Abigail Klein Leichman
June 15, 2016, Updated June 16, 2016

Instead of nagging their kids to go outside and play, 10,000 Israeli mothers are setting an example by playing cachibol (also called Newcomb) in a national league network called Mamanet.

Joining a team based in her child’s school, each Mamanet player gets to know other moms in a totally different setting than class trips or PTA meetings.

Established in 2005 by Kfar Saba mother of two Ofra Abramovich, Mamanet has become Israel’s largest social sports project and has inspired the creation of Abbanet for players’ husbands and partners, and Kidnet vacation tournaments for their children.

“Instead of being the ‘soccer mom’ who drives her children to practice and cheers them on by the sidelines, the mother becomes the star of the game, and the children become her fans,” says Abramovich. “This allows the mother to serve as a role model for good sportsmanship, dedication to a team and commitment to physical exercise.”

Thousands of mothers in Italy, Austria, Cyprus, Spain, Canada, Belgium, France, Bulgaria and the United States are adopting this unique Israeli model. Mamanet’s second international conference in Eilat is planned for this October.

When Abramovich first hatched the idea after a friend invited her to play cachibol — similar to volleyball, except players catch the ball before passing it to a teammate or over the net — the mayor of her hometown wasn’t enthusiastic about providing funds. Refusing to give up, Abramovich called the mayor’s wife, who prevailed upon her husband to support the initiative. Kfar Saba now boasts 27 Mamanet teams with 300 players.

“Today, every mayor wants a league in place because of how it contributes to the city,” says Abramovich, explaining that volunteer work is part of the Mamanet mission.

“In each city the community program is different,” she tells ISRAEL21c.

Founder Ofra Abramovich, No. 13, with other Mamanet players. Photo by Shani Sadicario/Vibe Israel Mommies
Founder Ofra Abramovich, No. 13, with other Mamanet players. Photo by Shani Sadicario/Vibe Israel Mommies

Among the different volunteer projects are playing cachibol with women in prison and in a battered-women’s shelter; doing activities with children from a therapeutic boarding school; training youth-at-risk to be referees; and running regional sport nights for breast-cancer awareness.

The Mamanet phenomenon extends to all sectors of the Israeli population. Participants run the gamut from Bedouin Arab to ultra-Orthodox moms. Because cachibol doesn’t require special athletic training, Mamanet’s slogan is “Any mother can!”

Yael Inbar, a Tel Aviv mother of three, tells ISRAEL21c that she was good at cachibol in elementary school though she didn’t excel at other sports. “When I heard about Mamanet a few years ago, I thought it would be good for moms who don’t have time and want to get in shape.”

The principal of Magen, her middle child’s school, agreed to host a Mamanet team. About 30 women play on two teams Inbar formed last January.

The Magen 1 team in Tel Aviv. Photo: courtesy
The Magen 1 team in Tel Aviv. Photo: courtesy

“There are supposed to be six players on each side of the net, and that works out well because not everybody always comes to practices,” Inbar explains.

She says she loves the game even though she has jammed two fingers and sprained an ankle during practices. “It’s a great opportunity to work out and have fun, meet other women, bond with others from the neighborhood and school, and form a community around that.”

Abramovich says that because the uniforms are imprinted with the host school’s name and logo, the mothers feel more engaged with the school and its student body. In several cities, schools with Mamanet leagues have begun intramural volleyball teams for kids as young as six who want to emulate their moms.

The international growth of Mamanet was spurred by its admission into CSIT, the world’s largest amateur sports organization, based in Europe. CSIT President Harald Bauer saw the mothers playing in Eilat a couple of years ago and was intrigued enough to contact Abramovich on his next trip to Israel a year later.

“He said that many sports groups try to enter his organization and only rarely do they find something that is a ‘wow.’ The last time it happened was 15 years ago, when they discovered Nordic walking. Harald told me that he wanted to bring us into CSIT and have Mamanet everywhere.”

Bauer invited her to Cancun to do a CSIT presentation, and some 50 Israeli Mamanet mothers played cachibol at the CSIT World Sports Games in Lignano, Italy, in 2015. Next October, Mamanet will send reps to the World Sports Games in Riga, Latvia.

Mothers of Mamanet hope to set an example of physical activity and good sportsmanship for their kids. Photo by Yosi Lazarof
Mothers of Mamanet hope to set an example of physical activity and good sportsmanship for their kids. Photo by Yosi Lazarof

In mid-May, Abramovich joined 160 other Mamanet players from Israel, Italy, Austria and Cyprus in Spain for Mamanet’s first international tournament, at which Barcelona’s famed football (soccer) club came to meet them. The four-day event also included opportunities for hiking, entertainment, shopping and bonding activities.

“Israel is known as being good in high-tech, but in the social sporting movement Mamanet is really something unique,” says Abramovich.

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