Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 8/24/14
By the Israel Lacrosse Association
When Team Baltimore defeated Ft. Lauderdale in a championship overtime thriller at the recent JCC Maccabi Games in Cherry Hill, N.J., the celebration was a familiar sight. Helmets were tossed, sticks were thrown, and the fans of the victors rushed the field.
But something was different this time. At the bottom of the dogpile that culminated at midfield, there weren’t just Baltimore fans and players, there were two young Israeli athletes joining them.
Ashkelon natives Benor Buniel and Yotam Drori became the first Israeli athletes to win a gold medal in lacrosse at the Maccabi Games — and along with Tel Aviv’s Mor Cohen and Ori Miron, who competed for the South Jersey squad — they also became the first Israelis to compete in the tournament.
The foursome were the inaugural recipients of the Daniel and Wendy Kraft Lacrosse Scholarship, which sponsors Israeli youth lacrosse players to travel abroad to improve both their lacrosse and English skills by attending high-level lacrosse camps and tournaments.
“I’m very thankful for the opportunity to come to the United States to play in the Maccabi Games,” said Drori, who, as a developmental player, was the youngest member of Israel’s 46-man men’s national team roster. “It’s been very fun to participate in an event that brings so many Jews together.”
Buniel and Drori had quite the summer, seeing action for Team Israel in the Vail Lacrosse Shootout and exhibition matches against top-25 ranked nations such as Latvia, Netherlands and Turkey. While they did not make Israel’s final 23-man roster, they got a front row seat during the championships, manning the blue-and-white sidelines and getting a taste of international competition.
The duo, who received private instruction and met lacrosse royalty such as the Iroquois’ Thompson brothers, and Team USA’s Paul Rabil, are expected to compete for Israel in the 2016 FIL U-19 World Championships in Coquitlam, Canada.
After the Championships, the Ashkelon boys traveled to Baltimore, widely regarded as the “lacrosse capital” of the world, where were mentored by Slade and Jory Parson. They immediately began practicing with their new teammates, and were generously scholarshipped by All-American Steele Stanwick to attend Stanwick Lacrosse Camp in Baltimore.
Cohen and Miron, who compete on a co-existence team in Tel Aviv, had a similar experience, where they were mentored by Mitchell and Jonathan Bradbury of New Rochelle, NY. Drew Wendell of Gargoyle Lacrosse Camp — which employs a staff of top quality coaches and players — generously scholarshipped the two Tel Avivians, who also competed in local scrimmages in the area’s youth summer leagues, before departing for Cherry Hill.
“It was a great opportunity to play in America with Jewish lacrosse players,” said Cohen, who finished the Maccabi Games with two goals and five assists for South Jersey. “It was tough, but it was really fun, and I want to come back next year.”
Miron also didn’t disappoint, racking up seven goals and three assists
“They are the quickest learners I’ve ever seen,” said Cherry Hill head coach Zack Simon. “They have ability so far beyond someone who has been playing this game less than a year. It’s incredible. It was an absolute pleasure having them.”
Beyond the Israeli players on the field, the Israel national team players conducted clinics, gave away prizes and Israel Lacrosse t-shirts, and spoke with each of the teams about how they can help the development of the game in the Jewish State, through equipment drives and mentorship programs.
“It was incredible to see the four boys competing at a high level here in the States,” said Ted Bergman, a Wesleyan University goalkeeper and Team Israel prospect who spent most of the summer on an internship with the Association in Ashkelon. “These kids have an unmatched passion for the game, and it was amazing to see these incredible young men compete with other lacrosse players their age.”
Seven developmental players — Ashkelon’s Benor Buniel and Yotam Drori, and their Baltimore hosts, Slade and Jory Parson, along with Tel Aviv’s Mor Cohen and Ori Miron, and their New York host Jonathan Bradbury — saw action for Israel in exhibition games against Greece and Philippines.
The highlight of the trip for the four young athletes may have been their final weekend, when they suited up for the blue-and-white in exhibition games against Philippines and Greece. Buniel recorded his first career goal for Israel, while all four gained valuable experience for the blue-and-white. Young prospects from their host families — Jory and Slade Parson from Baltimore, and Jonathan Bradbury from New Rochelle — had the opportunity to suit up as well, standing side-by-side with national team stars such as Adam Crystal, Kyle Bergman, Cody Levine, Harrison Freid, Matthew Opsahl and others.
As the foursome head home to Israel this week, it’s clear this opportunity will stick with them forever. While the future months in Israel will certainly be challenging, these four young athletes will have a unique passion for this sport that they will undoubtedly share with their friends, family and neighbors back home.
While their summer spent in America may be coming to a close, their connection with the sport of lacrosse is just beginning.
Note – Ted Bergman/Israel Lacrosse Association, is a member of the Israeli National team and a graduate of Strath Haven High currently playing at Wesleyan University