The Story of Hebrew Sport

Edited by David Lifshitz
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Movie Clips


Sport fandom is always a commitment for generations. We support a sports team not only because its home grounds happens to be where we were born, of if it was particularly successful whilst we were growing up. We support a sports team, above all else, because it is the same team that our dad supports and has been supporting since his own father was – and so, fandom’s multigenerational interlinkage ends up passed down from father to son and in recent years, much to our enjoyment, also mother and daughter. Our sports team fandom is our own individual, familial, and national history – and for good reason. For instance, one of Hapoel Tel Aviv FC’s most famous fan songs [full disclosure, Reds fan here – DL], opens with the lyrics, “from the day I was born / my daddy always told me that I love you, Hapoel / and hate Maccabee and Beitar” (a purely sports-based sentiment which of course, in recent years has made way for envy, now en route to embarrassment.)

If in the past, we could only ever learn about our team’s history through stories or at best, if we chanced upon an old and faded photograph then now, ever since this website came about, we can properly see and feel everything from up close, as if we were sitting in person at the old Ramat Gan Football Stadium right next to Golda Meir and a crowd of 70,000 back in 1956, watching the historic match between the Israeli national team and the USSR at the height of the Iron Curtain period. Alternatively, we can now also discover long-forgotten sporting events which even the most avid sports fans such as yours truly would never have known had ever taken place, like the time Israel played UK Premier League side, Arsenal FC, or when it went up against the Japanese national team at Rosh Haayin’s local football grounds.

But make no mistake. This brilliantly wonderful archive is home to so much more than just the popular or professional sports such as football or basketball. Here you can also find more than your share of other, more niche fields – for the Zionist movement not only tried but succeeded in reviving the ‘Muscle Jew’ (in an outright effort to distance itself as much as possible from the image of the ‘weakling’, wimpy diaspora Jew). The archive houses quite a few period films that chronicle athletes swimming the length and breadth of the Sea of Galilee back when it was more of a sea than a puddle, alongside footage of special sport-themed days at kibbutzim and in schools back when the motto was a little more, “healthy mind in a healthy body” and not so much, “Fortnite, Doritos and chill,” at home in front of the screen.

The majority of films at the archive have been preserved in surprisingly good quality. Through them, you can not only learn a lot about sport in the country but also, as a whole, find out so much about history and life in Israel of yesteryear. Even when they’re all in black and white, you’re guaranteed to feel every spec of colour in them.

Israeli sport, lamentably, hasn’t really got all that much to show for. We’ve only ever qualified once for the World Cup in 1970, back when the currency was still the pound and ‘Shiye’ Feigenbaum was a Forward who actually knew his way around the best penalty area angles, as opposed to camera angles on Reality TV celebrity football programme, Goalstar where most of his coaching energy seems to go towards the relationship between Big Brother alum, Leon Schneiderovsky and his boyfriend. Our first Olympic medal only came in 1992 and we only seem to ever excel in fighting (Judo), sea (surfing), or fighting at sea as indicated by one too many WhatsApp videos from recent years (which no doubt will too end up in the Jerusalem Cinematheque’s Film Archive sometime in the distant future.)
So, we may not have been and most likely, never will be a sports superpower and indeed, the cliché about how Jews are infinitely better at managing sport than practising it has not once proven itself rather accurate but nevertheless; this footage available to you here is nothing short of extraordinary as it offers a moving glimpse of Israeli history as a whole and the country’s sports history, in particular. And who knows, you may even be able to make out your dad or granddad in the old Bloomfield Stadium aisles, back when it was more commonly referred to as ‘Gloomfield’ but make no mistake, there was joy there and in spades. So go on; go do some stretches and let’s get streaming.

Movie clips

The Israeli National Football Team Hosts the Soviet National Team

This was one of the Israeli national team’s most legendary matches and our first ever ‘A for effort’ for our 1:2 loss to the USSR which kicked off a decades-long, equally “successful” string of ‘A for Effort’ defeats. The match was part of the Melbourne Olympics’ pre-qualifying stages. It was the second in a series of two matches, the first of which took place in Moscow and ended with our 0:5 crushing defeat with the Israeli player named Best in the Match being goalie Ya’akov Hodorov (one can only imagine what the final score would have been, were it not for him). The replay as seen in the footage, which took place in Israel was held at Ramat Gan Stadium before a crowd of 70,000 – amongst whom, you will see, is also one Golda Meir – Israel’s then Foreign Secretary and quite the hipster football fan who was well ahead of her time. The match’s backstory is in fact no less interesting than the football itself: the USSR national team came to Israel three years after the death of Stalin who had trapped all Soviet Jews behind the Iron Curtain, banning them from immigrating to Israel or from holding any overt Zionist activities at a time when Communist protectorates were regularly putting Jews on public show trials. Therefore, as is clearly evident in the film, a sense of hope and a new beginning had indeed underscored the match in Ramat Gan and the whole Soviet team’s experience of their visit. What we don’t see at all in the film – which quite possibly will go down as the greatest oversight in Israeli football film history – is Israel’s and Hapoel Petah Tikvah FC forward, Boaz Kofman’s historic goal which he scored going up against none other than USSR goalie, Lev Yashin who, at the time was considered the world’s number one goalkeeper, so you’ll just have to content yourselves with the moment after the goal and the crowd’s – and our Golda’s – ecstatic cheers.

