Could soccer-crazy Israelis fall in love with lacrosse?
After spending winter break touring the country on a service trip with the Israel national team, Jules Jacobs is convinced that the sport with indigenous roots in the Native American Iroquois people is primed to take off in the Holy Land.
“The kids are embracing it. The communities are embracing it. It’s great for everyone and it’s really becoming something that I think Israel is really going to adopt fast,” said Jacobs, 17, a junior at Wootton High School in Rockville and the only Marylander on the trip.
Jacobs, son of former Washington Jewish Week editor-in-chief and current Jewish Women International executive Meredith Jacobs, said the Israeli kids would “light up” when the lacrosse players showed up. Clinics were held in Netanya, Ashkelon and Haifa.
The Israeli national team is headquartered in Ashkelon. The southern coastal city is a sister city of lacrosse-hotbed Baltimore. Charm City is an official partner of Team Israel lacrosse.
Scott Neiss founded the Israel Lacrosse Association — the official governing body of lacrosse in Israel — in 2010. The executive director and Oceanside, N.Y., native got the idea for Israel Lacrosse while on a Birthright Israel trip and founded Israel Lacrosse soon after. The Israel Lacrosse Association is a member of the Federation of International Lacrosse and the European Lacrosse Federation.
Jacobs was struck by the passion Israeli children have for the sport of lacrosse despite facing at times adverse conditions in the volatile Middle East. One child they were teaching recounted a time when he was practicing and Iron Dome shot down a rocket over the field.
“He hid under some benches and the Iron Dome just blew up this rocket that was going on above him and debris fell — and he just went and continued playing lacrosse,” Jacobs said. “This is life for them, and they don’t have the luxury of having nice fields or having these places that they can really feel safe. So, lacrosse is an outlet for them to really express themselves and to develop as people.”
At the conclusion of the service trip, Jacobs, who plays long stick midi and close defense, participated in tryouts for the men’s national U-19 Israel lacrosse team that will play this summer at the World Championships in Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada.
Non-Israeli Jews are eligible to play on the Israeli national team because lacrosse is such a new sport there. But Jacobs is confident that lacrosse will continue making inroads into Israeli society and that one day the roster will be fully Israeli.
“We’re going to see a rallying around lacrosse in the future because it’s something that Israelis are so good at, and it’s something that will become ingrained into the culture,” said Jacobs. “Give it 20 years — lacrosse is going to be everywhere. Every kid is going to be holding a stick. Every kid’s going to be out there practicing on the wall. I really think it’s just a matter of time.”