This weekend marks the beginning of the American Football in Israel (AFI) Men’s
Flag Football playoffs.
Sixteen teams will battle it out over the next
month to find out who will become this year’s Holyland Bowl XXI
While 13 of the 16 playoff teams are composed of American
Yeshiva students studying here temporarily, the other three teams are made up of
local Israeli players who live, work, learn, and in some cases serve in the IDF,
but manage to get some weekends off to visit their families, and, of course, to
The most anticipated first-round playoff contest this year
pits two local teams against each other: seven-time league champ Big Blue and
1993 champions Pizzeria Efrat.
Pizzeria Efrat is lead by quarterback and
captain – an AFI first-ballot hall of famer – the ageless Mordechai
Goodman, affectionately known as “Mordi”, has been in the league
since its inception in 1987. In fact, Mordi – who made aliya in 1986 from New
York to pursue a lifelong dream of living in Israel – attributes a successful
absorption into Israeli society to his involvement in the football
One of the biggest highlights of Mordi’s career was the 12-0
undefeated championship season of 1993. As a result of that victory, Mordi was
named The Jerusalem Post’s 1993 “In- Jerusalem athlete of the year.”
game ball, which is now completely deflated, and the enormous trophy from that
perfect season are proudly on display at Mordi’s pizza shop.
winning the title was a highlight, it wasn’t the only one in Mordi’s 25-plus
The most special moments of Mordi’s career began in the
early 2000s, when Mordi started to play the game that he loves, in the country
that he loves, alongside several of his sons, who were finally old enough to
join the men’s league.
Mordi took great pride while standing back in the
pocket and completing pass after pass to his sons Shimon and Yosef, who were
gifted players from the second they stepped on the field.
Efrat has not (yet) won another championship in the past 17 years, the team has
posted a winning record every single year since Mordi’s children began playing
for the squad.
However, tragedy struck the Goodman family – as well as
the entire AFI community – in February 2006, when Yosef, a 21-year-old IDF
soldier from the elite Maglan unit, was killed in a parachute training accident
south of Ashdod.
Yosef died a hero that day, because when his parachute
became entangled with that of his commander’s, Yosef’s altruism took over as he
cut the ropes of the chute saving his commander’s life while plummeting to his
I’ll never forget the sadness surrounding Yosef’s funeral as
literally thousands of his family members, friends, former teachers, AFI
teammates, and fellow soldiers packed into Efrat’s main synagogue to pay their
respects to this young hero who had touched so many lives.
I remember the
pained look on Mordi’s and his wife Ann’s faces as they were going through a
calamity that no parent should ever have to experience.
One of the first
things Mordi did after seven days of sitting shiva for Yosef was to return to
Kraft Family Stadium on a cold Saturday night in order to serve as the honorary
captain and throw out the first ball for that night’s playoff
Mordi delivered an emotional offthe- cuff speech to the players
and fans assembled at the stadium discussing how special his son Yosef was, and
how much he loved playing football, especially teaching young children from his
neighborhood the game.
Not a single eye was dry while Mordi delivered his
That very night, AFI co-founders Steve Leibowitz and Danny
Gewirtz appropriately decided to name the newly-formed AFI High School League in
Yosef’s memory, as it was Yosef who almost singlehandedly organized the high
school division as a preparatory league for the next generation of men’s
Though Yosef may be gone, he will never be forgotten – for what
he accomplished on the field, but more importantly for what he accomplished off
On a recent Saturday night, with several of his younger sons now
proudly wearing the Pizzeria Efrat purple uniforms, Mordi takes the field
following an Efrat touchdown to carry out his quarterback duties on the extra
Despite being by far the oldest player on the field, Mordi calls
“hike” in his distinctive voice and zips a bullet pass towards an open receiver.
The receiver catches the ball cleanly in the endzone, converting the
After all these years, Mordi’s still got it.
whether Pizzeria Efrat wins or loses against Big Blue this weekend, one thing is
for sure. The ageless Mordechai Goodman will be on the field with a smile on his
face, playing the game that he loves, in the country that he loves and for which
he has already made the ultimate sacrifice.Hasten, a long-time player in
the AFI, is a proud former teammate of Mordechi Goodman and his son Yosef, of
blessed memory. This week marked Yosef’s fifth Yahrtziet