I almost never pray.
Sometimes I plead, or beg, or look up towards the sky with a smile when something too perfectly bad or too perfectly good happens. I'll make wishes in my head at 11:11 and I'll knock on wood three times to prevent a jinx after I'd said something affirmatively. Rarely do I see a shooting star without some private hope, and I'll always ask for something big when I blow candles out on my birthday. But praying? I pretty much reserve that for one thing: Washington Redskins football.
A few months ago, I decided I would go to the Big Man for a big win. We were headed to Green Bay to face a frighteningly good offense led by Aaron Rodgers, and I was pretty certain God wasn't enough -- but I figured, why not?
That morning, I woke up at my yeshiva in East Jerusalem with very clear intentions: I was going to be as good a Jew as possible, then go to the local American bar and see what kind of godliness the Skins could put together. I woke up feeling positive and energized, put on my kippa and my Robert Griffin III t-shirt.
The first thing I did was the morning wash. I'm not sure what the blessing is over this wash, but I know how it works. I try my hardest to think of God and not Redskins' quarterback RGIII, and then I get in line for breakfast.
Without question, this is the saddest part of my day. Breakfast in the yeshiva makes you feel like you're in County. There is a long line and lots of loud kids with Brooklyn accents, and when you get to the food you're almost always disappointed. Today it's scrambled eggs, salad, and big chunky white blobs of cottage cheese. I try to be grateful for this food, to not think about the bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches that I miss so dearly, because I know God would want me to be grateful, and I know I should be grateful, and because the Redskins really need this game.
I sit down next to my roommate, Shlomo, and ask for his highly sought after Frank's Red Hot Sauce. He passes me the sauce under the table. I douse my food in it out of my classmate's sight, look down at my now orange covered meal and think about all the people who would kill for food like this. I say the blessing on the bread:
"Baruch atah adonai, elokeinu melach ha'olam, hamotzie lechem myn ha'aretz."
Shlomo, barely audible, mutters "amen" under his breath. We eat.
A few hours later I take the beautiful light rail that runs through Jerusalem down to the Old City. One trip costs 6.60 shekel -- about a dollar and eighty cents. Sometimes I catch the train at the last second, can't buy a ticket, and then avoid the ticket police by hopping off at stops and switching to cars they just checked. It's my little way of working the system, taking one back from The Man. I've heard the fine for not having a ticket is 200 shekel, although I've been caught twice and kicked off without further punishment. But today the Redskins need a W, today I buy and validate my ticket, today I am with God.
By now I've gone full blown Jew-mode. I'm wearing my Redskins towel draped over my kippa which is on top of my head because I heard somewhere that two head coverings are better than one. I'm touching every single mezuzah I pass, then kissing my fingers. I'm doing all the blessings I know whenever I can. When I get to Daniel's apartment, which is about a 45-second walk from the Western Wall, I greet him and his Hassidic brother by saying "Chag Sameach," then sit down on the couch to schmooze for a bit.
Once we're headed to the bar, I'm not feeling good about the whole God and football thing. What did I miss? What did I get right? It isn't like I can fool God. He knows everything - including my motivations for being a "good Jew" today. Plus, as I've always said, "God doesn't care about football." I used to cringe every time an athlete thanked God, now me -- some schmuck that isn't even playing -- is asking for his help. But no! God is infinite. He is non-divisible, meaning his attention is non-divisible. If I pray it will work. This can work. How many Jews are in Green Bay, anyway? If I do some good praying, the Redskins can do this.
On the way to the bar, I realize the Old City is packed with Jews celebrating the High Holidays. Suddenly, it occurs to me that God probably cares way more about these people -- these real Jews -- atoning for their sins and enjoying our God-given city instead of walking to the bar to get hammered and watch football.
"No," I remind myself. "God is infinite... no Jews in Green Bay... non-divisible... we can do this..."
