Local Lacrosse Players Shoot for Israel’s Women’s Team

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Three women from this area hope to represent Israel in the 2015 European Lacrosse Championships this summer. 

 

When Jessica Rothstein heads to Israel on Feb. 1 to tryout for the Israeli women’s national lacrosse team, she will be taking a leap of faith in more ways than one.

Not only will she be moving across the ocean to a country that she's never even visited before, she'll also be passing up a promotion at her job as an engineering consultant for an industrial gas company. And she isn't even assured of a spot on the team.


“I guess I just went for it; I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go to Israel — I’ve never been and I love to travel," said Rothstein, 23, who currently lives in Manayunk.

In order to qualify for the Israeli team, Rothstein will have to impress the coaches at the February tryout and gain citizenship by making aliyah to Israel. If all goes according to plan, she will spend about six months training with the team and doing volunteer outreach for the Israeli Lacrosse Association. Then she would be eligible to join the team in the 2015 European Lacrosse Championships, which is slated to take place in Nymburk, Czech Republic, from Aug. 6 to 16.

Though Rothstein doesn't have any family in Israel, she'll at least have some other Philadelphians to connect with on the field. She's one of at least three women from this area with hopes of representing Israel at the European championships. 

Lacrosse is a newer addition to the competitive sports field in Israel, driven in large part by Scott Neiss, a native of Long Island, N.Y., who founded the Israel Lacrosse Association in 2012 and helped the sport earn official recognition from the country’s Culture and Sport MinistryThe men's and women's national teams both competed for the first time in summer 2012. Last year, the men's team made waves at the 2014 World Lacrosse Championships hosted near Denver, with co-captains and former Philadelphians Matthew Cherry and Reuven Dressler leading a surprising run all the way to the quarterfinals. 

The women's team is currently ranked eighth in the world, which is where they finished in the 2013 World Cup that took place in Ontario, Canada, Neiss said in an email interview. He added that this summer is the first European Championship event for which the women's team has ever qualified. 

Until now, a total of nine Philadelphians have played for the men's and women's teams combined, Neiss said, adding that he doesn't think that's a coincidence.
 
"Philadelphia is a strong hotbed for the sport of lacrosse, and there's a large Jewish population," he said. "We've been very lucky to have so many Philadelphia-area players who have found their way to Israel — either for lacrosse or other reasons."
 
In Rothstein's case, the head coach for Israel's women's team, Kelsey MacDonald, had contacted coach Ali Fisher at Lafayette University, where Rothstein starred as an attacker, in search of talented Jewish players who might be interested in competing for Israel. Fisher came up with Rothstein, who had graduated in the summer of 2014 and has been working as an engineer since then. 

“It’s actually pretty cool because I was never Bat Mitzvahed, so I’m not too familiar with the Jewish or the Israeli culture,” the Main Line native said, noting that she will be taking Hebrew lessons. “I’ll really get to immerse myself in that experience.”

Rothstein built her reputation as a goal scorer while starting as a freshman on Lower Merion High School’s varsity team before switching to  Harriton High School, where she started for three years.

The Israeli team previously featured Sara Greenberg, 27, a Harvard University graduate student who grew up in Center City and Gladwyne, and played lacrosse from middle school through college. Like Rothstein, she is a candidate to make this year's team, but her participation is contingent upon her residency. Although she has spent a lot of time in Israel over the last few years, she would need to make the move yearround in order to play in the upcoming tournament, according to Neiss.
 
Israel allows a certain number of Jewish Americans to compete on its teams in World Cup events, but the national policy only permits Israeli players to compete in European events. That means the lacrosse players must be both residents and citizens of Israel to compete in the European championships, Neiss said.

Greenberg told the Exponent via email that she is planning to move to Israel this summer. She is looking for a job there and hopes to compete with the team in the European championships, she said.

Another strong candidate to make the team is Emily Brodsky, a 22-year-old from Bryn Mawr who relocated to Israel in September after graduating from Harrison College in Indianapolis, Ind., where she played lacrosse for four years. Brodsky is currently working as the event coordinator for the Israel Lacrosse Association and also helps to recruit and coach for the country's youth team.

Israeli girls "want to be fit and they want to be active but they're just not used to the competition and the difference between being on a team and just working out," Brodsky said.  "A lot of the girls know they are going to the army when they turn 18, and they're just not that interested in playing team sports — it's just a completely different culture."

But, she added, "they want to hang out with the American coaches and we teach them the sport."

The final team roster, which will include about 18 players, won't be announced until March. 

Rothstein is optimistic that she'll end up being one of those players and said she doesn’t have any regrets about having to make aliyah to do it. She's already thinking about plans to visit a close friend studying at Tel Aviv University once she settles into her new home in Ashkelon, a coastal city in Israel’s southern region where the national team will begin training up to four times a week starting next month. 

“It was a big decision, but it was an easy decision,” Rothstein said. It will be “kind of cool to be a citizen of two countries, let alone a country that is so important to my mom and my mom’s family.”

Ultimately, she said, her choice to make the move and join the Israeli team was guided by her love of lacrosse.

“It’s not as much lacrosse as the sport’s team atmosphere,” explained Rothstein, who also plays softball, basketball and soccer. “Lacrosse just happens to be the sport I’m best at that can get me that experience. There’s something about being on the field with 10 or 11 other people" and "helping them succeed and, in turn, all be succeeding. There’s something really cool about that that I’m just not done with yet.”

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