South African goalie dedicates Maccabiah performances to murdered father
Noah Cohen was on the phone with his dad when he was shot by a group of thieves.
Noah Cohen started playing soccer when he was four years old, "kicking around on the weekends" with his father, Sheldon Cohen.
Now 18, it is his father's memory that motivates him as he makes strides on the field.
Sheldon was murdered in Johannesburg in January 2008. He was on the phone with his own father, waiting for Noah to finish soccer practice, when he was shot by a group of thieves.
The thieves had just robbed a woman and assumed that Sheldon was on the phone calling the police.
"It felt like there was a hole," Noah said, describing how he felt after his father's death.
"Most difficult was not having his support and his energy around all the time.
"He was the one who started playing with me. He was always behind me. It's given me real determination and drive," said the young soccer prospect, who was in Israel for the past two weeks representing South Africa in the Maccabiah Games as a goalkeeper.
A Johannesburg native, Noah was picked up by the Bidvest Wits, a Johannesburg-based South African Premier League team, about a month ago, after years of playing for local club teams.
But he would not have made it this far without ous his father's tremendous support.
Sheldon played an integral role in Noah's soccer development and was incredibly passionate about the game. He attended all of Noah's soccer games, said Lesley Cohen, Sheldon's widow and Noah's mother.
In the year and a half since Sheldon's death, Lesley and her father-in-law, Jack Cohen, have attempted to fill the void despite not knowing nearly as much about the game, Lesley said.
"He loved that they played soccer in the garden every weekend," she said. "He completely supported Noah in his soccer career."
Every family vacation out of the country was planned around soccer and catching games abroad, including some of the World Cup games, Lesley said.
"Every trip we went on, there was soccerâ€¦ They were soccer mad and they loved it."
Noah first visited Israel a couple of years ago to sight see with his family. But the Maccabiah has really blown him away - the opening ceremony, with an entire stadium filled with Jews from around the world, was an astounding thing, he said.
"I'll never forget it in my life. It was an amazing spectacle," he said.
The teenager played in South Africa's junior team at the Maccabiah, which started well, with two wins and a loss.
However its hopes of reaching the quarterfinals of the competition were dashed due to a 3-0 technical loss imposed on it after its final group game against Israel was postponed.
The South African team arrived late at the ground because they were picked up late, but when the team's management refused to play the rescheduled game on Saturday night because many of the players would not be able to get there on time due to Shabbat ending late, the loss was imposed and their hopes of a medal were ended.
Noah said he has enjoyed his time in Israel but plans to remain in South Africa in spite of the high prevalence of crime that claimed his father's life. Incidents like that one are not uncommon in Johannesburg, where most of South Africa's Jews live.
"I really love South Africa. I really wouldn't want to leave," he said.
However, Sheldon's unexpected death has added a sense of urgency to his soccer ambitions, Noah said. "I'm just more determined to become successful in my soccerâ€¦ You never know what's around the corner."