Soccer Match Between Lazio and Joint Team of Maccabi and Hapoel Tel Aviv

In this day and age, when the rivalry between Hapoel and Maccabee Tel Aviv has reached new heights of contentiousness that at times has even turned violent, one can hardly conceive of a time when a collaboration of this nature between the two teams was even possible – let alone their fans who are seen in the footage not only sitting side by side, but also cheering together (with no riot police presence in sight). But when Italian top tier team SS Lazio pops over for a visit and concerns are mounting that if only the one Tel Aviv football team is sent to face them off then it will end in tears, you just do what you gotta do. The match itself concluded with quite the surprising 3:2 result in favour of the Tel Aviv union, and the film will not only let you watch that winning goal (which in itself, is not bad at all even by today’s standards,) but also Hapoel Tel Aviv’s all-time greatest goalie, the late Ya’akov Hodorv as he foils one Italian attempt after another to score. Also spotted in the crowd is Reds fan and then-IDF Chief of Staff, Moshe Dayan in his uniform – probably on a soldier’s concession ticket. Incidentally, in recent years Lazio has earned itself a reputation as one of Italy’s most racist and Antisemitic football teams. The team’s most die-hard fans, what we like to call here “the fringe minority,” have even been known to celebrate their team’s success in the aisles with a Nazi salute. And so one can only wonder whether another friendly match in Israel like the one in 1954 would go down as well with the team’s present-day fanbase.

A Match Between Soccer Teams of Kassit and Nitzan Cafes

Long before Nile Bar and Café Bezalel each made their respective claim to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem café culture fame, there once was a place in the capital, over on 23 Ben Yehuda St. called Café Nitzan which soon also became known at the Nitzan Faculty seeing as how the local Jerusalemite students were spending that much more time there than at the city’s Hebrew University. Meanwhile, across the proverbial pond was Tel Aviv’s legendary Café Kassit that was the dwelling (or rather, drunkenly slouching) place of the city’s then-Bohemian scene. To rule which of the two was the more superior café or perhaps, merely to encourage some semblance of physical activity in between one medicinal cognac tumbler and the next, 1954 saw a football match take place between both cafés’ representatives. The match took place at Jerusalem’s YMCA Stadium, may it rest in peace and which, as you will see in the film, resembled more of a muddy, waterlogged puddle than an actual football pitch. And whilst there may not be any impressive football moves to see here, what you will be getting is poets and artists galore having their moment as footballers, including the traditional handshake at the start of the match. Standing in for the Israeli President was Hazkel Ish Kassit, Café Kassit’s famous owner (and father of Moshe Ish Kassit of the Lool Gang, a prominent collective of Israeli artists, filmmakers, poets, and musicians that also featured the likes of Arik Einstein and Uri Zohar.)And though it is a pity that the film does not have footage of the winning team’s players being awarded their trophy by renowned Israeli poet laureate, Nathan Alterman – a devout Kassit regular – it nevertheless remains an authentic slice of history featuring a highly amusing encounter between art and sport.

Tal Brodys First Basketball Match in Israel: Maccabi Tel Aviv vs. Hapoel Holon

Approximately 10 years before he would put us on the map and coin what is now the most famous turn of phrase in Israeli sport history (that is until Alon Mizrahi, aka ‘The Aeroplane’ gave us his timeless “I wanna play either in Europe or in Spain” pearl of wisdom) – Jewish-American (or ‘Americano’ as the presenter so clearly annunciates in the film) basketballer, Tal Brody gave Maccabee Tel Aviv a tremendous advantage over all other Israeli basketball teams which, in many ways they have retained to this day with only Hapoel Jerusalem in recent years even coming close to challenging the Tel Avivian side’s supremacy. Brody, who first came to Israel in 1965 with the US team for that year’s Maccabiah Games, brought over to these shores a style of basketball that is infinitely faster and more superior to anything the country had hitherto known – basketball a-la USA. His standout performances made sure Brody was one of that year’s first NBA draft picks, landing him the 12th spot with the Baltimore (later Washington) Bullets – however, Zionism triumphed and Brody instead opted to move to Israel. Later in his career, as we all know, he brought home the Champions League Cup in 1977 with Maccabee Tel Aviv, and in 1979 was named the recipient of that year’s Israel Prize for his “unique contribution to Israeli society and the state in the field of sports.” Brody was even spoofed on hit satire programme, A Wonderful Country by comedian Assi Cohen following an advert he’s appeared in, promoting “Israeli spirit.” The film features Brody’s Israeli basketball league debut against the 1960s’ iteration of Hapoel Holon B.C – his first in a long line of victims. Seen collaborating with Brody in the film is his teammate, the late Tanhum Cohen-Mintz – one of Israel’s all-time greatest basketball players and an army Colonel of an era when military athletes were probably doing just a little bit more than turning on the lawn sprinklers and going home at midday. What is perhaps most eye-catching in the film is the Stadium’s tile court, back in the days when it was still an open air court and had its original Yad Elihu Stadium name before the endless onslaught of sponsorship-brand renaming began and it became the Nokia -> Menora Mivtachim -> Rammy Levy -> Hashikma -> Dummies r Us Arena (and yes, it is becoming increasingly harder to keep up.)

