PHOTO COURTESY OF ISRAEL LACROSSE

‘Not an Ending, But a Beginning’ for Israel Lacrosse


NETANYA, Israel — Forty-six national teams stood behind their flags for the opening ceremony of the Federation of International Lacrosse World Championship last Thursday evening at Netanya Stadium. The pageantry — rhythmic gymnastics-like dancers, songs, official welcomes, referees’ oaths and fireworks — capped a stunning doubleheader for David Lasday, Israel Lacrosse’s chief operating officer. Moments earlier on the same turf, his club had defeated Jamaica, 11–3, in its opener.

Along with reveling in the spectacle before him, Lasday was thinking strategically.

“It was amazing to see our team representing Israel in this huge stadium. It was a very inspiring moment — not an ending, but a beginning. We’re still very determined to [achieve] our goal, which is to inspire the nation with lacrosse,” he said.

One speaker that evening, Michael Oren, a member of Knesset (Parliament) and Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, had marveled at this being the first LWC hosted by a non-English-speaking country. For Lasday, a Tel Avivian who’s due to become a first-time dad in September, what registered most deeply was something simpler.

“It was chilling to hear the kids cheering, ‘El-el, Isra-el!’” said Lasday, 35. “We hope [it] lit a spark in the minds of young Israelis throughout the country.”


“It was chilling to hear the kids cheering, ‘El-el, Isra-el!’ We hope [it] lit a spark in the minds of young Israelis throughout the country.”


Israeli youth were Lasday’s focus when he helped to import the sport to a country that didn’t know a long stick from a popsicle stick.

On a September 2010 afternoon, the St. Louis native and another American visited Tel Aviv’s Sportek complex in Yarkon Park. They set down their gear and passed the pinky ball between their sticks. This was just yards from where 12-year-old boys were playing basketball.

The boys ambled over and asked about the poles with weird nets at the end. They picked up the lacrosse sticks and gave it a try. Cradling took some effort, but they got the hang of it.

The fish took the bait.

Lasday revisited the spot last month to watch 14 men’s teams and two women’s teams play in Israel’s under-15 championship.

“It was pretty inspiring to see how far we’d come. We were now at a serious level, where kids could be competitive,” said Lasday.

“It was also,” he confessed, “a nice break from the pressure of all the world-championship preparation.”








Now, 600 boys and 100 girls play in three divisions — U-15, U-19 and the Israel Premier Lacrosse League (IPLL) — and in two elementary-school programs that scrimmage while developing skills. Israel’s men’s and women’s national adult teams are ranked seventh and sixth in the world, respectively. At the 2014 world championship in Denver, Israel debuted and finished seventh; two years later, in Canada, Israel’s U-19 squad took sixth. Last summer in Finland, the men won the European Box Lacrosse Championships.

In Netanya this week, Israel has won its first four games to reach Wednesday’s quarterfinals versus favored Australia. The big time isn’t going away. Next June, Israel will host the Women’s European Lacrosse Championships.

The 2019 tournament is to be held in Tel Aviv, built in 1909 as modern, pre-state Israel’s first city. Metropolis and economic hub though it is, Tel Aviv touts its roots as a city that sand dunes birthed.

It’s an apt metaphor for the implanting of lacrosse in a country where soccer and basketball rule, tennis trails far behind and other sports aren’t even on average residents’ radar.

Scott Neiss, Israel Lacrosse’s current executive director, and Lasday set out to cultivate lacrosse from the ground up. They launched youth programs in two coastal cities: Netanya, north of Tel Aviv; and Ashkelon, to the south. They met with school principals, physical-education teachers, field managers, even bus-company executives. They promoted lacrosse as an exotic game that was relatable; like soccer, it’s played on a long field with goals at opposite ends where scoring balls went, with plentiful running and passing, and individual play wrapped into a team concept.

They reeled in more Americans to coach. They didn’t lack for capable U.S. collegiate players whose cultural and religious background might be appealed to for volunteering to advance lacrosse in the Jewish state.

The team’s general manager, Brad MacArthur, calls Israel Lacrosse’s approach unique, bred by necessity.

“We just wanted to … raise the bar so we were not starting out last in the world,” he said. Recruiting top foreign players to spread the lacrosse gospel, he added, is a model that “may not work for other countries.”




PHOTO COURTESY OF ISRAEL LACROSSE


Each summer, approximately 80 American players — along with 50 from Europe and Africa, and 50 Israelis — compete in the eight-team IPLL. Colleges’ winter breaks bring others. Non-Jewish players from abroad volunteer, too. All the foreigners, and some Israelis, are dispatched across the country to coach the youth.

One improvised coach was Baltimore’s Josh Schwartz, who’d played four years of high-school lacrosse. He spent much of summer 2016 playing in the IPLL and coaching in Netanya. Schwartz and the 16 other Americans he roomed with brought plenty of donated helmets, pads, gloves, sticks, cleats and jerseys. They ran clinics, held practices and oversaw games. They showed up after day camps to introduce lacrosse. On the city’s promenade and beach, they drummed up interest, as Lasday had, by having a catch.

“I got to go out and have fun and teach lacrosse,” said Schwartz, now a 21-year-old University of Maryland student. “It’s not like it was hard work. It was doing what I love to do. It was creating a platform.”

Eleven of Team Israel’s 23 players here, including co-captains Jacob Silberlicht and Seth Mahler, relocated from America to teach lacrosse. Others come when they can, among them midfielder Max Seibald, a five-time Major League Lacrosse All Star and three-time All-American at Cornell who played for the United States at the 2010 and 2014 world championships. 

“I’m pioneering something I’m passionate about,” said Mahler, 30, a Connecticut native who played at Whittier and moved to Israel in 2013 to start the Ashkelon program. He spent three years there in youth development, and now works as the Israel Lacrosse men’s program director and the U-19 coach.

“I love seeing Israeli kids catch a ball for the first time. Building the first generation of Israeli players — that drives me.”

Ori Bar David was a beneficiary of the Americans’ outreach. At 17, he played on the gold medal-winning box lacrosse squad. At 18, he’s the youngest member of the national team in Netanya — competing for the world championship in his hometown. He’s the only homegrown player on the roster.

“Our goal,” he said, “is that in a few worlds, all the players will be native Israelis.”

Hillel Kuttler is a freelance writer and editor. He may be reached at hk@hillelthescribecommunications.com