Ultimate Hebrew School #4: The universal language of soccer

Israel.Gili.web image
Idan with his Israeli soccer coach.

The author of this piece, a writer and teacher from Wilmette, is on sabbatical in Israel this year with her family. This is the fifth and final installment in a series of articles about her son's encounter with fourth grade in the town of Ra'anana, Israel. 

We have only one more month here and Idan knows there are special aspects of school in Ra'anana that he will miss. One aspect is soccer. He played soccer with the Park District back at home, but here it's the main thing. Every recess, the 4 th -grade boys rush off to the expanse of synthetic grass next to their caravan classroom. They get only 15 minutes for recess, but in that short time a serious game develops. Kadur-regel (football in Israel, soccer in America) was one of the first things the teacher mentioned even before Idan started school here. 

"It's easy for new boys socially at school. They don't need to make conversation. If he likes soccer, he will fit right in," explained the teacher, who has season tickets to all Maccabi Tel Aviv home games. 

"What about new girls?" I asked. "For girls it's not so simple …" he replied, giving no more of an answer. Israel may be progressive regarding women in the military, but it seems that girls are not encouraged to play organized sports. 

When Idan was having difficulty adjusting to school, the one saving grace was soccer. Since our arrival here, he and his dad have been following Maccabi Tel Aviv and Israel's national team compete against the best teams in Europe. It has been a great geography lesson, and gives Idan something to talk about with his teacher and classmates. 

Every Monday, Idan reminds us not to forget soccer practice after school. He eagerly joined his school team that competes against other school teams around Ra'anana. When we brought Idan to his first game, he was greeted at the school gate by teammates who grabbed both his hands and led him to the huddle with their coach. Idan's father also caught the soccer bug (dormant for 20 years since grad school intramural days) and joined the Tali School dads playing night games once a week. 

Idan's coach "Shony" is an inspiration. He made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) by himself at 15. He started off on a kibbutz and learned Hebrew at the ulpan (intense Hebrew instruction). He used his athletic talent to integrate quickly and even played on Israel's national team. 

Coach Shony has a soft-spot for Idan because he knows what it's like to be new in this country. After he hears about Idan's rough start, he gives him positive reinforcement during practice. I appreciate how often he tells the boys they must support each other and have fun. The team has lost more games than it has won, but good sportsmanship prevails. Coach Shony emphasizes how much progress they have made. 

Another special aspect of school that Idan appreciates is when the principal, Yigal, comes to his class once a week to talk about current events. The period is called, "Aktualia im Yigal" (current events with Yigal) and the students discuss everything from the awful wildfires that raged here recently to the recent U.S. elections (Idan proudly told his class that his parents voted absentee at the US embassy). They talk about how Putin is supporting Assad's regime just over the border in Syria, and how Israel is offering medical aid to helpless minority groups who are caught in the middle. 

"My friends in America are lucky they don't know about ISIS," Idan says. He has a theory about why his classmates here are more aware of what is going on in the world in comparison with his friends in Chicago: "Because Israel is so small, knowing about the whole world is similar to American kids knowing what goes on in the different states in America." 

Idan has always taken an interest in the news, but our time here has further strengthened his curiosity. I know he will come away from this experience not only with increased fluency in Hebrew, but also with a greater awareness of different perspectives in this world. He also knows that he will be asked to tell about his experience when he returns. He is working on a slideshow to present to his class back home about the things he enjoyed doing here and his school in Ra'anana. He will start with soccer.  

Michele "Gili" Sherman is a writer, artist, and former Hebrew teacher at Stevenson and Evanston high schools. Currently, she is taking advantage of her husband's sabbatical to write her first novel.


"When Idan was having difficulty adjusting to school, the one saving grace was soccer. "

Connect with us

Sign up for our weekly newsletter featuring issues and events in the Jewish world.