ruled the roost. This year, the Spanish national team finally won the World Cup, and in fine style.
According to Israel, who has been a top soccer journalist in Spain for more than two decades, the Spanish love of soccer and sports in general is an integral part of the way of life there.
“Spain is living its golden age in sports,” he says. “Spanish athletes are a big part of the world’s football, basketball (men’s and women’s), tennis, Formula 1, Moto GP and triathlon fields. And the national teams have improved a lot, too.”
Israel believes that one cannot separate Spain from soccer and enlists the help of an icon of the sport from a very different culture.
“Passion is in the nature of the Latin people. [Legendary 1960s Scottish manager of Liverpool] Bill Shankly said, ‘Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.’ Spain is a good example of that way of thinking. We play football with the mind, not with the legs. When Spanish players learned that, we became winners. Football is creativity, sensitivity, a glow, and it touches the heart of the supporters.”
For Israel, soccer has been a way of life from an early age, and he took every opportunity to watch his idols do their thing on the soccer pitch.
Years later, Israel started sharing his love of soccer with the world as a journalist with top-selling Spanish daily sports newspaper Marca.
“It was a beautiful experience. I spent 15 years there – the last four as chief editor. It also gave me some insight into the power of sport in Spain.”
Today, Israel runs his own sports journalism outfit and has kept up with technological developments.
“Now I have my own company.We are content producers in Internet, wireless and social media. We have a sports website (, and we do a lot with widgets and appliances for iPhone, iPad and Android. We are very much involved in the new era of the communication.”
With the success of the top Spanish clubs in European competitions and, more recently, the national side – Spain is currently the holder of the UEFA European Football Championship and the World Cup – perhaps Spaniards have a special way of approaching what is known as “the beautiful game.”
“Maybe there is,” surmises Israel, implying that in Spain, sports and art are one and the same. “In the history of Spanish football history, the national team was called La Furia [The Fury]. We won the last European Championship and the World Cup with the best football anyone can remember in this country. We have a very good combination. Spain, in terms of football, is a perfect orchestra. [Barcelona midfielders] Xavi and Iniesta have the creativity of Dali. [Real Madrid goalkeeper] Casillas keeps the keys, and all the international Spanish players are very important in their club sides. This is the perfect generation of footballers with a wonderful boss, Vicente del Bosque, who is a big person, an incredible coach and a good friend of the Jews.”
The Jewish connection is, of course, an important element in Israel’s personal and professional life. He says he is conscious of the long, albeit not always happy, history of the Jews in Spain, and politics and image-related woes aside, he feels comfortable living there.
“Spain is a fantastic country to live for Jewish people. The Jewish community is very small, an unknown minority. I survived a bomb attack on the synagogue in 1975, when I was seven years old. For sure, we are not happy with the way the media portrays the Palestinian problem. We are the bad guys in this film. Israel has a big problem of image, and Spain is the clear proof.”
Maybe soccer could help improve that image. After all, Israel has exported some serious soccer talent to Spain over the years.
“Haim Revivo left a great memory here, and Avi Nimni is a very great talent but he didn’t stay in Spain long enough to show it. I’m sure that [current Chelsea player] Yossi Benayoun is more suited to [Spanish league] La Liga than the [English] Premier League. In Mallorca, [current Israeli national team player] Dudu Aouate is considered one of the best goalkeepers in Spain, more than in Israel,” he says.
Israel does not confine himself to commentating on soccer. He has played the game, at a decent amateur level himself, even taking part in the Maccabiah Games. He has visited this country many times and says he feels a special bond with Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem is an incredible place. You feel the history in each step. It is a city of incredible contrasts. No one should die without knowing Jerusalem.”
More information about the conference and tickets can be obtained by telephone at 629-2212; by e-mail to; or via the Mishkenot Sha’ananim website