Local Russians remain in high spirits despite semifinal defeat to Spain

The sound of Russian curses interspersed with Hebrew cheers filled the courtyard of Gotti's Garden Bar in J'lem on Thursday night.

The sound of Russian curses interspersed with Hebrew cheers filled the courtyard of Gotti's Garden Bar in Jerusalem on Thursday night as dozens of ex-Soviets gathered to cheer on their country of origin in its crucial Euro 2008 semifinal against Spain. Russians make up approximately one sixth of Israel's population, but they were clearly the majority in the courtyard of the bar, one of numerous venues across the country where local Russian-Israelis sat watching the game on a big screen, hoping to see a revived Russia make it to the final. Drinks were poured, cigarettes lit, and the match began rolling to an already rowdy audience. Even as Spain scored the first goal near the hour mark, there was still an air of optimism in the crowd. "Just because Spain won a goal it doesn't mean they will win the game," said Dima Shtranvasser, an immigrant from Moscow. When asked if he still considers Russia a large part of his identity Shtranvasser took a sip of his Baltika beer and yelled over the crowd: "[Russia] is my homeland... It's in my heart." As Spain widened its lead to two and then three-zero, the energy of the night began to shift. A table of Spain supporters even emerged as the team in gold scored a second goal. Potent animosity from the Russian fans towards the sole table of Americans cheering for Spain could be felt throughout the patio. Not surprisingly, being outnumbered did not stop these enthusiasts from voicing their delight and ordering up more Heineken. When asked why he was not cheering for the clear crowd favorite, Gideon Lawrence from New York City, said:"It's a stereotype thing, Spain is just cooler." "It's getting crazy over here watching us losing," despairing Gotti's owner Vladimir Levin exclaimed as the clock ticked towards 90 minutes. Levin, originally from Minsk, immigrated to the US before making aliya. "It's very disappointing… But I am happy with what they did. They got to the semifinals. But I hope next time they will do better and win," Levin commented. As the drink orders shifted from celebration ale to consolation shots, the cluster of soccer fans remained on the terrace and commiserated. "I don't think anyone expected the USSR to go so far… I am very proud…and will drink to their success," declared Levin as he grabbed a bottle of whiskey and flashed a partial smile.