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Jewish supporters’ cup runneth over

  • AriellaKuperatFinal
The closest thing to being in the Yokohama Stadium when the Springboks lifted that Rugby World Cup (RWC) trophy on Saturday is hearing about it from those who were there. South African Jews were well represented, making their way across the world to witness this historic moment.
by TALI FEINBERG | Nov 07, 2019

This was Avi Levy’s third Rugby World Cup, the first being in France in 2007, the second in England in 2015, and the third in Japan. He describes South African fans as hesitantly hopeful in the run-up to the final.

“The atmosphere at the semi-final against Wales was particularly tense. The Boks won in the end after a tough battle. From a South African perspective, the atmosphere in the week leading up to the final was ‘it will be what it will be’. In all, I would say that the England fans were expectant of a win, while South African fans weren’t nearly as confident.”

Clive Blechman agrees that things were tense before the final. “There were way more English fans than South African fans. Many of them flew in at the last minute for the final. They really believed that after their win against New Zealand, they would pulverize us. But there were also swarms of South African fans who stuck together. I always believed we would win. It was a tense first half, but after that was pure bliss! It was a dream final.”

As the final whistle blew, “people went absolutely berserk. Quite a few men were crying,” recalls Levy, whose cousin was filmed by the BBC with tears in his eyes. “The England team walked off the field looking absolutely broken. The Bok team were obviously on cloud nine.”

Ariella Kuper decided to attend the Rugby World Cup as this is her first year of recovery after a second cancer episode. “My husband and I decided to make every day count, and to use this year to truly celebrate life and special moments. I genuinely couldn’t have asked for something more meaningful and memorable. The team raised the bar in demonstrating unity and how to turn a group of individuals into a world-class team with a unified outlook in spite of the obstacles in their path,” she says.

This was her first Rugby World Cup as well as her first time in Japan. “I was fortunate to attend together with several friends and previous World Cup Springbok captain, my mentor and friend, Francois Pienaar.”

She attended both semi-finals and the bronze and final matches with premier seating positions throughout. “For the final, we literally sat one row from the actual field mid-centre. When we scored the two tries, both by players that have replaced the positions of Chester Williams and James Small, the crowd could barely contain its excitement. This is the first Rugby World Cup where we have actually scored tries. So that in itself was emotional.

“When the final whistle blew, the elation not just of South Africans but every Japanese supporter as well as anyone from the southern hemisphere was indescribable. Hope was palpable, the sense that the impossible can be achieved, that the sum of all parts is truly greater than one! The tears that flowed from literally every South African present reminded us how proud we are as citizens of a country that has so much potential.”

“The English supporters can be commended for their gracious salute to our team, and the acknowledgement, in spite of their devastation, that we proved our grit and passion through skill and adaptation. They were simply outclassed, to quote two supporters I spoke to,” says Kuper.

“The Japanese truly taught us a lesson in being gracious losers and gracious hosts. They supported the Boks from the minute their team was eliminated, and at every occasion, be it in a restaurant, train, or merely on the street. They showered South African citizens with praise and sincerity. The atmosphere was spectacular throughout the tournament, and proved that sport truly carries the power to unify if we simply put aside political agendas.”

Levy agrees that the Japanese made the event a success. “They have been extraordinary hosts. No request was too difficult, as illustrated by the World Cup volunteer who insisted on accompanying us on the train back from the stadium to the station we wanted to get to in Tokyo. Their gees (spirit) and smiles and efficiency made the experience so much more.

“The English fans were on the whole gracious in defeat, but a small Japanese guy fearlessly took on a bunch of young English fans he felt were behaving disrespectfully to Bok fans. Honour and respect are the cornerstone of Japanese culture. We could learn a lot from them,” says Levy.

“Hopefully the Bok win in Japan is symbolic of a new chapter in South Africa in which our citizens can learn to honour and respect each other, and unite to build a better South Africa. The Boks have shown us the way.”

Levy joined Kuper’s group, which included Pienaar. He describes visiting “the Japanese version of the Western Wall” with the former Springbok captain. “We spent a couple of days touring Kyoto with Francois, his wife Nerine, and a group of their friends. At the one temple we visited, there was a place where people write down their prayers, and Francois and I noticed one saying that the English will win the RWC 2019. We decided that we needed an antidote, and Francois wrote a South African prayer. It was like the Japanese version of the Western Wall!”

This was Blechman’s first Rugby World Cup, an incentive from vehicle manufacturer Isuzu. He saw its factories in Japan and enjoyed the final. “It was tense and nerve wracking but the atmosphere was amazing. Afterwards, there was an all-night party with South Africa as the hosts. Many of the locals also supported South Africa – they love and respect the rainbow nation.”

Other fans from around the world also got behind the Boks. When Blechman flew to America for a wedding after the final, he saw many Americans boarding the plane in Springbok gear. He also interacted with Jews from all over the world.

Japan, he says, is “the most amazing country. They have an unbelievable work ethic, and cannot do enough for you. Things ran like clockwork, and you can eat off the street it’s so clean.”

In the words of a New York Times article that has been widely shared, Kuper believes the Boks demonstrated three key attributes which apply to business and the country if we wish to succeed: resilience, optionality (a forward-thinking scenario analysis), and the agility to strike when opportunity arises.

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