International Men

July 6, 2014

Team Israel Bonded by Heritage, Brought Together by Lacrosse

by Simon Kaufman | | Twitter

Israel is playing at the Vail Shootout in preparation for its first FIL World Championships starting Thursday. (Clark Bell/Gameface Media/Vail Shootout)

VAIL, Colo. — In the spring of 2011 Scott Neiss called Bill Beroza and said he needed Beroza's help. Neiss had just returned from a trip to Israel and decided that the one thing the country was missing was lacrosse. Neiss told Beroza that with his help he wanted to make lacrosse the national sport of Israel. Later that summer, Team Israel played its first game at Kraft Family Stadium in Jerusalem.

Today, the Israeli team boasts impressive talent and recently finished up competition in the Vail Lacrosse Shootout in preparation for the World Lacrosse Championships in Denver next week. Beroza, who Neiss successfully recruited to help out, now serves as head coach of the team.

The squad is made up of Israeli players and American Jews with Israeli citizenship. The tournament roster featured 12 Israeli players and 19 players with Israeli passports. Before the World Lacrosse Championships, Beroza needs to cut his roster down to 23 players, so the tournament served as a tryout in many respects.

"This is very valuable for us to see that talent so that we can make some final choices," Beroza said.

After all the other games had long finished up at the tournament on Saturday, Israel still had its final game to play. In just the second ever night game the tournament has hosted, the Israeli National team took the field against the Rock-it Pocket Pirates. The tournament scheduled Israel's game later on Saturday to accommodate for the Jewish Sabbath.

"We respect shomer Shabbat," Beroza said. "So we don't play games on the Sabbath from sundown Friday night until sunset Saturday."

Last year, during the women's world cup the Israeli team opted to forfeit its medal-round game instead of play during the Sabbath. Israel's first game for the Worlds this year is not scheduled for the Sabbath, and Beroza is hoping that the tournament will accommodate them should they advance.

In its game Saturday night, Israel jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead but saw the lead eventually shrink and then disappear, eventually falling, 10-6.

But for Israel, just the fact that their competing in the Worlds next week is an accomplishment — the sport was nonexistent in the country just five years ago. Defender Harrison Freid is one of the reasons the sport has grown so quickly.

Freid, a University of Michigan graduate, went onto graduate school at St. Johns University and played for their lacrosse team for a season as a redshirt senior. Neiss, a St. John's alum, reached out to Freid and recruited him to come to Israel to help develop the future of Israeli lacrosse.

Freid has worked to grow the sport and develop a culture that embraces lacrosse. That culture is apparent on Team Israel.

The team wear's jerseys with Hebrew letters printed on them and proudly breaks from their huddles with a shout of "Mishpacha," Hebrew for family. Freid said that one of the goals is to "speak Hebrew only on the field" but knows that will take time as there are varied levels of Hebrew-speaking experience on the team.

One of Freid's main goals for now is helping to teach lacrosse to kids growing up in Israel with the hope that more of the team's players will eventually be Israeli born. But even the American Jews with Israeli citizenship on the team don't consider themselves outsiders. Some of them have even served in the Israeli Defense Force, Israel's military.

"We look at ourselves as Israeli-Americans," Freid said.

Despite playing in their first World Championships, the Israeli team might just turn some heads in Denver. Beroza knows that it has a lot to do with talent but believes that a common bond also helps this team.

"This group of guys, for as little as they get together, are very, very tight because of what we're doing and our roots to Judaism and our roots to Israel and we have a common goal," Beroza said.

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