Cityfront: Bowled over in the Jerusalem Forest

The Jerusalem Lawn Bowling Club is a hidden enclave of Anglo culture.

Bowling 248.88 (photo credit: )
Bowling 248.88
(photo credit: )
As the fading sun leaks through trees of the Jerusalem Forest and dapples the grass with patches of light, the Jerusalem lawn bowlers, clad in white from head to toe, wait for all their team members to arrive. Nestled in the lush, leafy setting behind the Tsippori Center, the members of the Jerusalem Lawn Bowling Club prepare for the first segment of the Mayor's Cup in which the Jerusalem team will compete against five visiting teams - from Ra'anana, Savyon, Ramat Gan, Kiryat Ono and Netanya. The Mayor's Cup is an annual round-robin style tournament of four weekly games that began on June 8 and will culminate in a celebration on June 29, where the winners will be awarded prizes. Lawn bowling is most popular in Australia, New Zealand, Britain and South Africa. The sport has a long history. Its origins can be traced to the Southampton Old Bowling Green in England, where people started playing bowls in 1299 during the reign of King Edward I. Lawn bowling was brought to Israel by immigrants from the Commonwealth countries. The club's treasurer, Julie Hadar, who moved to Israel from South Africa in the 1970s, explains that the original members of the club were generally of English and South African descent, but today "the club has 50 members from all walks of life who are mainly Hebrew-speaking Israelis." Tony Babot, the captain of the Jerusalem team who also plays in a competitive league, describes some of the cultural complexities of transporting a sport to a new home. "Our Israeli bowlers," he says, "do not like the rigid, by-the-book rules that exist in South Africa and England. They are more relaxed about the game, which makes my job a little harder because I have to keep reminding them of the rules. Etiquette makes the game more pleasant for everyone." The Hebrew-speaking bowlers do not like to play in teams of four, which is the typical arrangement in lawn bowling. "They like to play in threes because then each person gets another turn," Babot says. These changes are welcomed at the Jerusalem club because the members play bowls more for social reasons than competitive ones. The Jerusalem lawn bowlers try to make the game accessible even to those who would not typically be able to play. Along with many other clubs around the country, the Jerusalem club hosts a volunteer-based program for blind bowlers every Thursday. The volunteer coaches tie a horizontal string from one end of the green to another, which the blind bowlers use as a reference point. The coach will then say, "You delivered your bowl to 2:00 and 3 meters away from the kitty." By feeling the string, the bowler can place himself in a strategic position for his next bowl. Standing directly in line with where their bowl should roll, the coaches also direct the bowlers with their voice. "They cannot see it, but they can tell where they deliver their bowls. Sometimes, when we make mistakes in describing the positions to them, they correct us," says volunteer Isaac Blatt. Ephraim Levy, who became blind at the age of 62, has bowled for more than 20 years and plays in the Kiryat Ono league for blind bowlers. "We are very independent, just like seeing people. It's not about seeing or not seeing. If a person has a desire, he can do anything," says Levy . Yefet Kahalany, who has been blind since the age of three, did not know anything about lawn bowling before he started going to the Jerusalem club 10 years ago. "Regular people don't think we can do anything, but [Ephraim and I] have both worked. I was a telephone operator for many years and Ephraim was a captain in the War of Independence. We have families and good lives. I have 18 grandchildren," he says proudly. "We even play bridge with Braille cards, and some of us are very good." The desire for a lawn bowling club in Jerusalem was put into action in the early 1980s by Dr. Jack Karpas, Joe Cohen and Dr. Barney Kaplan, among others. The construction of the club was a long and expensive process because the land the club received from the municipality was very uneven. Leveling the land took almost a decade before the club could finally open in 1989. However, the Jerusalem bowlers are not yet free of their terrain anxieties. Due to the difficulty of the original leveling project, the right-hand corner of the green is sinking and must be leveled every year to ensure that the bowls roll by dint of the player's strength and not the downward slant of the green. The club recently installed overhead lights to enable members to play at night and avoid the heat of the day. This is just one of the many expenditures that the the club administrators have to worry about. "Everything we do is expensive," says Babot. Due to its costly upkeep, the club does not yet have an actual clubhouse. The current "clubhouse" is set up in a temporary trailer, which Hadar affectionately calls "the hovel." Plans to build a clubhouse have been discussed, but the economic climate makes it difficult to bring these plans to fruition. The club receives funds from annual membership fees, which are NIS 1,400 per person with a discount for couples. Members pay an additional NIS 12 per game, which includes a snack of tea and cookies.