Sport Pioneers Collection – Part II

Edited by David Lifshitz
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Movie Clips


This is the second collection I’ve been commissioned to edit for the Jerusalem Cinematheque’s Israeli Film Archive. And though not my first time at the rodeo, sure enough the magic of trawling and rummaging through old, ultrarare archival sport footage came alive again – just as it did the first time. In this collection, I set out to focus more on the trends and changes that Israeli sport and essentially, Israeli society as a whole, have been through from the country’s nascent years to this day. This was a relatively easy undertaking as all you really had to do was watch the sports broadcasts, seeing as how the competitions’ ceremonies, rules, and rituals have all pretty much remained identical. It’s only the execution that has changed.

For instance, during the 1959 National Football Cup award ceremony, Israel’s then-president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi politely handed Maccabee Tel Aviv FC captain, Yehoshua (Shia) Glazer the cup and immediately stepped aside; a stark contrast to the ‘choreography’ of football cup award ceremonies of recent years in which we have grown so accustomed to seeing politicians (of all sides of the political spectrum, mind you) and a whole entourage of publicity-hungry, focus-stealing wheelers and dealers getting all mixed up and thinking that all eyes should be on them, as opposed to the decorated sportsmen.

A lot has also changed on the audience front. In matches whose footage has survived in the archives, you can spot fans sat down or (usually – due to the old stadiums’ subpar infrastructure) standing up, cheering their teams on with a smile of their faces – the image of sportsmanship and respectfulness – and very much unlike today’s ultras whose fandom repertoire, unfortunately for us, has also come to include throwing firecrackers and a host of a other objects onto the pitch, and when the result was not to their liking also making a barrage of threats at coaches, players, and managers.

And maybe this is where the secret of the magic and idyllic spirit of these old, short clips truly lies – as fragmentary documented footage which never really paints the full picture. Perhaps it’s the black and white aspect, of all things, that makes us look at those athletes and fans of yore and in fact, the whole period, through rose-tinted glasses completely divorced from reality? Either way, it is undoubtedly worth diving into the footage and savouring it all, because when all is said and done, these are irreplaceable slices of history – for sport fans, and as a whole. And as my dearest and much-loved friend, the late Modi Bar-On, whose love of sport was only paralleled by his passion for documentaries and history used to say, “have a good one.”

Movie clips

Maccabi Haifa and Maccabi Tel Aviv Meet in a Soccer Match in Memory of Arie Fefe Feldman

This friendly match took place at Tel Aviv’s Bloomfield Stadium before the start of the 1970-71 football season, in memory of military reservist, Arie Feldman, who died in the War of Attrition during a shelling campaign in the Suez Canal area. Feldman, who was 25 at the time of his death was a native Haifan, which is most likely why Maccabi Haifa opted to take part in the match. Feldman was a graduate of his local Hugim High School, which he attended with his best friend [and later, actor] Gadi Yagil, with whom he used to put together all kinds of variety shows that became the hottest ticket in town. Feldman spent his army service in the IDF’s military troupe. Once completing it, he enroled at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University where he studied law and graduated with distinction. The day he died in the canal, we lost not only a promising lawyer and entertainer, but most likely also a football fan who, just a little over a decade later, could have witnessed Maccabi Haifa FC clinch their inaugural league championship title; the first of many that would follow.

Brazilian Soccer Team America Defeats Hapoel Petah Tikva

The late 1950s and early sixties were HaPoel Petah-Tikvah FC’s golden era. By that point, the team had won five back-to-back league championships – a record that has yet to be broken. Unfortunately for the team and their fans, very little footage survives of those days; a time before Israeli public television broadcasting was ever conceived of. Adding insult to injury, what scarce footage that has survived is of a match that saw HaPoel Petah-Tikvah getting absolutely pummelled by a Brazilian team in a showdown one would struggle to label a “friendly match,” in light of the result and power dynamics at play. The clip does not show the majority of goals scored in the match. In those days, the footage was prominently geared towards spectator and atmosphere-orientated shots whereas the actual main event, for which the fans were there in the first place, wasn’t given that much attention on film. That said, the footage does feature legendary right-wing Nahum Stelmach – HaPoel Petah-Tikvah biggest star of the time, and goalie Yaacov Visoker – the older brother of Itzhak Vissoker who, the following decade, would appear as a goalkeeper in the historic Football World Cup that was held in Mexico – the one and only time the Israeli national team had successfully qualified.

Stunts by Childrens Basketball Team

In 1961, a basketball team which one would perhaps best describe as peculiar landed in Israel – comprising a group of American children who came to entertain the sandal-wearing Levantines with a spectacular showcase of ball manoeuvring and control tricks. Incidentally, the ‘amazing’ stunts they perform in the video footage are now the stock-in-trade of every other Israeli kid who’s had even some training with a little league basketball team. In those days, manoeuvring an orange ball between your legs and swirling it on the tip of your finger really must have looked like an eighth wonder, which would explain the rapturous applause coming from the audience. Meanwhile, slam dunks which are the real pièce de résistance in these types of shows are nowhere to be seen – and most likely, neither is a working wage for any of the children.

Israels National Soccer Team Returns From the Mexico 1970 World Cup Games

A bona fide archival gem featuring Israel’s national football team on arrival at Ben Gurion International Airport (before the latter was even given its current name), on their return from the historic world championship tournament. In the clip, the narrator describes the players’ “brazen lack of enthusiasm” – this, in reference to a feat that has yet to be repeated, including a historic goal – and concludes that “lessons from this trip will be drawn at the relevant sport institutions, in the presence of Coach Scheffer”; a statement that pretty much sums up the socialist-unionist atmosphere which dominated the country at the time. One can only imagine the kind of reception the Israeli national team would be treated to nowadays, were it to qualify to the World Cup, score a goal, and “let the nation down” with a draw against A-list national teams such as Italy and Sweden. Incidentally, Mordechai (aka ‘Motaleh’) Spiegler who scored the goal is conspicuously MIA from the footage.

