Religion | Holocaust-era exile haunts Chelsea manager’s father

In an interview Jan 11 with the Jewish Chronicle of London, Meir Granat—father of Chelsea manager Avram Grant—details the displacement and death that met the Hasidic family in wartime Europe (Simon Griver, “Shoah Horrors That Haunt Avram Grant”).

Watching his son on satellite television from Israel, Granat says he harkens to the family’s exile to northern Russia. “I see Avram on the touchline and it hurts me to see him so cold.”

Grant himself—he changed the spelling of his surname in the 1980s—only learned at 15 that his paternal grandparents and five of Meir Granat’s siblings died during the forced diaspora from Poland. Grant’s grandfather, Avram Granat, died in a Russian forest where winter temperatures dipped to forty below and guards, on leaving the family in the barren, told them to “build a home or die.”

We were so far north that in the summer there was no darkness, and in the winter, no light. When do you pray Mincha when there is no sunset? When do you pray Shacharit when there is no sunrise? I wish that had been our only problem. When I buried my father, I cut off my peyot and removed my kippah. I had lost my religious faith before his death.

After repatriation to Poland, Granat settled eventually in Petach Tikvah and married Aliza Nisan, an Iraqi. Grant’s mother died in 1997. She discouraged his interest in football, once cutting up a new ball so he would turn his attention to studies, but Grant persisted to become a midfielder with Hapoel Petach Tikvah. He has retained elements of Orthodox Jewish practice, fasting on Yom Kippur and attending service on high holidays. He speaks Hebrew but not Russian, despite media reports following his hiring by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.

Grant in 2002, then 47, would become the youngest manager of Israel’s national team. After assuming the Chelsea mantle early in the ’07 season, following Jose Mourinho‘s sudden exit, Grant showed his dry wit by branding himself “the normal one.”

Given the family’s tortured history during the Shoah, the anti-Semitic chanting that Grant has had to endure from Chelsea’s own support takes on even more sinister overtones.

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

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