It should come as no surprise to you that I’ve never watched the Super Bowl. It should also come as no surprise to you, that never having participated in the annual ritual in no way prevents me from commenting on it. As one steeped in the history and culture of our people, I find that the astronomical amount of money that changes hands each year when the Super Bowl comes around is nothing short of incredulous, especially since the very first “super bowl” dates back to biblical times, literally cost beans, had no viewership whatsoever, involved only (fraternal) twins and left a bitter taste in the mouth of the… reader.
I also find that there are at least three lessons that can be learned from the Super Bowl as we know it, that speaks to us as Jews:
No different than the way many Jews respond to Jewish holidays, the Super Bowl reminds us that to a great extent, culture determines the behavior of many Americans who seldom watch a football game on television. Yet, beginning at 5 p.m. this past Sunday, these same people with their typical tepid interest in the game were sure to tune in to at least some of the four hour event.
Had you asked them, why the sudden interest, either real or feigned, chances are that they answered: Because it’s the Super Bowl! Implicit in their astonishment of how one could even pose such a question was: this is what Americans do. And how can anyone not participating in this annual event say that he is “proud” to be an American?
The Super Bowl reminds us that food is a vital component of the annual event. The amount of beer and beverages that are consumed, the amount of Hero, Hoagie or Submarine sandwiches (depending on which part of this country you live) eaten, as well as the amount of munchies that are munched, is mind boggling. Then again, one would be hard pressed to envision a Rosh Hashanah without its pre requisite dinners and lunches, where invitations are aplenty; one would be hard-pressed to imagine Yom Kippur without the fuss made over the meal before the Fast as well as the Break Fast, where it is not unusual to pull out all the stops when it comes to variety as well as the quantity of food. It might very well be that that our appetite for food has given new meaning to the Days of Awe, in that one could easily stand in awe watching us tend to our kishkes, when our focus ought to really be on our souls! It’s with good reason that several years back, someone came up with a new set of four questions that define the Pesach seder: When do we eat? When do we eat? When do we eat? When do we eat?
It’s been a century since the term “over the top” was first introduced into the English language. In far more recent years, the term over the top has come to be identified with the commercials that are now very much part of the Super Bowl, with the expectations on the part of the viewing public that advertisers outdo themselves at each and every successive Super Bowl.
A few years ago, the Chicago Loop Synagogue had Dudu Fisher of Broadway (Cats) fame serve as Cantor for the High Holy Days. In speaking with my cousin who made a special effort to “daven with Dudu”, I heard how those in attendance were brought to tears when Dudu Fisher offered up the Memorial prayer for fallen Israeli soldiers. Meaning no disrespect to Dudu Fisher, I have always hoped that those in attendance at the Chicago Loop Synagogue and elsewhere would have been brought to tears while reciting either the Al Het or the Ashamnu Confessional. Similarly, I shed many a tear from within, each time I hear of how the Rabbi’s sermon was “over the top” or how the Rabbi “hit it out of the Ball Park”. Shouldn’t the focus of the High Holy Days be how the congregant was moved by or really got into a specific prayer or the very service itself?
I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet. Nevertheless I feel safe in saying that the High Holy Days as well as all other Jewish holidays will be around long after the Super Bowl becomes history. I look forward to the time when our holidays are not impacted upon by our culture and that the meal menu takes on a venue which is at best secondary to the spiritual component. The true holiday food given Jewish belief and practice ought to be “food for thought”.
Most important of all, I hope and pray with all my heart that “over the top” and “hitting it out of the ball park” will be reactions on the part of HaShem looking down in awe at the impact the holidays had on us. Only then will it be a true Super Bowl with everyone being a winner!