JTA — Israel’s not in the World Cup, and none of the star players is Jewish. But never fear: We still managed to compile a list of six Jewish things about Brazil 2014.
The coach: Jose Pekerman, the coach of Colombia’s team, is an Argentine Jew. Pekerman, 64, was born in Villa Dominguez, one of the main centers of Jewish immigration in Argentina; his grandparents emigrated from Ukraine.
The adoptive mother: Mario Balotelli, a key player in Italy’s victory over England last Saturday, was adopted and raised by a Jewish family. His adoptive mother is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor. At the Eurochampionship 2012, Balotelli dedicated the two goals he scored in Italy’s 2-1 semifinals victory over Germany to his Jewish mother.
The shmoozing: Argentine husband-and-wife team Mariano Schlez and Paola Salem have coordinated 14 Jewish gatherings for fans attending the World Cup, including Shabbat evening prayers, beach soccer games leading into Saturday-night Havdalah services and Jewish heritage tours.
The philo-Semite: Argentine Lionel Messi traveled to Israel in 2013 with the Spanish Football Club Barcelona as part of the team’s “peace tour.” In 2011, he participated in a campaign for justice and memory of the victims of the 1994 AMIA Jewish center bombing.
The Nigeria-Israel connection: Austin Ejide, a Nigerian goalkeeper, currently plays for the Hapoel Beersheba soccer team in Israel and played three years for Hapoel Petah Tikva, another Israeli team. Juwon Oshaniwa , another member of the Nigerian national team, also plays in Israel.
The Israeli fans: Israelis have purchased more tickets per capita than citizens of any other country without a team in the games. The number of tickets sold to Israelis through FIFA’s website – 11,222 (tickets were limited to 17 per individual, and allocated via a raffle system) puts Israel second after Canada in ticket sales among countries without a team to root for.