The Fourth Sea of Galilee Swimming Competition

Did I or did I not promise some niche sport? Well, here goes. This is some truly brilliant, superb quality footage of what was, for years, Israel’s single greatest sporting challenge – long before jumping off Eilat Bridge in the eighties or locating your parked car in the 1990s labyrinth that was (and quite frankly, still is) Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Centre shopping centre carpark. The great challenge – a 9.5km (5.9m) swim – started at kibbutz Ein Gev and finished at Tiberias’s Lido Beach (long before Yehuda Barkan’s Abba Ganuv character’s boat ever docked there.) Beyond the demanding physical effort that swimming this vast distance entails, one must remember that at the time (and all the way until 1967) we had to share the Sea of Galilee with our less than friendly Syrian neighbours and so, there is something inherently very Israeli and inspirational about hosting a sporting event and insisting on keeping calm and carrying on in an area partially controlled by a willfully aggressive enemy state whose snipers would not once launch targeted attacks into Israeli territory. The film contains footage of the crowds who were waiting for the brave swimmers at the Tiberias finish line and who, in the meantime were entertaining themselves with a host of dance acts and some Russian folk dancing – possibly the last time that Sea of Galilee beach revelers were seen dancing to music that wasn’t autotuned. Later, the emotional commentator announces the winner – swimmer, Ariella Cohen who had won (what he referred to as the) “the girls’ race.” The film cuts just moments before the winners and other participants are awarded their medals although, personally speaking, I didn’t really miss that moment; I happen to know exactly what that particular medal looks like seeing as how we had one just like it at home, which my dad would win at the 1963 Sea of Galilee Swim.

The First Maccabiah Games Opening Event

When the phrase “penny hole days” comes up in conversation, it’s usually in reference to this period. 1932, the days of British Mandatory Palestine, pre-World War II, and even pre-Nazi Germany. This was the year Palestine hosted the first of its kind Jewish Olympic Games – the Maccabiah. At the heart of the event is a vision whose core goes way beyond just sport: bringing the global Jewish diaspora together on the very land of ancient Israel, as well as the revival and championing of ‘Muscle Jew chic’, at a time when countless Jews across Europe were experiencing a spate of Antisemitic abuse. The brains behind the whole Maccabiah idea, a Belarusian-born Jewish sports businessman by the name of Yosef Yekutieli first reached out to the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and proposed that the Olympic games also start including athletes from the Land of Israel [officially British Mandatory Palestine – EE]. After being declined (the IOC explained that athletes who are technically stateless are ineligible to compete), Yekutieli decided he would just have to start his own Olympic games then. As the old adage goes, if Moses won’t come to the mountain, the mountain must go to Moses. And so, the footage you have here which, unfortunately has no sound – most likely on account of having been shot that long ago and the places one can only assume it’s been since – features the opening events of those very first Maccabiah Games that officially kicked off on 28 March, 1932 at Tel Aviv’s People’s House (‘Beth Ha’am’). The competitions themselves were held at the then-new Maccabiah stadium that had just been built by the Yarkon riverbank (the same place that 67 years later will become the scene of the Maccabiah Bridge Disaster which claimed the lives of four Jewish Australian athletes.) 390 athletes from 18 different countries took part in the competitions. The athletes all marched into the stadium, behind Tel Aviv’s then-mayor, a horse-mounted Meir Dizengoff who was leading the parade. Since then, the Maccabiah Games have been known to take place every four years. And whilst they have yet to see any Olympic records broken, they have nevertheless given the world some truly exceptional athletes such as basketball player, Tal Brody and American swimmer, Mark Spitz who would later go on to win seven Olympic medals. However, the Maccabiah Games’ greatest pride and joy remains the countless Jewish – Israeli relationships the competitions have bred over the years that have brought more babies and green cards into the world than the eye can see.

