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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

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Israeli lacrosse team won't play on Shabbat – even in final

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Israel's Kimberly Dubansky in action against Japan [Tim Bates/Gameday Photography photo]

TORONTO — Whether Israel makes it to the finals of the FIL 2013 Women’s World Cup or not, the team considers its performance in the international lacrosse event to be a win.

The playoffs, including the championship game, continue on Saturday, July 20, a day of rest in the Jewish state, but whether Israel advances to the finals or not, the team won’t play on Shabbat.

It’s prepared to forfeit the game, but that’s alright, said Amanda Schwab, a 25-year-old attacker (forward). The team “represents every aspect of Israel, including Shabbat,” she told The CJN in a telephone interview from Oshawa, Ont., where the tournament is being held.

“I’m playing for Israel. The country shuts down on Shabbat, and that’s what we’re representing to the world,” she said.

Schwab, a native of Philadelphia who holds dual U.S. and Israeli citizenship, said the tournament brings together teams from around the world. One of the side-benefits is that people learn about other cultures.

“So now we’re teaching people about Israel and Shabbat. That’s equally great,” she said.

Like legendary baseball hero Sandy Koufax, who refused to pitch in a 1965 World Series game scheduled for Yom Kippur, the Israeli team is holding fast to its values and won’t play any games on Shabbat.

As the team compiled a 4-1 record in advance of a key July 17 matchup against New Zealand, a spot in the weekend playoffs was looking increasingly likely.

And indeed, the 10th-seeded Israelis defeated seventh-seeded New Zealand, 12-9, to guarantee a top-eight finish.

A loss, however, and the Israelis are out, making moot any discussions over Shabbat scheduling. The win against New Zealand means the 10th-ranked Israelis play No. 2 Canada on July 18.

The Federation of International Lacrosse, the sport’s governing body, has accommodated the Israeli team during the pool portion of the tournament, but FIL president Stan Cockerton said changing the Saturday (July 20) schedule is out of the question.

“For the final on Saturday, at this point, if it is an issue, it doesn’t seem there’d be a resolution,” he said.

“We have rules that are approved by our membership and that we have to follow.”

There will be no change even if Israel advances to the championship game and forfeits. “Anything is possible in sport,” he said. “If it happens, that would be very unfortunate.”

Scott Neiss, director of the Israel Lacrosse Association (ILA), acknowledged that the FIL accommodated the Israelis during the pool portion of the tournament. The ILA was in contact with tournament organizers in December to avoid this sort of situation, but when Thailand pulled out of the event, the schedule had to be re-jigged. Friday, which had been open, is now booked with semifinal games, he said.

Still, the Israelis have been in regular contact with other teams who are willing to accommodate them on days other than Saturday, Neiss said.

Going into the crucial game versus New Zealand, he was hopeful something could still be resolved. But if it can’t, the team simply won’t play on Shabbat.

“That’s our policy,” he said. “We’re not going to play on Saturday… It’s a matter of national identity. Our country shuts down on Shabbat. It’s a cultural thing, not a religious thing.”

Ifat Ribon, a 23-year-old attacker, agrees with the Shabbat policy.

“This is a matter of representing our national identity. The country shuts down. It started as a religious thing. It’s become a cultural position, so myself and the entire team stands behind the policy of not playing on Shabbat.”

The ILA suggested three solutions to the Shabbat dilemma: play on Friday evening before sundown, resulting in a doubleheader that day; play the final match on Saturday after sundown, or play early on Sunday morning.

Crockerton said the final must be played at 3 p.m. on Saturday, July 20. An awards ceremony and banquet is scheduled for later that evening and on Sunday, the teams are scheduled to depart.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has lent its good offices to try to broker an agreement that’s amenable to both sides, said CIJA vice-president Howard English.

FIL is limited by its by-laws and procedures, and there’s certainly no suggestion of any anti-Israel or anti-Semitic motivation for the impasse, he said.

“We feel their concerns are rational but these are extraordinary circumstances. We’d really like them to take the extra step,” he said.

*   *   *

Like half the Israeli team, Neiss is originally an American with ties to Israel. A native of New York City, he made aliyah three years ago. He had worked as director of operations of the North American Lacrosse League and “when I immigrated, it’s one of the things I wanted to do.”

He and other mostly American immigrants, in consultation with Canadian and American advisers, put together the Israeli women’s lacrosse program. A core group promotes the sport. The southern coastal city of Ashkelon is the sport’s epicentre, where most of its coaches live and its youth programs are growing.

Half the national women’s team consists of U.S.-based players with dual citizenship. Many are accomplished college players, he said.

Ribon, who was born in Israel, grew up in Michigan and lives in Chicago. She played college lacrosse at the University of Michigan.

Schwab was born in Philadelphia, though her mother was a native Israeli. Her entire family loves lacrosse: her dad, the son of Holocaust survivors, still plays, as do her brother and two sisters.

Schwab attended Stanford University, where she was a member of the school’s lacrosse team.

Ultimately, said Neiss, the ILA wants to grow lacrosse in Israel and make it a national sport.

Success in Oshawa can only help. “I think women’s sports in Israel need a boost. A strong showing by this team would inspire growth,” he said.

The next print edition of The CJN is Aug. 1.

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