Written By Griffin Epstein
Jerusalem, Israel — Once inside the tunnel you feel it in your soul. The air palpable with effusive joy. The chants and cheers of 1300 American Jews. “USA, USA, USA,” they cheer.
Clad in red, white and blue they’re hoisted on each other’s shoulders to get a better glimpse ahead. Bright screens lofted in the air to capture the moment for prosperity.
Ahead the entrance into Teddy Stadium comes into focus. Peering down from the stands above the tunnel, Israelis join the chants “USA, USA, USA!” waving and screaming – thousands of them. The sense of pride, joy and anticipation reaches a crescendo until you can feel the emotions inside of you.
The stadium opens up above you. A rainbow of colors in the stands representing the 59 delegations from around the world. High fives abound, screams and yells from those crowding around the parade wanting acknowledgement, fist bumps and definitely a momento from the Americans.
To the left the most powerful man in the world, protected inside a transparent box, peers down cheering on the largest-ever American delegation in any sporting event.
Suddenly you are elevated above the masses on a blue circular stage. Cameras, lights and the booming Hebrew of the hosts over the PA system overwhelming the senses. You snap a moment in time.
Whisked into the throng of young Jews. Israelis, Austrailians and others crowding your path ahead towards your seats. They all want a piece of you. Hat for hat. Pin for pin. Shirt for American sweatshirt. The Jerusalem shuk has relocated to Teddy Stadium for the night. Would you like the Italian team jacket or the Australian hat? “What state are you from?” because everyone wants to know.
After the lengthy walk through the throngs of Jews you scale up rows of seats to find the best view. Then the fireworks begin. A Super Bowl show but for the Jewish people. Deni Avdija, Ian Kinsler, the President of Israel Isaac Herzog and Israeli legendary pop duo Static and Ben El. They perform “Carnival” the catchiest and to this point you believe the greatest song in humankind.
In fact, the song is so good and the moment so magical that hundreds of jubilant Jews storm the stage singing “na, na, na, na, na, na na, na!” turning the south side of Jerusalem into a full-on rager. It all seems part of the act until the PA announcer sternly invites the partiers immediately back to their seats. The torch is lit and Hatikvah sung. The bartering continues as the evening surges forward.
After the lasers, lights and songs conclude the masses stream onto the field of Teddy Stadium. One last exchange of shirts, shorts, pins and culture with thousands of Jews from around the world. Ukraine, France and Chile to name a few.
Managers ushering you out before you can even say proper goodbyes to new and old friends. Onto the buses. Whisking you back across the State of Israel. Haifa, Tel Aviv, Netanya or a short trip back to a hotel in Jerusalem.
Reflecting is hard after you return to the quiet and stillness of your hotel room. But you can find meaning in your emotions.
You’re a part of something bigger than you have ever felt. A part of country and a delegation. But maybe even more importantly, one person in a sea of the chosen people. Tears in your eyes. You feel it in your soul, while you celebrate it with thousands.
Griffin Epstein is a rising senior at Indiana University studying media and sports broadcasting. Follow him on Twitter (@epstein_griffin).