In a country where “football” means soccer, you would think the Super Bowl would be a relic of the past for U.S. Ã©migrÃ©s. However, for many of them the annual NFL championship game is cause for a party, complete with nachos and subs.
Steve Leibowitz, president of American Football in Israel, estimates that hundreds of fans will attend dozens of Super Bowl parties in Israel as the New England Patriots and New York Giants face each other on Feb. 5 – even though kickoff translates to 1:30 in the morning Israel time.
“In the old days, I used to organize Super Bowl parties at hotels because there was no way to watch at home,” said Leibowitz, a native New Yorker. “It’s kind of like wanting to celebrate Thanksgiving – it’s a part of the culture you grew up in, that you could take part in even if you were Jewish. It’s another reason for a party, but here it’s just at a very inconvenient hour. People arrange to come late to work or school the next day.”
Leibowitz’s high school-age son has missed school the day after the Super Bowl since he was a preschooler. This year, he is missing a few extra days, since he is accompanying Dad to the game in Indianapolis. The tickets come courtesy of Patriots owner Robert Kraft, builder of Jerusalem’s Kraft Stadium and patron of AFI. Accompanying the Leibowitzes are the sports editor of The Jerusalem Post and the quarterback of the AFI women’s national team.
“I grew up on the Giants, but I’m close with Bob Kraft,” Leibowitz confided. “When the whistle blows, I’ll keep it in my own heart who I’m going to root for.”
AFI co-founder Danny Gewirtz will catch the game with about 50 others enjoying “steak and burgers, wings, and a lot of Bazelet beer from the Golan Heights” at a steakhouse in Kfar Adumim. New York native Gewirtz has been in Israel 28 years.
“No matter how long you’ve been here,” said Gewirtz, whose son plays for the AFI’s national team, “you want to latch onto something cultural from your past. And the Super Bowl is almost like a holiday. There’s nothing like getting together with the guys for a few beers, especially when the Giants are playing.”
Jesse Nowlin, 23, arrived from Teaneck only in 2009. He is throwing a Super Bowl party at his Ramat Beit Shemesh home – complete with beer, kosher pigs-in-a-blanket, and a projector hooked to his laptop – to launch his Israel Sports Network (isn.co.il).
“ISN is an ESPN-style sports network covering sports here in Israel. Mainstream sports coverage is all in Hebrew, and there’s really nothing for English-speakers,” Nowlin said. He met his two co-founders through his job running the media broadcast network for the Israel Football League, the tackle division of the AFI. One of his productions will be screened at a huge Super Bowl party at an Indianapolis synagogue.
Charitable-minded party hosts in the United States and Israel are using halftime as an opportunity to show promotional material they signed up to receive about the hesder yeshivah (http://bit.ly/js-sderot) in Sderot. The yeshivah, part of a network that trains scholar-soldiers, urged football fans to “Help make Sderot the winning team!” The Gaza border town is under frequent assault by Hamas, and the yeshivah is raising money to build “Kassam-proof” dormitories.
Anyone not invited to a home party can find plenty of Super Bowl merriment at the American Cultural Center in downtown Jerusalem, and at popular Jerusalem and Tel Aviv bars such as Mike’s Place.
Reuven Beiser, owner of the Jerusalem Mike’s Place, says latecomers get turned away for lack of space on Super Bowl night. For the past decade, with the advent of cable TV, the bar has filled all its 200 seats and then some.
“It’s a busy night starting around midnight with the pregame show,” Beiser told The Jewish Standard. “We have 12 TVs in our basement – eight full-size TVs and four projection screens, including one that projects to the outside.”
The bar is also full on regular NFL Sundays, offering patrons a wings-and-beer special.
But only on Super Bowl Sunday – make that Monday, technically – does Mike’s Place serve hot dogs.
Beiser says some of the younger fans can get a bit rowdy, but generally there’s a good mood. Beiser, a Rhode Island native, is partial to the Patriots.