By: Ilya Shtulman
Do you have a home field where you practice or play regularly?
We’ve had most of our friendly matches at Ramp Playground, and on weekends, practice at Penn Park.
What made you interested in participating in the Unity Cup?
It is an amazing tournament to followers of soccer, both playing and watching. The fact that the city provides for hundreds of players to come and play while representing their country is amazing. I have heard of many tournaments around the world, but never like this one.
What was your favorite moment from last year’s tournament?
Going to Ramp Playground and watching Brazil vs. Ukraine. With many fans and players, it looked like much more than just a game of amateur soccer players.
How did your team come together?
Through word of mouth, Facebook, and people bringing their friends along.
Can you tell us a bit about the rest of your team?
Our team perfectly represents the Jewish community of Philadelphia and is a microcosm of the State of Israel. We have American Jews, Irsaeli Jews, and Russian Jews. We vary is age from 19 to mid-40s, all with the goal of playing in blue and white and representing the state of Israel. I like to say, we are the second Israel National Team in the world.
What does soccer mean to your community?
In Israel, soccer is the most popular sport. Unfortunately, the National Team has not qualified for a major tournament since 1970. We really are the only other Israeli in the world that represents the colors and the country. All of the players on the team follow soccer in some degree and love it, and are happy to take part in the Unity Cup for a second year.
How do you think soccer in general (and the Unity Cup in particular) promotes inclusivity?
This tournament couldn’t come at a better time: where else in the world would Team Israel play Team Togo or Vietnam in a friendly match? It really fosters the idea that we are all one community in the city, and through this tournament, Mayor Kenney was able to bring communities who normally never cross paths together.
Also, Philadelphia as a city is perfect for this tournament; it’s not as big as New York where the logistics would be way more difficult, but it’s big enough with many immigrant groups.
What places or groups in Philadelphia would you recommend to someone if they wanted to learn more about the culture of the country your team represents?
Israeli food is really Middle Eastern food– any place that serves those dishes would be great.
Zahav (237 St James Pl.), in the Society Hill area, is a very popular restaurant with an award-winning chef. Judah’s Grill (9311 Krewstown Rd.) in Northeast Philly is another great sport.
Israel is a country of immigrants and communities who at one time or another came back to Israel after thousands of years living in exile. These people brought the flavors and culinary arts of their adopted states with them. So if you are walking on a street in Tel Aviv, you may see restaurants that serve Yemenite, Russian, and Ethiopian foods.
What’s one thing you wish more people knew about your team’s country?
I wish people knew that Israel is a completely different state than what it is portrayed in the media. This country has accomplished amazing feats in technology, medicine, science, and more in 70 years.
Israel’s population includes people of all religions and ethnic identities, and hosts one of the largest LGBTQ parades in the world. The state is the center of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity: the history that you are able to witness is amazing. You can lay on the beach in Tel Aviv one day, hike in the mountains the next day, and explore the Old city of Jerusalem on the third day.