Lacrosse, a sport with centuries-old tribal roots in Canada and fast-growing popularity in the United States, is now establishing a small presence in Israel.
An Israeli lacrosse association (lacrosse.co.il) was established three years ago, headed by the former deputy commissioner of the North American Lacrosse League. The Israeli lacrosse team has qualified for the men’s 2014 world championship in Denver, and plans are underway to create a domestic league, expanding beyond the two current teams in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Meanwhile, the country’s women’s team will compete next month at the first World Cup in Toronto.
And lacrosse recently reached across the Arab-Jewish divide in Israel.
On a field in Jaffa, a group of 24 Israeli Arab teenagers, from the city’s prestigious Ajyal High School, competed in an exhibition match against a team of young Jewish players from North America. The referees came from Israel Lacrosse.
The Arab players were trained during the last year by Ian Cohen, a graduate of Monmouth University in New Jersey, who established a Lacrosse Arab-Jewish Cooperation Project as a volunteer with the social action project of Tikkun Olam, a Jewish service learning program supported by the Jewish Agency and the government’s Masa Israel Journey partnership.
Cohen, who started playing the sport in college, helped organize a lacrosse clinic last year as a respite for children in southern Israel who had come under rocket fire from Gaza. He joined the Tel Aviv team during his year in Israel and saw his project as a way to foster Jewish-Arab co-existence. “The program is intended to dispel bigotry through real contact between Arabs and Jews,” he says.
Fellow Masa volunteers and Israeli lacrosse players helped coach the high school students during weekly clinics. “Primarily, we are teachers and role models,” Cohen says. “The sport is secondary.
“I am coordinating with Israel Lacrosse to find a way for the program to continue in the future,” he says. “Any future plans would consider expanding the program to bring Jewish children into the fold to play with the Israeli Arab children.”