(Notes for the Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah)

القوة الناعمة — Soft Power

Sands shift, borders are redrawn, battles fought. But in one theater, there are no winners — only cooperation or sandy balls. The famed beach paddle sport Matkot is one of refined skill and simple, simple rules: hit. For decades, almost always in pairs parallel to the shoreline, Tel Avivians (and other Israeli-inspired Mediterranean beachgoers) have smacked a squash rubber ball. There is no net, there is no score — there is but the betterment of mutual skill, the sound of the waves, and a never-ending supply of onlookers to make fun of the rookies.

With this inspiration, I announce the first ever Co-Sponsored Initiative for World Peace and Other Endeavors: the First Annual Global International World Matkot Invitational Championship. Now, I’m not positive what year the First Annual will be, but I have every reason to believe that a strong Matkot [MAHT-coat] culture cultivated and encouraged around the Middle East will provide the necessary grassroots support for the resolution of many (if not all) of the regions problems, whatever they may be. I’ve already forgotten, just thinking about Matkot — see?

Strategic initiatives planting Matkot sets in beaches around the world, coupled with exhibitions by the world’s greatest players, will weave a support network into the fabric of international relations. From the beach to the General Assembly, this is a soft power approach that antagonizes no one but small rubber balls. With no losers ever, Matkot fosters camaraderie among all who play.

Across Dizengoff Street and down the ramp to Gordon Beach, hundreds of Matkotters train along the boardwalk. From a distance, the sound of thousands of balls every minute hitting rackets — matka, pl. matkot — is like thunder, or a Stomp concert, or a million rather short people running on treadmills. Each pair exercises, prepares, practices — though the practice is hardly different from the game itself.

And that’s just it. This lack of encouraged aggression is the key to world peace. The World Cup — the great symbol of internatioanal cooperation and understanding through sports — usually leaves entire continents hating one another. At the end of the day, Blue is still fighting Red.

But a Matkot championship functions very differently. As explained by Eli Polansky, 65, a Gordan Beach local and Matkot Olympic campaigner in a 2009 Haaretz article: “Each pair will have three minutes in which to achieve as many returns [back and forth] as possible from a distance of seven meters.” The record is 188. {1}

A pair (of one nationality) will compete indirectly with another. “Loss,” then, is incredibly simple and just — it comes not from the deliberate and direct tricks of the other side, but from getting less from identical circumstances. Somehow, soccer teams shake hands at the end of every match, but not often before a few fights. But at the Nathan’s Hotdog Eating Competition, losing competitors must bow to a greater champion. How often in traditional team sports does the “better team” lose? In Matkot, this is purely impossible: “betterness” can only be measured by the outcome.

Further, at no point during a match would aggression be directed at the other team. A tennis player serves a 130 mph body shot at his opponent, hoping he fails, aiming for vengeance. A Matkot pair has only each other to react to, only their reflexes to attend to. The sharp, brief aggression felt at moments in any other sport fades, but it leaves a residue, an enamel on already hard feelings. But like the very instruments of the racket game —hard paddles on either side, soft ball in between — Matkot leaves inflexibility on the outside and squishes everything in the middle. Dissatisfaction can only come from within, and motivates self improvement — a hardening of one’s own balls. Thusly will team beach paddle sports squish the stagnation of nationalist rivalries: I play. You play. What the hell were we fighting about?

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