2 sausages, 1 barbie

 

 by Rina Reiss

Last Sunday (18th Sept 2011) a Muslim-Jewish harmony footy match with two mixed teams of Jewish and Muslim teenagers playing side by side at the Whitten Oval.

 

I first heard about the footy match while sitting with a group of Almanackers in the audience of the live-to-air ABC 2 Aboriginal footy show ‘Marngrook’, a family-friendly footy show featuring Indigenous Australian presenters, stories and guest footballers.

 

The creation of the new footy club was inspired by a visit to the Whitten Oval by a Peace Team comprising of Israelis and Palestinians. Students who attended from the Bialik College and the Newport Islamic Society decided to form the Muslim-Jewish ‘Muju Peace Club’. The courageous aim of the club is to facilitate “dialogue, tolerance and respect in Jewish and Muslim young people by uniting them in something they all love: footy.”

 

The Western Bulldogs’ website reported that the Sunday game was “an unexpected but positive outcome from the Western Bulldogs’ newest community engagement project, “More than a Game”, which uses sport, football in particular, to engage with young men from the Newport Islamic Society”.

 

The Doggies were “encouraging the entire community to come and support dialogue, participation and peace and stay after the game for a Kosher and Halal sausage sizzle”. This ticked all the boxes for me; a footy match, on a sunny Sunday morning, promoting peace and a barbeque lunch. I had to go.

 

Accompanied by Denise, an equally enthusiastic Doggies supporter, we caught a train to Whitten Oval. It was not packed with colourful fellow footy goers as was our usual experience, just a few people dreamily staring out the window.  Just three of us stepped onto the empty Footscray West station. So we struck up a conversation with our fellow traveller, a tall young man heading to the game too. His arm was in a sling, not from playing footy but a snowboarding accident, which unfortunately prevented him from playing ruck at the game we were about to see.

 

There was a crowd with diverse cultural preferences; women in head scarves, others with footy caps, and some girls in shorts. However, this was a day for noticing what was shared. We were families and friends watching a footy match.

 

 

 

There was even an opening ceremony. The players lined up on the field in one long row with arms around each other’s shoulders. They faced their fans at the perimeter of the oval. In between, stood the speakers with microphones in hand to give messages of encouragement.  ‘Footy culture’ was represented by Martin Flanagan, best known as a sports writer with a particular interest in the relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. While the ‘Doggies’ and ‘peace’ were represented by Henry Jolson director of Western Bulldogs and Ambassador for the AFL Peace Team.

 

A message of support was sent from the Prime Minister Julia Gillard in which she said, “peace is not something that only governments can bring about…. At a time of uncertainty in the world and in the Middle East in particular, this simple football match involving Jewish and Muslim teenagers sends a timely message of peace, goodwill and friendship.”

 

A horn was sounded and the game commenced. There were no cheer squads but a few claps and shouts were heard on the breeze. The goalie jumped high in the air with delight as she gave that great footy two-handed gesture to signal the first goal had been kicked. There was no visible score board so we had to concentrate on the game’s progress. There was no commentary so we made up our own. “A rough tackle by opposing team members see them fall to the ground… one gets up slowly…. then turns back to extend a helping hand to the other player who is still on the ground… but there’s plenty of rough and tumble as the ball hurtles towards inside 50 at the city side of the ground”.

 

Players ran off the ground hot and sweaty, pulling their jumpers off, then threw them to their team mates waiting to go on to take their place. Not enough jumpers to go around.

 

Oranges in aluminium soup pots were brought onto the field at half time. Plenty were left over so the spectators were invited to partake too.  The scent of the sausages cooking on the barbeque was irresistible. Jews and Muslims stood side by side to cook and serve us. We were offered a choice of Kosher or Halal hot dogs. We asked for one of each and were complimented on trying both. After all, it was in keeping with the spirit of the day. Upon hearing about this little exchange for peace my 88 year old father observed, “When it comes to food, Jews and Muslims have no argument”. I couldn’t help but enjoy the happy symbolism of the 2 sets of delicious sausages sitting side by side on the one barbie.

 

Channel 10’s cameramen and presenter moved among the crowd and players interviewing and recording the event. Good on them for being there. It was news worthy and a perfect feel-good story to end their nightly news coverage.

 

At the end of the match there were cheers and huddles as the coaches and community leaders congratulated to the players. Everyone sang along with the melodic and catchy pre-recorded song of celebration in English, Hebrew and Arabic was played over the sound system and sung by everyone. A player photo shoot, and then the event was over but it felt like this was a seed from which big things could grow.

 

Like footy nuts we still wanted to know the score. At the end of the game, Denise asked a player if he knew the scores. He said he didn’t and we came to the realisation, “it didn’t matter”. When I had asked Henry Jolson what the scores were at half time he replied, “Peace is winning”.

 

Rina Reiss

(with editing and prettying up by Denise Hilton)

19th September 2011

 

Comments

  1. Well done to the team and to the writers. It’s a great story and I hope there are many more games of peace to participate in. Good writing and photos as well

    Yvette

  2. Love your passion for the game, and the cause of peace. Great photo of the game with the Melbourne skyline in the background. Funny I remember the Whitten Oval as a brown mudheap under a perpetually grey sky. Looks beaut in your photos. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Alovesupreme says:

    Rina,
    I was delighted to see your account of the ‘peace game” as it perfectly complemented Martin Flanagan’s accounts in the Age.
    I intended to reply at the time and commend you for it, but I didn’t track down the precedent which I had in mind. Unfortunately it’s a pessimistic one.

    I’ve always felt there’s a rough analogy between the Israel-Palestine imbroglio and the deadly conflict in Northern Ireland. In 1969, a courageous soccer enthusiast, Liam Conlon established a team associated with a Catholic youth club but which was very explicitly composed of players from both communities and prohivbitions on any kind of divisive symbolism was strictly enforced. Bobby Sands who later died in jail on an IRA hunger strike was one of the players, and the linked article speaks of him in a team photograph sitting alongside a team-mate who later served nine years in jail for crimes committed from the other side of the sectarian divide. Another player in the photograph was killed during the troubles. Unfortunately the noble effort couldn’t be sustained as the “troubles” worsened.

    The story was dramatized in a (commercially) unsuccessful Andrew Lloyd Webber musical (script by Ben Elton) The Beautiful Game.

    The optimist in me suggests that every little gesture in this direction adds a little ripple of hope, and your heart-warming account of the match means that some people are willing to make an effort and want to make a difference.

    Thank you again for a beautiful account of a courageous experiment and initiative

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/1999/nov/23/newsstory.sport6

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