By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 9/2/19
Radnor grad Alex Freedman, Israel’s U-19 women’s Lacrosse Coach, says a key tenet of Judaism is the act of Tikkun Olam, which in the Hebrew language means pursing acts of kindness that help in repairing the world.
Freedman’s team just wanted their Kenyan friends to have an equal chance to compete when they purchased cleats and presented them to the Kenyan players recently at the World Lacrosse Championships in Peterborough, Ontario. But the act of kindness performed by the Israeli squad has gone viral and become one of the most talked about lacrosse stories of the year around the world.
“Tikkun Olam is very important in the Jewish religion,” said Freedman, who was a member of Middlebury’s 2016 NCAA Division III champion squad. “When we recognize an injustice, we feel passionate about helping those in need.”
The story goes like this: Israel, in its fifth game at the U19 Championships on Aug 6, toppled Kenya, 13-4. The field turf was slick and the Israeli girls immediately noticed that Kenya’s players – making their World Lacrosse debut this year – were constantly slipping because they were not wearing cleats.
Team Israel had become friendly with Kenya’s players. Israel’s players and their parents learned with shock that Kenya’s cleats had arrived in just as the tourney began with incorrect sizes and were not usable for any of the players.
“The morning we played Kenya the first time, it rained and the turf was really slick,” Freedman said. “We noticed they were slipping and sliding; they’d get the ball and fall and score was ultimately lopsided.”
Team Israel’s players and parents refused to accept this fate for Kenya. That night Freedman learned her team wanted to pursue an act of Tikkun Olam.
“I got a text from one of my player’s parents that my players and their parents were so distraught by this (Kenya’s misfortune) that they reached out to the Kenyan coaching staff and physically went to the store with them after getting the shoe sizes of every Kenyan player so they could buy new cleats for all the girls,” Freedman said.
“This was the most incredible thing I have ever been a part of. My players had met the Kenyan players at the opening ceremony and had formed a special bond with them, so it was very special to give all of the girls this gift.”
The next day, Israel was scheduled to play Belgium, which was the next opponent also for Team Kenya. The Kenyan coach brought her team to watch the game and when it ended, the Israeli girls surprised their Kenyan friends with the gifts. The Kenyan players were stunned and equally thrilled at the act of kindness.
“In my opinion, international lacrosse events are not just judged on wins and losses, they are so much more about the relationships made and the learning experience,” said Freedman. “I try to emphasize this to my players.
“I think they (Kenyan players) were really surprised. We just wanted to even the playing field. Everyone was so excited and so happy.
“It really was a life changing experience.”
The act of giving has caught the attention of media outlets everywhere. House of Highlights (13.9 million followers), ESPN’s Facebook and Twitter feeds and many news agencies all around the world have played up the heart-warming gift.
“For me, seeing it on House of Highlights was really cool since it’s an account I actively follow,” said Freedman. “I have also seen screenshots of us featured on CNN
“One of the biggest things for me is how our story reflects positively on the sport of lacrosse. This is the example of our sport right now internationally and I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of it.”
After Kenya’s players began wearing the new cleats, they defeated Belgium, 16-9.
“A brilliant win today on the slippery surface thanks to [Israel Lacrosse] and our cleats!” the Kenyan team wrote on their Twitter page.
After Kenya topped Chinese Taipei, 11-10, it set up a classic battle for 17th place in the 22-team tourney: Israel vs. Kenya.
Israel prevailed in the rematch, 11-10, and no Kenyan players slipped even once.
“After our last game against Kenya we all were quite emotional,” Freedman said. “The girls hugged, took pictures, and exchanged contact information. I hope they will all keep in touch despite the distance.
“I was really happy with how we played,” Freedman added of the 17th-place finish. “My team did they best they could have done.”
Freedman, a goalie, has been playing in tournaments with Israel since her early teen years with the Maccabi Games. She moved to Israel full-time after graduating from Middlebury last year and had dreamed of coaching this team. The few weeks before the World Games, she played on Israel’s Women’s National Team, which hosted the European World Championships and secured the silver medal.
“It was always my plan to move to Israel full-time,” said Freedman. “This summer, with the European Championships leading up to the U-19 World Games, it was overall such an incredible experience.
“I never dreamed I could be in this position as head coach of the Israeli National Team. I truly appreciate all of the people that trusted and supported me in my endeavor to fulfill my dream of playing and coaching at this level.”