Israel National Football Team Wins Asian Cup

Whoever said the Israeli national football team doesn’t have a single cup to its name? Okay, so we may have qualified for the World Cup only that one time over half a century ago and have yet to set foot in the UEFA European Football Championship, but! In 1964, not only did we play the AFC Asian Cup, we won the whole tournament, having defeated the Indian national team at Ramat Gan Stadium as seen in the film – including the extraordinary moment when then-President Zalman Shazar is ushered into the stadium in a moving car driving on the actual pitch (!) to give the players their trophy – an act which nowadays would leave even the likes of Vladimir Putin at a loss for words, that someone could just waltz in like that, not even giving half a shi…rt.Winning the AFC Asian Cup was a peak for Israel in this competition to which we’ve qualified a total of four times – until finally, in the late 1970s mounting pressure from Arab countries led to our subsequent expulsion. Later, in the eighties, we found ourselves playing the Oceanic section of the World Cup prequalifying stages along with Australia and New Zealand and since 1992, we’ve been regulars (of the regularly unsuccessful kind) in the European competitions. And so, if you’ve missed these halcyon days of Israeli football’s peak or hadn’t even been born at the time, then this film should be right up your alley. And who knows, now that we’ve signed peace treaties with the UAE and Bahrain, we may well end up making our grand, triumphant Asian return – only then we’ll have so fewer excuses for when we’ve yet again failed to qualify to the World Cup.

Womens Soccer Match

How refreshingly progressive to have found this footage here. The year – 1958. A football match is held at Ramat Gan stadium. In it, Maccabee Tel Aviv FC’s women team is facing off – that’s right – the IDF’s women’s adjutant team. And whilst the commentator who, very much on brand with the 1950s, may describe the event as a rather “savoury match” – the fact remains that here we have 11 women playing 11 other women at the national stadium and by the looks of it, doing a pretty damn good job at that. What is somewhat less savoury is the fact it would be another 40 years since that much until a women’s premier football league is established in Israel (launched only in 1998, and considerably later than many other countries’ own women’s football leagues). And yet, one might take comfort in the fact that women’s football’s star, as a whole, has been on the rise in recent years. Players in top European teams are getting paid handsomely, and the last few women’s World Cups have seen stadiums completely rammed with both male and female fans. What is more, many countries, Israel included, have been licencing the broadcast rights for those matches which they show live. Israel’s women’s national football team has yet to make the World Cup or the European Championship for that matter however, as of right now, it is ranked at 67th place in FIFA’s world ranking table whereas our men’s team is somewhere in the 90th place region. And so, it remains to be seen which of the two teams ends up with the more “savoury” feat of having finally qualified for the World Cup.

Sports Day at the Shalva School in Tel Aviv

Rare footage from Tel Aviv, shot nearly 100 years ago. One, from 1930, was filmed at the Nordia Gymnasium and the other, a 1937 film from the Shalva Gymnasium – whose sports pitch was used by Hapoel Tel Aviv B.C. in the 1950s, back when a young student by the name of Arik Einstein was practising his dribbling. Incidentally, Shalva High School also gets a mention in Yehonatan Geffen’s memoir, Good Stuff where he recalls how the school was also nicknamed ‘the university’ as “students seemed to be able to come and go as they please.”As they were shot so long ago, these films may not have any sound but that does not at all take away from the awe-inspiring visuals in which we see students performing group sports activities with almost Soviet-like precision against the backdrop of sandy Tel Aviv – not to mention the female students’ athletic short shorts which at the time were not only integral but also perfectly appropriate yet today of all times, in 21st century Israel that’s since had nearly a century’s worth of progress, would probably get them banned from entering the school.

Water Sport Competition

A charming little film I happened to come across whilst the perusing the website, at the centre of which is a somewhat bizarre sports competition between the Navy’s official team and the portmen’s team before a crowd of hundreds of ecstatic locals. The competition first begins with a game of water polo, then goes on to a springboard diving section, followed by a swimming competition with a spoon and egg in your mouth (which under no circumstances are you to drop) and finally culminating in a strange version of tightrope walking where contestants must walk along a greased up pole over ice cold water. In other words, a very early version of Ninja Warrior Israel (or rather, British Mandatory Palestine) with Mayor Meir Dizengoff and wife, Zina assuming host duties (well, not quite. Dizengoff may have been Tel Aviv’s onetime mayor but that was in the 1920s and ‘30s. At the time when this competition was held, Tel Aviv’s mayor was Chaim Levanon… but far be it from historical accuracy to get in the way of turning a phrase.) And so whilst this was not, by any means a major sporting event – if what it was can even be described as sport – but when all is said and done, this delightful little film is a reminder that ultimately and fundamentally, sport is a competition between people who, if only for a moment, get to become children once again whose most important mission is to not drop that egg.

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