President Yitzhak Ben Zvi Watches the National Cup Finals Match

Already at the start of the clip, in what can only be described as one of the whitest, most elitist feats of narration, the narrator announces that this marks the first football match that then-president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, has ever attended. The match, a showdown between Maccabi Tel Aviv and HaPoel Petah-Tikvah FC ended with a 4:3 victory for the Tel Avivians – a rather impressive goal total for a presidential debut match, by all accounts. And yet, result and high-octane gameplay notwithstanding, President Ben-Zvi is the image of understated restraint, the moment he presents Maccabi Tel Aviv captain, revered forward Yehoshua (Shia) Glazer with the coveted cup. On the other hand, weighing up contemporary politicians’ focus-stealing ways on such occasions today, as well as players’ over-the-top cup waving antics, there is something charmingly quaint about this wholly unassuming cup awarding scene, captured here on camera.

Four Day March Arrives in Jerusalem

With respect to football, basketball, and all other types of ball, in the country’s earliest days there was no sport more quintessentially Israeli than the people’s march. A sporting event open to everyone, and appealing even to those Israelis who aren’t necessarily athletically-inclined, due to the fundamental fact that the requirement for excellence is superfluous, and winning (or losing, for that matter) is not an option. The four-day march, which would later become the Jerusalem March, was perhaps the most famous march in Israeli history. This clip features male IDF soldiers who were taking part and sleeping in tents en route – and their female peers who were watching the march and described by the narrator as “fetching damsels,” which proves, if nothing else, that sportscasters’ treatment of women over the years has changed very little indeed.

Plan to Build Soccer Stadium Near Shuafat, Jerusalem

Long before the now-iconic Teddy Stadium was christened, back when the YMCA stadium was the city’s main football hub, Jerusalem city council was already hatching plans to erect a “modern” stadium (to quote the narrator) that would be the home grounds of local football clubs, HaPoel and Beitar Jerusalem. The land designated for the development was located in north Jerusalem, next to the Palestinian neighbourhood of Shuafat. The footage we have here shows us a miniature model of that proposed stadium which is very reminiscent of contemporary ones. However, as the locals know all too well, the scheme never got past planning stage. A hint of what was (not) to come can be found in the narrator’s words as he explains that for the plans to become a reality, they would first need to be granted planning permission across the board by the council’s various committees. And whilst local government bureaucracy was ultimately the scheme’s undoing, it can hardly be described as an epic disaster. Just the thought of [hard right and notoriously racist Beitar Jerusalem fan faction – EE] La Familia ultras making their way to a Beitar match through the Shuafat alleyways is enough to make everyone heave a collective sigh of relief and give thanks for the fact that the new stadium was ultimately built in [Jerusalem’s upscale neighbourhood of] Malha.

Disabled Athletes Train for an International Sports Competition

This is fascinating, highly unusual footage; certainly, for the year it was shot, featuring Paralympian athletes in training. The narrator describes them as “paralysed or semi-paralysed athletes,” before adding an empowering bit of commentary on how these athletes are living proof that there is nothing stronger than will power. The training seen in the footage took place in 1955, ahead of an annual Paralympian tournament held in the UK – an event known as the Stoke Mandeville Games; named after the local hospital where they were held. The majority of athletes competing were WWII veterans. It would be another five years before a connection was made between Paralympian sports and the Olympics, at the 1960 Rome Games. Incidentally, the inaugural Paralympics were already a huge success for the Israeli Paralympian team who took home five medals and came in at a very impressive 13th place. It is quite possible that several of the athletes seen in the footage went on to compete in the Olympics where they were likely to have performed very well indeed.

Opening Ceremony of the Eighth Maccabiah Games and Various Competitions

Still held in Israel to this day, the Maccabiah Games are by no means considered the prime and pinnacle of international sporting events. Collectively, at least amongst Israelis, the Maccabiah is predominantly viewed as a platform for promoting Jewish immigration to Israel (‘Aliyah’) and facilitating connections between various Jewish communities around the world. However, at the 8th Maccabiah Games in 1969, this otherwise negligible tournament was graced with the presence of one of the world’s all-time greatest athletes, and quite possibly the greatest Jewish athlete in recorded history: nine-time Olympic gold medal winner and world champion in five different individual heats (a record that remained intact for over 30 years,) American swimmer Mark Spitz.Spitz arrived at the Maccabiah, already an Olympic superstar, having won the gold medal at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Of course, he also clinched the gold at the Maccabiah Games. Spitz hit his Olympic prime at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, which Israelis will sadly recall for the most harrowing reasons. Through the prism of history, one can probably trace a line between his headline-making appearance at the Israeli games and the sense of pride and euphoria shared by Jews and Israelis across the world, in the aftermath of Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Israeli Police Sergeants Undergo Judo Training

Long before the likes of Yael Arad, Yarden Gerbi, and Ori Sasson made judo Israel’s highest decorated Olympic sport, Israeli police officers were already practising the Japanese martial art as a way of “making an individual report to the police using considerable force, albeit with the utmost courtesy,” as the narrator puts it. In the footage we have here, we see a group of strapping patrol officers performing a series of judo manoeuvres including a koka, waza-ari, and ippon, followed by their LA instructor knocking four of them to the floor. The footage ends on a somewhat unsettling note, showing police officers having a semi-naked massage. Over time, judo’s ‘courteously excessive force’ made way for the special patrol unit’s (aka ‘Yasam’) original in-house martial artform, otherwise known as the ‘knee-to-the-ribs-and-stop-taking-my-fucking-photo’ manoeuvre.

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