Yogi Roth knows football – the American kind, that is. He played football in college, he analyzes it for fans, and he films and speaks and writes about it near and far.
But until a few months ago, the 35-year-old California resident did not know that American football is a thing in Israel.
After he was enlightened by ISRAEL21c board member Jonathan Baruch, Roth came to watch the Israel Football League in action and agreed to introduce it to viewers of the new 21see video series that Baruch is producing.
“I’ve done 20 documentaries and many of them are about football, but I had no idea it existed in Israel,” says Roth, whose only previous trip was a Birthright tour a decade ago.
“So when I heard about Israel Football, I said to Jonathan, ‘We’ve got to go.’ I’ve always believed that we ‘all speak ball.’ Traveling in 30 countries around the world, I’ve seen that if you roll out a ball you can cut between lines of any kind and connect people.”
Roth found himself delighted by the aficionados of American football in the Holy Land: talented teenagers, 40-something fathers, mothers and daughters, a guy who turned down a US football scholarship because he didn’t want to play on Shabbat, and someone who taught himself football off YouTube and began playing at age 23.
“Every week I broadcast in front of millions of people. For me, this is the ultimate celebration of the game — coaching viewers that this exists in Israel,” says Roth.
His trip to Israel wasn’t totally focused on football, however.
Roth’s mother was born in Haifa to Holocaust survivors whose tenacious story of survival he shared in a TEDx Talk titled “Love Wins.” She lived there only the first couple of years of her life, but she related a memory to her son that he found breathtaking.
“She told me that in Haifa she’d wake up in the morning and get a cup of ice and grab her mom’s hand and walk up a huge hill to see the poppies. She would pick a bunch and head home and by that time the ice had melted. I had chills when I heard that. For me a simple joy is playing sports and hers was picking flowers.”
Under the umbrella of his production company, Life Without Limits, Roth made his directorial debut in 2015 with the award-winning documentary “Life in a Walk,” in which he and his father bonded along a trek on Camino De Santiago, a famous pilgrimage route through Portugal and Spain. And before coming to Israel he’d directed a short film asking folks in Los Angeles what it means to be human.
Thinking about his mother and walking around Haifa led him to the notion of going around Israel asking people what it means to love. He and Baruch did just that, and turned the footage into a short documentary, “What Does it Mean to Love?”
“It really all connected: football, love, mom and Israel,” says Roth. “Israel was a total turning point for me in my personal life and in my cinematic and storytelling career. I got down to the core of exploring the woman who taught me how to love and the country I’m connected to and the sport that I love.”
He wants the 21see production to open viewers’ eyes to the Israel even he did not know existed until a few short months ago.
“I hope going forward we can take awareness to another level,” he says. “Football is global and it can give a simple nudge to people to have conversations and do something with their lives.
“So go watch an Israeli football game or ask yourself what it means to love.”