Abigail Klein Leichman
July 10, 2023, Updated July 11, 2023

Seven seems to be the lucky number of Israel’s national lacrosse team. Team Israel scored a seventh-place finish each of the three times it has competed in the World Lacrosse Men’s World Championships — 2014, 2018 and now in 2023.

In the latest competition, held in San Diego at the end of June, Team Israel bested Sweden, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, the Czech Republic, Ireland and Jamaica (in a nail-biting overtime victory), losing only to the top-seeded United States.

For the decade-old Israel Lacrosse Association, this admirable performance and an appearance on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” help push forward its goals of popularizing lacrosse in Israel and using lacrosse as a vehicle both for Arab-Jewish engagement and for diaspora-Israel engagement.

“This team is special,” says Israel Lacrosse Association COO David Lasday about the national squad.

Winning hearts and minds on the lacrosse field
Israel’s national lacrosse team. Photo courtesy of World Lacrosse

“We understand the impact Team Israel can have on the world. Partnering with Stand Up To Jewish Hate, wearing the blue square on our helmets, our players serve as ambassadors not only for Israel but also the Jewish people, helping to win the hearts and minds of non-Jews and Jews through powerful positive messaging and partnerships.”

About 600 players ages 13 and up play lacrosse through ILA clubs in Netanya, Herzliya, Ashdod, Be’er Tuvia, Ashkelon, Sha’ar HaNegev, Beersheva and Kiryat Gat, with high school and adult leagues for men and women.

“Kids catch on quickly, because offense in lacrosse is similar to basketball and soccer, the two main sports in Israel.”

Moreover, size truly doesn’t matter in lacrosse. It’s about being quick and thinking strategically, says Lasday.

Stars on the ground

Team Israel’s recent victories and media attention led to hundreds of inquires about Israel Lacrosse, which offers a variety of summer, winter and gap-year opportunities for play and development.

“This team is a great ambassador for Israel, mostly in North America, where the sport is more established,” says Lasday.

Winning hearts and minds on the lacrosse field
Ryan Fitzpatrick for Team Israel in the World Lacrosse Men’s Championship, June 2023. Photo courtesy of World Lacrosse

Akin to field hockey, lacrosse has its origins in Native American culture and is growing quickly worldwide, he adds.

“When we started ILA, there were 38 countries recognized [by World Lacrosse] and now there are 86.”

Israel’s national men’s team includes a mixture of experienced players and skilled youth.

“It was amazing to see a lot of our coaches starring on the field at the world championships,” says Lasday.

Winning hearts and minds on the lacrosse field
Israel beat Jamaica 8-7 in the 2023 World Lacrosse Men’s Championship, putting it seventh overall in the competition.

Goalie Drew Morris participated in the ILA’s Summer Service and Lacrosse Birthright trips as a youth, and moved to Israel in 2022 after graduating from the University of Maryland. He now coaches for ILA in three locations.

“Taking the field representing the country of Israel and the Jewish people was the biggest honor of my life,” Morris says.

“Seeing this team come together and become one family was really special and that feeling of being a family helped us get through the adversity we faced throughout the tournament. The support that we received from our families and the Israel lacrosse community as a whole was incredible.”

New York State native Yakov Silberlicht, who scored two goals against Jamaica, is ILA’s director of youth development. “He goes into schools throughout the country every day to recruit new players,” Lasday tells ISRAEL21c. 

“The men’s team strived to represent every single kid in Israel who has ever picked up a lacrosse stick, both boy and girl,” says Silberlicht about the recent World Championships. “Ori Bar David and Ronen Abramovich, our native-born Israelis who learned to play lacrosse on Israeli soil, were the heart and soul of the team.”

ILA Executive Director and national team member Ian Kadish told World Lacrosse that everyone on the team shares a deep connection to the country. All but three of the 23 teammates are Israeli citizens.

“I know some of our players weren’t born in Israel, but I think through every sense of the word, they have earned the right to call themselves Israeli,” Kadish said.

Many up-and-coming players, including almost all the U20 national team, are native Israelis.

“Our women’s national team, which just competed in the U21 Women’s European Championships in Prague, includes 14 sabras [native Israelis] helping to lead their local lacrosse teams as role models and coaches. This is making a huge impact,” says Lasday.

First in Middle East

In 2018, hosted the World Lacrosse Men’s Championships in Netanya.

That year, the ILA celebrated Ori Bar David being its first player to achieve outstanding athlete status in the Israel Defense Forces, which allows athletes to fulfill their military service through coaching and playing their sport. This year, 12 Israeli lacrosse players earned this status.

In 2019, ILA opened its new home, the Daniel Kraft Family National Lacrosse Training Center in Ashkelon. The only lacrosse-specific facility in Europe and the Middle East, it encompasses the Mack Family Field and a gym where Israel’s national team trains.

Joey Kraft, a Tufts student and son of sports center benefactor Daniel Kraft (and grandson of New England Patriots owner and American Football in Israel patron Robert Kraft) also is a member of Israel’s national men’s lacrosse team.

“We’re now in the process of training and certifying the next generation of homegrown lacrosse coaches,” says Lasday, “which is no easy feat because they are required to complete a 150-hour course at Wingate Academic College. This year we expect to certify 30 coaches.”

Lacrosse fans everywhere are hoping that the sport will become an official Olympic sport in time for the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles. “It’s on the shortlist now and we will know in October,” says Lasday.

“The world championship was a really good showing for why lacrosse should be in the Olympics,” he says.

Last summer, for the first time, Israel sent national teams to the World Games in Alabama. The women finished sixth, and the men placed eighth.

This means, says Lasday, that “if lacrosse is in the Olympics, Israel lacrosse will be in the Olympics.”

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