Hanukkah, Qatar, World Cup, Messi and 'yahrzeit' - opinion

The real winners of Qatar 2022 are the Iranian team, who did not sing their regime’s anthem and who might be facing the death penalty. They are the moral winners of these world championships.

 LIONEL MESSI (L) and the Argentina team arrive in Buenos Aires after winning the World Cup, Dec. 22; coach Leonel Scaloni at R.  (photo credit: AGUSTIN MARCARIAN/REUTERS)
LIONEL MESSI (L) and the Argentina team arrive in Buenos Aires after winning the World Cup, Dec. 22; coach Leonel Scaloni at R.
(photo credit: AGUSTIN MARCARIAN/REUTERS)

The robe he wore as he raised the golden World Cup trophy for all to see is one of the many indelible stains on these world games in Qatar. 

Previously worn by the emir himself, the robe was gently draped on Lionel Messi as a sign of glory and respect by the Arab representative, not caring at all about overshadowing the core essence of a man and respect for his nation, Argentina.

It is also against the rules and a slap in the face to the technical sponsors who pay an enormous amount of money for their name and logo to appear on the team’s shirts and was obscured in the moment of maximum exposure.

We have the confirmation that money can buy it all – values, rules and dignity.

A world championship we shall never forget, a triumph of the negation of human rights, from the building of the stadium in Qatar and all that came with it, to imposing the symbol of its nation on a man at the peak moment of his career and with an enormous number of viewers worldwide. 

To pretend that someone from the soccer world is an ambassador of human rights is perhaps asking too much, but at least we expect not to promote those countries that violate those rights!

 Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Final - Argentina v France - Lusail Stadium, Lusail, Qatar - December 18, 2022 General view of a pyrotechnic display pictured from outside the stadium after the match (credit: HAMAD I MOHAMMED/REUTERS) Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Final - Argentina v France - Lusail Stadium, Lusail, Qatar - December 18, 2022 General view of a pyrotechnic display pictured from outside the stadium after the match (credit: HAMAD I MOHAMMED/REUTERS)

The real winners of Qatar 2022 are the Iranian team, who did not sing their regime’s anthem and who might be facing the death penalty. They are the moral winners of these world championships, little sparks of hope that through the world of sports try to attract attention from the world and help their nation in pain. Men who chose to stand behind the women and children of their country who are being abused, and in their highest moment of visibility decide to shut their mouths in front of the world and not sing.

As an Italian who grew up with the cult of soccer, this World Cup was hard to watch.

I remember every World Cup  – where I was and who I watched it with. Italians mark their personal, unique moments in life through the World Cups. 

“Yes, I remember when we bought the house; it was Italy-Germany that year...,” or a teenager’s first kiss, a ride on the Vespa, a first child... all precious moments marked in “soccer years” as we call them.

I remember as a girl seeing my grandparents watching the finals, the rabbi of the city, and even our teachers!

World Cup finals in Italy are holy.

This year, less.

Yet, to see a small man like Lionel Messi, captain of the Argentina team with his famous No. 10, carrying his whole nation on his shoulders as he played a game that would glorify him as the next Maradona, or throw him in despair, was pretty intense. How refreshing, though, to see him so simple and real as he was thrown right into history the moment the last penalty declared him king of the world and gave Argentina the win over France

No crazy screaming in front of the cameras, no undressing in front of the world, no throwing his body on the ground and exaggerating the moment. A man who just smiled and thanked his fans, hugged each person from the staff that came toward him on the field, went to console the losers as if he whispered to them, “Come on, it’s just a game.”

This is Messi, simple. Okay, so he might be the best player in the world. So what? His secret is probably that he doesn’t take himself too seriously, and that makes him so real, so caring and so loved by all. Maybe because of his simple roots, and his tough childhood. At 11, he was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency that left him shorter than average; but eventually it became his strength, as it gave him greater agility, allowing him to change directions more quickly and evade opposing tackles. 

Now there are little children who have their No. 10 T-shirt hanging on the wall in their rooms with the name Messi on the back, dreaming of one day being like him. He feels the responsibility. He has three boys of his own.

10 year yahrzeit

My “soccer year France-Argentina” marks 10 years of my daughter Navi being gone, yet her presence is felt more than ever before, as her light keeps shining and guiding me in all my choices, decisions and engagements.

Ten years that feel like a hundred years. Ten years that feel like yesterday, too.

Navi would have been 12 and smack in the middle of the family, with two older sisters and two younger siblings, a girl and a boy. She would be called “the sandwich.” She could steal clothes and bags from the older sisters and play with the younger ones. Her blue piercing eyes are in my memory as she would ask me to sit next to her through chemotherapy and hold her hand. She was just two years old, yet so mature and strong.

Ten years that changed me, completely, into a whole new human being. Made me stronger, more focused, defined, fearless and fearful at the same time, loving, thankful and in awe of God and His power.

Even though we lost the game with her, we won the match. Navi has changed not only my world but my whole family, and so many out there with whom I have spoken, written to, hugged and loved thanks to her. Navi defined the path of my career and cleared for me all confusion I had in which direction to go.

She made everything so simple, obvious and right.

As the whole family got together, as we do every year on her yahrzeit, and we eat, talk, laugh, hug and remember, I was hiding in a room watching the final moments of the game, my husband super embarrassed, trying to hide this crazy passion of his wife from the family who thought they knew me, and so making some funny excuse as to why I wasn’t sitting with them just yet.

I was grateful for the game. It gave me a place to hide, to think of my Navi alone while watching Messi waving to the crowds, getting a lesson on being simple and down to earth, and enjoying this moment alone, with my sweet memories in my head and in my heart.

As fireworks were exploding in Qatar, I went to the window and looked for a star.

Thank you for watching over me, my baby. I love you.

I step into the salon as we get ready to light the hanukkiah and finally light some real holy light to inspire the world.

Happy Hanukkah to you all. 

The writer is from Italy, lives in Jerusalem with her husband and four kids, and heads HadassahChen Productions. She also hosts a talk show on Arutz 7, Real Talk with Hadassah Chen.