Recently, during the cḥazan’s repetition at Mincḥa, I noticed a fellow Baltimore Ravens fan in the back of the overflow men’s section in the shul parking lot. It was late in the afternoon of Yom Kippur 5781, in the midst of the crazy COVID-19 pandemic. We could barely hear the cḥazan from our socially and physically distant spot.
I sidled over to the man and brought up a dilemma on both of our minds: The Ravens would be playing the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football. Game time would be about 3 a.m. Israel Time. On one hand, we were fortunate; most NFL fans in Israel missed their teams’ games due to Yom Kippur. We, at least, had the opportunity to watch. In fact, not a single Ravens game coincides with a Jewish holiday this year, as observed in Israel. Clearly, to borrow from the theology of Dallas Cowboys fans, God wants us to watch His team.
Due to COVID-19, services on Yom Kippur morning were really quick—under three hours in our synagogue parking lot. That provided us with a six-hour break with nothing much to do but learn, read or sleep. Suffice it to say, the Ravens fan and I were both well-rested for a late night of football.
This is not just an ordinary game, either. These are two of the best teams in the league, if not the two best. One quarterback is the reigning MVP; the other is the reigning Super Bowl MVP and was MVP two years ago. These two quarterbacks, Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes, are the best of a new breed of quarterbacks who combine phenomenal vision with elite playmaking and improvisational ability. My wife, who abhors football, loves watching highlights of Lamar. They remind her of ballet. I never saw ballet in which 11 eleven large, strong men try to tackle the ballerina, but hey, if I can convince myself that following the Ravens is like watching ballet, then I can alleviate some of the guilt I feel at watching such a hard-hitting sport.
For the sins we have committed before You by glorifying violence…
So, I sidled over to my fellow Ravens fan, keeping the requisite distances, and broached the subject. “Are you staying up to watch the game?”
He would not be.
Any chance you can send me the password to your NFL GamePass since you won’t be using it then?
His son might stay up to watch.
Hmmm … Can the password work on multiple devices?
Only on the same Wi-Fi network.
But then my friend offered a useful tip: “You can sign up for a free seven-day trial of NFL GamePass.”
“Not a bad idea,” I said. “I’ll do that.”
“Actually,” he added, “you can keep signing up as long as you use a different credit card and a different email address each time! And there’s a way to keep using the same email address but to trick it into thinking it’s a new email address. So you just have to use a different credit card each time.”
Awesome! Wait. Are we actually sitting here on Yom Kippur and planning how we’re going to scam the NFL?
It’s like on Shabbat, you can talk about whatever you want as long as you preface it with “Not that we speak of such things on Shabbat…” or the Yiddish equivalent. Example: “Nisht af Shabbes geredt, but I’m looking to buy a car.”
So now we have a new version for the Day of Atonement. “Nisht af Yom Kippur geredt, but tell me how you can watch NFL games without paying.” We chuckled at the idea.
Then, from the front of the outdoor area designated for prayers, we hear the telltale ay-ay-ay that indicates that the short confessional, the vidui, is about to begin. “Ashamnu; bagadnu; gazalnu.” “We are guilty; we have betrayed; we have stolen.” Now the incongruity was too much for us. I said, “We have stolen” a bit louder, for emphasis, and we continued to giggle. He proclaimed, “We have practiced deceit.” I countered with “We have spoken falsehood.” We were laughing out loud by the time we reached “We have scoffed.”
By the end of the confessional, my friend told me that in truth he had just signed up for the free seven-day trial one time—a totally legitimate practice that the NFL itself uses to promote its product. And he said that he won’t do it again; he’ll pony up for the full-price NFL GamePass package. He added, with a sigh, that this will be the most expensive vidui of his life. So I pledged to go in 50-50 with him. We will watch Ravens games together for the rest of the season, with the requisite social distancing, of course.
Never in my life did I imagine that confessing my sins before God and repenting from them would involve paying $100 to Roger Goodell, but there it is.
And so my friend turned to me and said: “Nisht af Yom Yippur geredt... but I’m looking forward to watching the rest of the games with you. Go Ravens! And Gemar Cḥatimah Tovah!”
And I responded: “Likewise! Vekheyn Lamar!”
By Elli Fischer