Football builds bridges from US to Israel

“For players in the states, football is their job; Here, football players have jobs during the day, but football is their love.”

Israel Football League (photo credit: RICK BLUMSACK,Courtesy)
Israel Football League
(photo credit: RICK BLUMSACK,Courtesy)
There are four aspects of life that New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft values most – family, faith, football and philanthropy.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s event Touchdown in Israel: Mission of Excellence at Kraft Stadium in Jerusalem on Sunday connected all of these dots for Kraft, who played a large role in the development of the Israel Football League.
In addition to Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer and the executive director of the Hall of Fame David Baker, Kraft was joined by 19 “Gold Jackets” – National Football League players who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame.
More than 700 football fans and players alike gathered not only to get autographs and take selfies with their favorite players, but to learn about the importance of the relationship between football, Israel and the United States.
Following in tradition of American football games, the event started off with the playing of the Star Spangled Banner, followed by Hatikva.
Nowhere else in the world could these two national anthems play right after each other, Kraft said.
The Israeli men’s and women’s national flag football teams then demonstrated their skills in a scrimmage against each other on the field.
Former University of Michigan player and quarterback of the flag and tackle teams Alex Swieca said the main differences between football in America and Israel are the levels of play, commitment and the environment surrounding football.
“For players in the states, football is their job,” Swieca said. “Here, football players have jobs during the day, but football is their love.”
Swieca said it was incredible to represent Michigan, but now, he wants to win for Israel.
However, winning for Israel doesn’t only happen on the football field.
Israeli Ambassador to the US and former Israel Football League quarterback Ron Dermer compared his role as ambassador in Washington D.C to his role as quarterback.
“My job now is to win games in America by ensuring support for Israel, and help Israel score a lot of points in America. But a quarterback can’t do it alone.”
Dermer said. “They need their team to win. When Israel wins, America wins, because Israel and America are both stronger when standing together.”
Former tackle of the San Diego Chargers Ron Mix, who was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1979, said he connected to the Land of Israel on a deeper level by helping his Christian teammates experience the country, both physically and spiritually.
“I don’t think football can teach Israel anything,” Mix said, “but Israel can teach us about a greater love for country, duty to one’s homeland and sacrifice for the greater good.”
Kraft said the motivation to bring the “Gold Jackets” to Israel extended beyond the game of football. “This isn’t a business trip,” Kraft said, “it’s something about spirituality.”