As we come out of the Old City onto Jaffa Street, I see a peculiar man walking towards us. He's very thin, dark skinned and a little shorter than me. But it's what he's doing -- cupping his ears, slapping his mouth, muttering odd guttural sounds -- that irks me.
As Daniel and I get even with him, he rings his hands and starts slapping his O-shaped lips as if mocking the stereotyped image of Native Americans.
"This guy is bat-shit," Daniel says to me.
I nod in agreement.
The man comes even with us and begins walking by our side, continuing his odd mannerisms. We pick up our pace without looking at him and as he falls behind us he begins to get louder.
"Ughhhhhhhhhhh," he groans, as if he's pulling something from his diaphragm. "Ughhhhhhh-Isaac."
The hair goes up on the back of my neck. I'm immediately covered in goose bumps, feel the slight sensation I'm going to faint and then turn around.
"Isaac," he says again, this time looking at me.
"What the fu..." Daniel trails off as he walks between us, clicking his tongue and cupping his ears.
"That dude just said my name," I declared, shocked to the point of stating the obvious.
"Yeah, bro," Daniel said through a forced laugh. "I was here."
I glance at the sky briefly and wonder if this was Hashem, if that could be a signal. I can't think of anything so we continue to the bar in silence.
Upon arriving, I know exactly what's coming. The bartender sees our Redskins and Dolphins shirts and is clearly uneasy. With only four football channels, it turns out he's not showing our games.
"Alright man, God is going to make us work for this," I said as we left.
We make some calls and find out that a few guys from at Yeshiva are watching the games on a Wi-Fi stream. The Skins are on their list. We decide to go and walk to the light rail stop. I buy a ticket and promise myself I will validate this one. The time is 7:42 p.m. in Israel, which means the game will be starting in 18 minutes at 1:00 p.m. back in the states. When we get off the train we hustle to the Yeshiva. It is dinnertime, BBQ wings, by far the best food you'll get at Ohr Somayach. Feeling revived, I wash before dinner and ask someone to say the blessing on the meat for me.
At 8:00 p.m. on the dot, disaster strikes. The Internet is down. I know the game is just kicking off, and begin to panic. One of my classmates encourages us to wait it out. I decide to daven, rocking back and forth trying my best to channel Him. 10 minutes go by. A friend's phone tells me the Packers went up 3-0. As I always do during Redskins games, I call my dad to chat. We're worried.
10-0 Packers. The first quarter is winding down and I decide we've got to move. Daniel thinks his brother's apartment -- all the way back in the Old City -- has a Wi-Fi stream. We leave in an attempt to catch the second half. This is God's plan, I tell myself. I keep the towel over my kippa and recite the traveler's prayer aloud off a wallet-sized laminated prayer book.
Good news: Daniel's Internet works.
Bad news: It's 17-0 Packers. They have the ball and they're moving.
As the game appears on my computer screen I hear my dad groan and watch Jermichael-Finley strut in for a 3-yard touchdown to make it 24-0. This game is all but over. I open a beer, say the prayer again, still in cahoots with God and still hopeful for Redskins.
"Baruch atah adonai, elokeinu melach haolam, Shehakol Nihyah bidvaro."
Daniel mutters "amen."
As the second half begins, all hope fades. The Packers work their way down the field and score to make it 31-0, an insurmountable lead in the NFL. I deflate, pull my towel off my head and start feeling the blues only a real, dedicated sports fan can feel when his team appears to be hopelessly pathetic.
I reflect: Was it worth it? Is it a bad thing I took the time to appreciate my food or my alcohol? Didn't it feel good to pay for my train ticket each time I rode it? Wasn't it better that I kept a positive attitude when the bar didn't have the game and the Internet at Ohr Somayach wouldn't work? Did I really need God to do all those things?
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Daniel offers me a hand-rolled cigarette. Feeling the liberating sense of self-loathing, I accept. I take my first drag and look through the smoke as the clock goes from :04 to :03 to :02 to :01 to :00; the score board reads 31-20 Packers and I think to myself, "God doesn't care about football."