Tuesday 26 May 2020

And Solskjaer has won it

Today is May 26th. To a United fan, even one too young to remember the season itself such as myself, that date will forever be etched on our minds as the date Solskjaer won it with virtually the last kick of the final. The game sums up everything that fans love about sport. The rollercoaster that following your favourite team can involve. Drama. Emotion. Coming back from the brink of disaster. Winning. One of the absences I have felt most keenly during lockdown is that of football, both its absence from my TV screen and the absence of travelling to watch it in person. I don't miss the two and a half hour train journey to Manchester or being cramped in an overstuffed tram whilst other fans drunkenly chant sexist songs all around me. But, and forgive me for being cliché about it, that feeling I get when Old Trafford comes into view and when I step out into the stadium and see the pitch makes it all worth it.

That season, 1998/99, was the starting point for me. I often ask my Dad whether I watched any of the games, was I a fan during that season. He can't remember. But I was addicted to watching the 'Treble' video in the years that followed. I learnt the commentary off by heart and walked around reciting it, over and over again. I recreated the goals, alone, in my garden (quite hard to do but five-year-olds have a way of imagining these things). I watched the video again. And again. And again. The worst punishment was being banned from watching the United game that weekend. I used to try and sneak downstairs and peak into the TV room when my Mum (it was always my Mum) was otherwise engaged. I remember running into my parents' room the morning after a midweek game to ask my Dad what the score had been. I remember when I was old enough to watch the first half when a game was on in the evening. Dancing around our kitchen when we beat Chelsea on penalties in 2008. All I wanted to do when I was younger was go to Old Trafford. To watch United. Just once would suffice. I do not remember when I found out my dream was coming true. But I remember that the journey was over eight hours because of traffic, my Dad nearly gave up and turned around to go home and all that stopped him was how excited he knew I was. He couldn't do that to me. I remember we played Spurs. I remember standing on my seat to see Ruud Van Nistelrooy score the only goal of the game. I remember David Beckham taking a throw-in directly in front of me. I remember loving every single second.

Nearly 20 years on from my first game, I've been a season ticket holder for the majority of that time. I've been incredibly lucky to have been to Old Trafford more times than that little kid who thought 'Sheringham' was called 'Cheerio' (I still have no idea where that came from) could ever have imagined. I have seen United legends such as Keane, Scholes, Giggs, Ronaldo and Rooney live. Great footballers such as Messi and more recently Mbappé. I was there when we beat Arsenal 8-2, and when we lost to City 6-1. I've seen us win trophies with late goals and wonder strikes. I've also seen us struggle. I've watched United in the freezing cold lose to a club from Romania that no one had ever heard of. I've shivered through a game in Ukraine barely watching because all I wanted to do was focus on staying warm. I would not trade a second of it for anything. There's just something about sport. About football. About United.

So yes, its absence is felt keenly. I am excited for when it is safe for fans to return. Football is not a matter of life or death and no, it is not more important than that, Mr Shankley. But it is important. Going to games is a shared experience that rivals any other. I have daydreams about my children coming with me. About going abroad for a game, like I have done with my Dad, and witnessing a great spectacle (beating PSG 3-1 with a last-minute penalty springs effortlessly to mind). There really is nothing quite like it. And May 26th 1999 will forever be the date that started my love affair with football. I didn't watch the game live. But I didn't have to. Not to understand what sport meant, what sport could do. We'll be back soon, arguing about VAR and offsides. Hoping that our rivals don't win any trophies. Winding our friends up when their team loses.

Until then, I'll just watch the moment United won the Treble on repeat.

Sunday 24 May 2020

It's okay.

I don't know who needs to hear this but:

It's okay to stay inside when it's sunny and warm outside.

It's okay to eat lunch food at breakfast time.

It's okay to procrastinate.

It's okay to fail and have to try again.

It's okay to find that really popular book boring.

It's okay to okay to eat a slice of cheese and a tomato separately when you can't be bothered to make a sandwich.

It's okay to just be. And not do.

I don't know who needs to hear this but believe me, you're probably doing alright and certainly better than you think.

Monday 11 May 2020

Tisha b'Av and lighting the sky

"Even, after all this time, the Sun never says to the Earth 'you owe me'. Look at what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky."

I have a fondness for quotations. I have a particular fondness for this one. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the imagery of a lit sky, powered only by love that speaks to the romantic in me. Maybe it's the idea of a special kind of love, love that gives without question, without any expectations, without any demands, without any requests. Without wanting anything back in return. Keep that thought in mind.

