Football may be a religion to many but one of the Judaism’s most important traditions today arrived at the home of the beautiful game for the first time.
Builders descended on Wembley Stadium on Wednesday morning to create a succah pitch-side following an initiative by the Football Association and Rabbi Alex Goldberg, who chairs its faith network.
An assortment of rabbis and leaders from organisations including Community Security Trust, Mitzvah Day, Holocaust Educational Trust and New Israel Fund were invited to celebrate the festival during two sessions in the temporary structure. As well as food aplenty, they discussed their work in social action and other arenas and explored how they might be able to work more with the FA.
Rabbi Alex Goldberg told Jewish News: “I am very grateful that the FA celebrated Succot inside Wembley by inviting guests, both leaders from the Jewish community and other faith communities, to their succah at the home of football.
Days after the England football team stood up firmly and bravely, on the pitch, for the pluralism and diversity that has been fostered by the FA, Jewish social action workers and interfaith champions from other communities came together under a succah to discuss with senior FA officials how to best to work with the football family in promoting respect, inclusion and stronger communities. It’s a natural development of the partnerships the FA has developed.”
Kevin Coleman, the FA’s equality and diversity manager, said the event was part of an active drive to reach out to faith communities that also included the first iftar event at the stadium this year. “This is a first step towards more proactive engagement with the Jewish community. We want to learn from this and maybe do it bigger next year. The ultimate aim will be more people playing football and have communities come together to play. Football has the power to bring people together where others things can’t.”
Rabbi Oliver Joseph led the festive blessings in the first of two gatherings, adding: “The FA is reaching a hand out at a time that isn’t easy for minority communities in the UK and abroad.” Sitting in the temporary dwelling, he said: “As the seasons change I along with many rabbinic and communal colleagues are thinking about the number of homeless people and those with housing insecurity.”
Following discussions in the succah that also included a representative from Shelter, Coleman resolved to further explore the idea of an interfaith event addressing homelessness to coincide with several religious festival including Easter and Passover, in the lead-up to the European Championships.
Georgina Bye, chief executive of Mitzvah Day, said: “Hopefully being here will provide opportunities to get the football community more involved in social action.”