Lacrosse is taking Israel by storm, in large part due to Israel Lacrosse, an organization whose mission is to make lacrosse the national sport of Israel and connect Jewish Americans to the Holy Land through their shared love of the game.
Scott Neiss, executive director of Israel Lacrosse, says the sport is “the perfect product” for Israel.
“It’s a lot like basketball and soccer [the two most popular sports in Israel], with the same game flow, so it’s easy for Israelis to understand,” Neiss said in a recent interview.
Israel Lacrosse offers many programs to help Jewish-American lacrosse players get involved, including a lacrosse Birthright trip, a longer-term lacrosse program with Masa Israel, a service trip for high school lacrosse players, and B’nai Mitzvah-themed programs.
“We’ve had a lot of Jews in our programs who are passionate about lacrosse, and we’ve been able to use the sport to get them to reengage with Israel and their Judaism,” said Neiss.
“For the most part, for a high-level high school athlete who has ambitions of playing college lacrosse, Judaism takes a back seat. We’re giving them the opportunity to come back and participate in the development of the sport in Israel.”
The organization also holds tryouts for Israel’s women and men’s national teams, under 19 teams, and even a men’s indoor team. Eighty of the best players from Israel and the United States are invited each year to try out to represent Israel on the world’s stage. Israel’s national team is now ranked No. 7 in the world, a major feat given how new the country is to the game.
In addition to the national teams, Israel Lacrosse has helped establish a professional club-level lacrosse league in Israel, called the Israel Premier Lacrosse League (IPLL), which debuted in 2015 with teams representing cities such as Haifa, Be’er Sheva and Ashkelon.
But it’s not always about competition for Israel Lacrosse. The organization also tries to make a positive impact on communities with initiatives aimed at addressing societal problems through sport. One of these initiatives is its coexistence program, using sport to build bridges between Jewish and Arab youth.
“We have a program in Jaffa where we have Jews and Arabs playing on the same team,” Neiss said. “I think we should do everything we can to use sport to do good, whether that be connecting Jews from abroad with Israel or building bridges in the region.”
While lacrosse isn’t the national sport of Israel yet, its future in the Jewish homeland is bright – it was recently announced that in 2018, the FIL Men’s Lacrosse World Championships will be heading for Israel, the smallest country to ever host the tournament.
SAM SERBY is a freelance writer who lives in East Greenwich. He previously worked at the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv.