The View From Here | Rooting for the Underdog


Like this great country of ours, I’m a big believer in the underdog. Some might even say this belief is my birthright.

In the womb, I wasn’t given much of a chance of survival. My mother had to spend three months on bedrest at Lankenau Hospital prior to my birth, which came the night before the Philadelphia Eagles’ first-ever appearance in the Super Bowl. According to family lore, my grandfather was so excited about the arrival of his first grandchild and his beloved team’s facing off against the Oakland Raiders — no one has revealed which took precedence — that he had the nursery staff swaddle me in green.

The Eagles, as we all know, lost that Super Bowl XV fight, 27-10. Since then, I’ve been rooting for the Birds, come hell or high water, through seasons good and bad — even during a good portion of my childhood spent amid Cowboys fans in Dallas. (That experience gave new meaning to Kermit the Frog’s famous song, “It’s Not Easy Being Green.”)

I was right there with them — metaphorically speaking, of course — for Super Bowl XXXIX, watching in agony from my Bala Cynwyd apartment as they fell to the New England Patriots, 24-21. And I was there, up in the middle of the night, watching a live webcast from my home in Israel in 2009, the last time the Eagles came close to the big game. (They lost to the Arizona Cardinals in the conference championship, 32-25.)

And my family and I have been rooting and hollering during every game of the Doug Pederson era, especially this improbable injury-plagued season that will conclude on Sunday with the Iggles (hopefully) defeating the Pats in Super Bowl LII. Among underdogs, there’s no better team to get behind than the Birds, as evidenced by a Las Vegas betting line that has seen the Patriots go from 7-point favorites to 4.5 in just a week of wagers. And throughout the United States, fans from New York to Dallas to L.A. are praying that Tom Brady and the New England offensive line fold like a cheap suit before the mighty Fletcher Cox. For myself, I’m counting on at least one defensive touchdown to aid an Eagles victory, 21-10.

But perhaps there’s something more than just hometown pride that has so many get behind the underdog. As Americans — especially as American Jews — we have a visceral appreciation for justice and equality. Nothing burns us quite so much as a rigged system, so when power or influence seems to unnaturally congregate around particular people or institutions, whether in Boston or Washington, we tend to suspect that a rebalancing is in order.

It’s not for nothing that in 1776, our fledgling nation was the underdog in its fight against the British Empire. And it’s worthwhile to remember that in 1948, Israel was very much the David facing down the Goliath of several Arab armies all united against the common Jewish enemy.

That’s why a recent Pew study purportedly showing a vast divide in the pro-Israel sentiments among Republicans and Democrats is so disconcerting.

Putting aside for a moment the legitimate critiques of the survey — the question at issue, for instance, forces respondents to choose between Israel and the Palestinians, whereas most people probably instinctively consider themselves in favor of both a strong Israel and an eventual Palestinian state — the downward trend among Democrats identifying as supportive of a position that not too long ago was considered more-or-less bipartisan means that something is wrong. Israel is still very much the underdog, but it seems that too many people view it as the new Goliath.

But I don’t blame Democrats. I blame the same Jewish community that has seen its young, according to other Pew studies, identify less and less with Israel, regardless of party affiliation. Yes, Israel’s government — especially during the fights over the Iran nuclear deal — has capitalized off of partisan divisions in Washington, but our collective failure to inculcate a visceral come-hell-or-high-water love of the Jewish state in our youth helped lay the groundwork for Israel to appear as a partisan issue.

Too many hide behind the notion that criticism is a hallmark of a healthy friendship, and while that’s true in private, it’s not inherently true when the world is watching. A Philadelphia fan may be the biggest critic of the Eagles on WIP, but he wouldn’t be caught dead trashing his team on a Boston sports radio station. It’s the same for families: I see my children fight like cats and dogs, but they unite to defend each other against bullies at school.

I’m not suggesting that a blind embrace of all of Israel’s faults — and it legitimately has them — is what’s called for. I’m merely suggesting that we create an environment in which Israel is seen for what it is, a tiny Jewish homeland in a Middle East whose countries at the present time would rather see it harmed than supported.

It is an imperfect state — much like the United States — whose democratic ideals may not always jibe with harsh realities, but nevertheless express the hope for a better future for all mankind. The more we make those truths the substance of our conversations, the more the latest polls will be seen as outliers in a strong history of pro-Israel bipartisanship.

Looking back at a millennia-long history that saw the formerly exiled Jewish people return to forge a new state of their own, emerge victorious in three regional wars and give birth to a first-rate economy, I’ve never been prouder of an underdog.



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