Sporting philanthropy: IFCJ & Larry Tanenbaum's impact on Hapoel Jerusalem

Yael Eckstein and Larry Tanenbaum. (photo credit: IFCJ 2023)
Yael Eckstein and Larry Tanenbaum.
(photo credit: IFCJ 2023)

It’s not always easy to combine your passion for one field with your passion for doing good for others – but well-known Canadian business leader and philanthropist Larry Tanenbaum found a way.

To say sports are a big part of Larry Tanenbaum’s life is an understatement. He is chairman of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, Chairman of the National Basketball Association Board of Governors, and a Governor and member of the Executive Committee of the National Hockey League and Major League Soccer. He’s also a Hockey Hall of Fame Board member in Toronto, Ontario. These and many other accomplishments make him an integral figure in Canadian sports.

Tanenbaum, a staunch supporter of Israel, first became aware of the Hapoel Jerusalem soccer club through the then-mayor of Jerusalem and Israel’s current Minister of the Economy, Nir Barkat. The soccer program is supported by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews of Canada (IFCJ Canada). 

“[Barkat] approached us with the idea of taking a stake in the ownership of the soccer club, as it was experiencing financial difficulties,” Tanenbaum said. “I investigated and was enthused by what I discovered – a community-based and owned club by and for its members.” Tanenbaum has supported the soccer club for years and partnered with IFCJ Canada in 2021 to double the impact.

As a strong show of his love of the game and support for children’s access to playing sports, Tanenbaum has recently donated over half a million dollars Canadian towards the soccer program, with IFCJ Canada matching these gifts. Together, Tanenbaum and IFCJ Canada have provided CAD $1.1 million in partnership to help ensure that Hapoel Jerusalem is able to increase the number of participants and serve Israel’s at-risk youth. This contribution is particularly significant considering that according to Israel’s National Insurance Institute January 2023 Poverty and Inequality Report, approximately 1 in 3 children in Israel live below the poverty line. 

For Tanenbaum, sports is much more than entertainment – it is a way to transform lives for the better, which is one of the reasons he felt so drawn to Hapoel Jerusalem. “One of the important undertakings of the Hapoel soccer program is to harness the energy and spirit present in all young people and develop it into sportsmanship, good health, and leadership skills,” he says. “I was interested in being supportive of a club owned by its fans, and that also had at its foundation a set of programs that it pursued to benefit the children of the community where it was based. I truly believe that sports unites us, inspires us, and offers all people a path toward becoming their best selves.”

Hapoel Jerusalem is committed to community building and enhancing the lives of Jerusalem youth–helping them find their best selves. In all, 1,200 children and youth from all walks of life in Jerusalem and its vicinity take part in its projects, which emphasize sports to instill values of tolerance, equality, and coexistence. Studies have shown that sports-based programming for youth offers physical benefits and can also improve children’s socio-emotional health, reducing anxiety and depression. Additionally, sports engagement can potentially open pathways to higher education scholarships, providing life-changing opportunities for children from low-income families.

Hapoel Katamon. Credit: IFCJ 2023
Hapoel Katamon. Credit: IFCJ 2023

These projects provide equipment, transportation, and life skills for youth-at-risk living in special facilities away from home, bring together Jewish and Arab youth, and facilitate unique sessions for youth and adults with disabilities. Such initiatives are crucial in Israel, where physical inactivity is a concern. The World Health Organization’s 2020 Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health found that only 35% of boys and 23% of girls meet the WHO’s guidelines for physical activity.

There are few barriers to entry into the program – no tryouts are required. Beneficiaries include boys and girls ages 10-14. Staff work to identify the children in greatest need who will benefit most from the program. In this way, Hapoel Jerusalem plays a vitally important role in teaching vulnerable children self-discipline and the value of setting goals and aids in building bridges between youth who live close to one another yet have minimal exposure to each other. A 2017 study by the United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace also found that extracurricular programming is a proven crime prevention strategy, keeping youth away from the potentially destructive influences of life on the streets.

“Programs like Hapoel are so important,” said Yael Eckstein, president of IFCJ. “We are providing these children, who face many challenges, with the tools they need to succeed and ultimately strengthen Jerusalem. Hapoel allows them to channel their energy in a positive, productive direction. We’re deeply grateful to Mr. Tanenbaum for partnering with us and making it possible for all these young people to have a chance at a better life. I’ve also seen and spoken to the kids, and I know they feel the same!”

For Tanenbaum, supporting Hapoel Jerusalem is more than just a chance to be involved in something he loves – it’s a chance to do good for a country he loves: Israel. “Our communities share a meaningful and rich tradition, rooted in a shared history but entrenched in shared values and commitment to a better world,” Tanenbaum said. “Israel is a beacon of hope and a light unto the nations. We are delighted to join with [IFCJ Canada] to do a small part to illuminate that light just a little bit more.”

This article was written in cooperation with IFCJ Canada