Saturday, 1 August 2015

Israelis and Matkot - Opponent and Partner

Israelis are difficult to understand. In some ways they are very simple - they are either very religious or secular, traditionalists or modern, eager to fight and defend or searching for peace. In other ways they are very complicated. They are shaped by a long history, a mixed cultural upbringing, and a present day circumstance that beyond the comprehension of anyone, including themselves. I am continually striving to find a way to describe the delicate relationship that people seem to have within themselves, but also amongst themselves. I believe the best way is to look at matkot. 

Matkot is a seemingly simple beach game. It is normally played amongst two players who stand 10 or so meters apart just along the shoreline where the water line just touches their feet. They play with wooden paddles and a rubber ball approximately the size of a squash ball, i.e. approximately 2.5 cm in diameter. On a busy beach day, which is seemingly every day, men and women of all ages can be seen, but also loudly heard volleying back and forth. 

Where it becomes interesting and what I believe to be a metaphor for the Israeli spirit is in the strategy of the game. The ball is hit back and forth with as much force as possible. However, unlike traditional racquet-like sports where the main objective is getting get it past your opponent with sheer velocity or making it un-returnable through outright trickery or difficulty, in matkot you are working with your opponent. You want to keep the rally going. 

It is this stark relationship between how the person across from you is in some ways your opponent, but is really your partner, that I see a unique relationship between people that does not exist any where else. Two matkot players are pushing each other to the edge with brute force. What could be a leisurely game on the beach becomes a show of power. Anecdotally, I saw a father and son playing. The father was smashing it so hard that the same scene at a US community center tennis court would have raised eyebrows and brought to mind the stereotype of a father putting too much pressure on his son to compete in sports. In this case, the son took the tough shots with composure and was clearly a better player for it. The rallies went on, and on, and on. 

Whether it is just two friends on a beach or Israeli's of all different backgrounds, the nature of the relationship is similar. They are highly intense, not always in a positive way, but never short of raw, unhindered emotion. While they seem like opponents at times, they are deciphering, knowingly or not, a way to work together, because without the other, the game will stop. 

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