Israeli lacrosse team to forfeit chance at title because of Shabbat

By Eric Hal Schwartz/JNS.org

Click photo to download. Caption: Israeli women’s lacrosse team member Sara Greenberg wields her stick. Credit: Donna Pedersen.

This story was originally published by the Washington Jewish Week

The Israeli women’s lacrosse team will not play on Shabbat, even though this means they cannot win the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) 2013 Women’s World Cup, which ends this weekend in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada.

On Wednesday, the 10th-seeded Israelis defeated 7th-seeded New Zealand, 12-9, to guarantee a top-eight finish in the World Cup.

The coach and players are completely behind the decision not to play on Shabbat, said Scott Neiss, director of the Israel Lacrosse Association.

Lacrosse is a new sport in Israel, Neiss and others founded the ILA just a few years ago, and this is the first time Israel has competed in a Lacrosse World Cup. Being an Israeli team means that the national identity and culture are a part of the nature of the team, Neiss explained, and therefore it’s the official policy of the organization not to play on Shabbat.

“As a player representing Israel abroad, it’s really important to be true to the values of who you’re representing,” said Sara Greenberg, a midfielder on the team.

But the rules of the FIL forbid teams from playing more than one game in a day and the tightly scheduled tournament, which began last week, requires whatever teams are left in the tournament—a group that will include Israel—to play this Saturday.

“They can’t change the times of the games so we have to play or forfeit,” Neiss said. “We chose to forfeit.”

The question of Israel playing on Saturday was first raised about six months ago, before the FIL created the game schedule, when the ILA requested that they be excused from any Shabbat games. The ILA offered several alternatives to avoid having to forfeit a Saturday game, suggesting they play Friday before sundown, Saturday after sundown or even early Sunday morning.

“Unfortunately they quoted the rules about not playing more than one game a day,” Neiss said.

Since there will only be eight teams left on Saturday, scheduling fair rest and play time for all the teams made it impossible for the FIL to accommodate the ILA’s request, insisting they would either have to play or forfeit.

The FIL did schedule the games so that Israel would not have to play during the first Saturday of the tournament, for which the ILA thanked the group in a statement, while still committing to not playing on Shabbat.

“As a team we are all completely on the same page about this,” Greenberg said, adding that they were all proud of the decision to stick to their policy of not playing on Shabbat.

Greenberg is one of several foreign-born players—she’s from Philadelphia—on the team, joining not long after moving to Israel two years ago. Jews from abroad as well as Israelis can play for the ILA and all of them signed on to the no-playing-on-Shabbat rule as an aspect of the nation’s character.

“It’s an obvious extension of what we do,” Greenberg said.

As of this report, the Israeli team has a 5-1 record, before its Thursday matchup with 2nd-seeded Canada.

Although they will have to forfeit, Neiss said he is hoping that the opponent they would have played against will be willing to compete in an exhibition game out of sympathy and love of the game even though it would have no effect on the standings in the tournament.

Israel will also compete in the Men¹s Lacrosse World Championship next year in Denver and the same rule about playing on Shabbat will apply. It’s too early to say if the scheduling will force the team to have to make the same hard choice again, but the ILA has already started reaching out to lacrosse governing bodies in several countries in an effort to build support for their commitment to not playing on Shabbat but wanting to still fully participate in international tournaments.

“At the end of the day it’s representing the country,” Greenberg said.

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Posted on July 17, 2013 and filed under Israel, News, Sports.