Tisha B'av is the end of three weeks of mourning in the Jewish calendar. Those three weeks begins with the Fast of Tammuz when we mourn the breaching of Jerusalem's walls and the destruction of the Temple, culminating in Tisha b'Av, the ninth of Av, a fast day commemorating a number of tragedies and, specifically, the destruction of both Temples. We are taught the reason the Temples were destroyed, the reason such a tragedy befell the Jewish people is שִׂנְאַת חִנָּם - baseless hatred. The Gemara at Yoma 9b is clear. After discussing three reasons the First Temple was destroyed, the Gemara asks:

"מפני מה חרב מפני שהיתה בו שנאת חנם"

"...why was the Second Temple destroyed? It was destroyed due to the fact that there was wanton hatred during that period." (Sefaria translates it here as 'wanton hatred', but that is the same as baseless hatred for our purposes).

The Gemara goes on to ask:

"ובמקדש ראשון לא הוה ביה שנאת חנם"

"The Gemara asks: And in the First Temple era was there really no baseless hatred?" (here, for some reason, Sefaria does translate it as 'baseless hatred')

The conclusion is that even those who were apparently close had a hatred for each other. So far, so simple. The Jewish people were hateful and both Temples were destroyed due to this grave sin. What's the point of this blog, already based on a tenuous connection and starting with a bizarre quotation?

Well, Rabbis and scholars have long debated what exactly baseless hatred is and provided a number of messages and thoughts on Tisha B'Av. I would like to share two. One that is a fairly common interpretation and one that I think is my own, though the more learnèd amongst my readership are free to correct me.

The months of the Jewish calendar, originally, were merely numbered - with the month of Nissan being the first month, representing the importance of the exodus from Egypt. Post-Babylonian exile, they were given names. Many have provided links between those names and the month itself and what happens in those months. For example, Shevat is believed to an ancient Akkadian word that is related to the word lashing and refers to 'lashings' of rain. This is, plausibly, a connection to the rain that would typically fall in the month of Shevat, a month also known in the Jewish calendar as the so-called New Year of the Trees. Rain, famously, quite important for trees. Tammuz, the month where the three weeks of mourning the destruction of the Temples begins is, either ironically or meaningfully, the name of an idol. This is possibly an allusion to and a reminder of the fact one of the reasons given in Yoma 9b for the destruction of the First Temple was idol worship. Rashi has a simpler idea, Tammuz is related to the Aramaic word for heat, Tammuz is also a summer month, normally hot. Nissan, aptly known as the month of miracles, is plausibly so-named for the numerous miracles that occurred, including the Exodus from Egypt. You get the picture. So what of Av?

Av means Father. Many sources explain the connection as a reminder that even when we, the Jewish people, sin, Hashem, our G_D, remains there, like a parent. G_D may punish us for our sins, but nonetheless, G_D remains our parent. The name of the month, therefore, serves as a reminder that no matter what we do, no matter how badly we sin and no matter how severe a punishment we deserve for that sin (and the destruction of the Temple is a high punishment, indeed), G_D remains, always, there. Just like any parent.

I have, however, a different interpretation. One that relates back to the quotation I am particularly fond of above. We are taught, as I have said, that the Temples were destroyed due to our baseless hatred. Perhaps, then, Av is not a reminder that Hashem is like a Father or Mother in that Hashem is always there. Instead, it is a reminder of what we need to do, as Jews, to bring the Temple back. Parental love is, often and normally, unconditional. You might even call it 'baseless love' if you were looking for a meaningful connection to tie this whole post together. The name of the month then is a constant and unfailing reminder to love without question, without any expectations, without any demands, without any requests. Without wanting anything back in return. Just like a parent. Perhaps that is what we need to do, as Jews, as people, to ensure the rebuilding of the Temple. It was destroyed because of baseless hatred. The path, I believe, to our redemption and its rebuilding must be paved with baseless love, the love that never, even after all this time, would say 'you owe me'. A love that lights the whole sky.

יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶֽיךָ, ה' אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ וֵֽאלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵֽינוּ, שֶׁתִּבְנֶה בֵּית הַמִּקְדָשׁ בִּמְהֵרָה בְיָמֵֽינוּ

This post was edited on 29th July 2020, removing references to the Omer which are no longer relevant.