Israel arrivals: A Zionist home

If you ask Hoffman why they returned after 22 fulfilling years in America, he gives a definitive two-word answer: “Our children.”

FISHING IN Key West. (Courtes (photo credit: Courtesy)
FISHING IN Key West. (Courtes
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Jay Hoffman first made aliyah in 1992, after earning his PhD in applied physiology at the University of Connecticut. He served in the IDF as a research officer in the combat fitness unit and then commanded the Israel Air Force Physiological Unit, finishing with the rank of major.
In 1997, the former professional football player returned to the United States and built a successful career in sports science.
Among many other accomplishments, he was a professor and department chair of the sport and exercise science programs at the University of Central Florida and at The College of New Jersey. He was also the sports science adviser to Major League Baseball strength coaches.
In 2019, Hoffman and his Israeli-born wife, Yaffa, moved back to Israel when he accepted a full professorship in Ariel University’s Department of Molecular Biology.
If you ask Hoffman why they returned after 22 fulfilling years in America, he gives a definitive two-word answer: “Our children.”
“We felt the importance of having a Zionist home,” he says. “I went back to the States in 1997 for a number of reasons, but the importance of contributing to the Jewish state never left me.”
In truth, he continued contributing to the state over those two decades. Keeping an apartment in Israel, he voluntarily returned for army reserve duty and lent his expertise to workshops and conferences throughout the country.
Taking a page from their father’s playbook, the Hoffmans’ two sons chose to serve in the IDF after college. Mattan, 30, and Ariel, 28, remained in Israel and opened the Apex Sport Performance Center in Petah Tikva in 2015.
Their daughter, Raquel, 32, also returned to Israel and is now an Amazon team leader in Madrid. “We hope she’ll be relocated back here soon,” says Hoffman.
He traces his Zionist leanings to his childhood Hebrew School teacher, Rabbi Harry (Tzvi) Berkowitz, longtime head chaplain of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority. In celebration of his bar mitzvah, Hoffman’s parents took him to Israel a month after the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
“The tour guide took the young people aside and said, ‘We lost a generation in the war and it is up to you to replace it.’ That was a heavy burden, but it stayed with me. And when I went through officer’s training here in the 1990s, I realized he was right: Most of the casualties in the Yom Kippur War were 18- and 19-year-old soldiers,” says Hoffman. “It wasn’t just being Jewish that brought me to Israel; it was to be part of this mission to defend the homeland.”
Growing up in Brooklyn, Hoffman played football in high school and at St. John’s University. Upon graduation in 1983, Hoffman signed a contract with the New York Jets. He was released during training camp, but was a property of the New Jersey Generals, a professional United States Football League (USFL) team owned by Donald Trump. He was traded to the USFL Tampa Bay Bandits and finished his career with the Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League.
“I was a pre-med student at St. John’s, so every time I got released by a team I went to medical school and then when I got signed to another team I dropped out,” he relates.
“Back in the early 1980s, football was a financial head start in life. My salary in 1983 was $45,000; on the Eagles it was $50,000. Guys who played in my era all had to prepare for a career after football.”
Following his stint with the Eagles, Hoffman dropped out of medical school permanently. “I wasn’t ready to make the transition from professional athlete to medical student. In addition, I was interested in going to Israel and joining the army.”
He met Yaffa Cohen, his future wife, at a party given by the Israeli military consultant to the Chuck Norris movie Delta Force filmed in Israel, in which Hoffman acted a small speaking role.
The movie’s director and co-producer, Menahem Golan, tried to convince Hoffman to go to Hollywood when he returned to the US. But a disagreement over who was to pay for the ticket, and his upcoming marriage, resulted in Hoffman feeling that it was time “to get serious about life.”
On his trip back home, he met someone who was a sports scientist. “I’d never heard of it before, but I decided that would be my career.”
While earning his PhD and before his five initial years in Israel, Hoffman was a coach for the University of Connecticut football team and was the strength and conditioning coach for the athletic department.
During the 22 years when he was back in the US, until a few months ago, Hoffman served as sports science consultant for professional teams including Orlando Magic (basketball); Texas Rangers, Cincinnati Reds, Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers (baseball); and Dallas Stars (hockey).
He has published more than 325 scientific articles and book chapters and has written 10 books. His most recent book is titled Dietary Supplementation in Sport and Exercise. Hoffman has lectured at about 575 national and international conferences and meetings.
“I’m also a licensed private pilot,” he says. “Seeing Israel from 2,000 feet puts an amazing perspective on how beautiful this country is.”
In addition to his new post at Ariel University, Hoffman is head coach of the Israel National American Football Team.
“I’ve had the opportunity to do great things here,” he says. “I hope I can continue to contribute my experience from being a player, coach and sports scientist.”
Despite his impressive CV, Hoffman doesn’t hesitate when asked of which accomplishment he is most proud. “Having been an officer in the IDF,” he says.
“I’ve done a lot of interesting things in my life, but the best ones were those that helped other people. Most of my family tree ended in Auschwitz; our generation has to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”