December 22, 2009, Updated April 17, 2012

Muslims, Christians, Jews – the Jaffa football team Tel Aviv Sabres, run by Said Abulafia, is a heartening cross-cultural mix.


Photo by Tomer Appelbaum.
Players for the Tel Aviv Sabres, Said Abulafia on the left.

Meet Said Abulafia. A 28-year-old lawyer born and still living in Jaffa, he is the scion of the Abulafia family, whose properties include the historic Jaffa bakery of the same name. In addition to practicing law and managing the family’s real estate assets (he is in the process of opening an Abulafia bakery in Manhattan), he is president of the Tel Aviv Sabres, a diverse collection of football players in which national, religious and political differences take a back seat to love for the game. Maybe it’s the free post-game Abulafia bourekas that do the trick.

For the Sabres, who in their first two seasons only managed one win per season, the third time around seems to be the charm. They currently top the seven-team Israel Football League at 4-0, after thumping the Jerusalem Kings 58-22 last night.

Almost half of the team’s player and coaches are American, most of the rest Israeli. “Before we joined, it was only Jews, but since we joined it has become a little United Nations,” says Abulafia, who this season recruited a handful of Muslim and Christian Arabs from Jaffa, as well as an Israeli of Thai and Filipino heritage and two non-Jewish Americans.

Alex Trafton of Los Angeles, the team’s quarterback, came to Israel six months ago to study to be a krav maga instructor. Trafton says he arrived at the Sabres largely by chance. “I studied Arabic at UC Berkeley, so Said and I hit it off. We were chatting at Mike’s Place,” he says, referring to the seaside Tel Aviv bar that’s a favorite of American expats and the Sabres’ chief domestic sponsor. “Said said, ‘Come out, come out,’ so I agreed, and I haven’t looked back since.”

“I love that in the huddle I can speak to people in three languages,” Trafton says. “These are people from a lot of disparate backgrounds – myself as a non-Jew from the United States, non-Israeli Jews, Arab Muslims and Christians – we’re all working toward the same goal. You see the Middle East sometimes as a really bleak landscape, and this has been a heartening experience for me, a great human story. I’m very proud to be part of this team.”

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