Playing for Israel in the women’s open final at the European Lacrosse Championships five weeks ago, Mill Valley’s Taylor Roy could hear the shouts from the sidelines from the Israeli men’s team:
“Am yisrael chai!” (the people of Israel live!) and “Yala Israel!” (let’s go Israel!).
The women’s squad — playing in the festival, or exhibition, portion of the tournament — needed all the support it could get, trailing a team of U.S. players by four goals. But Israel, making its first foray into international women’s lacrosse, stormed back and won 8-7 in overtime to claim the title.
“Being able to win something for Israel was so special and it shows that there’s so much potential for Israeli lacrosse,” said Roy, 21, a college player and a fifth-generation confirmand at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco.
The victory came in Amsterdam during the European Lacrosse Championships, which featured 17 men’s teams and 12 women’s teams in two elite brackets. The Israeli men’s team, unranked in world lacrosse going into the tournament, turned some heads with an eighth-place finish.
The Israeli women’s squad, meanwhile, played in the festival portion of the tournament, which was open to any team that wanted to sign up. More importantly for Israel, there were no residency restrictions (in the regular tournament, teams could have no more than four non-citizens on its roster).
Because women’s lacrosse isn’t a big sport in the Middle East, Israel took advantage by stocking its roster with players from North America. Roy, who began playing lacrosse in second grade with Southern Marin Lacrosse, was the only player from the West Coast on the team. She played a handful of games two seasons ago as a freshman at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, then sat out last year due to health issues and is hoping to play again in the 2013 season.
Having never been to Israel before, Roy ended up representing Israel thanks to her lacrosse experience — and serendipity.
Before leaving on a Birthright Israel trip this summer, Roy contacted the nonprofit Israel Lacrosse in search of an internship that could enable her to stay in Israel after her 10-day trip ended. But Israel Lacrosse officials surprised Roy when they took stock of her experience and invited her to play on the women’s festival team. Roy quickly accepted the invitation.
On the Birthright trip, Roy had some meaningful experiences — the energy of Jerusalem made an impression on her and she particularly enjoyed hiking the Golan Heights.
“Birthright really made me appreciate my heritage and where the Jewish and Israeli people have come from,” she said.
Once the trip ended, Roy didn’t have any downtime. The lacrosse tournament began in Amsterdam the very next day. Despite having only a few last-minute practices
together as a full team, things went well.
“After the first few games we all just seemed to connect,” said Roy, who plays the attack position. “It was the first time we had all played on a team where every single person was Jewish. It was pretty unreal.”
While in Amsterdam, Israel’s three teams (women’s festival, men’s festival and the men’s tournament) stayed in a camping site outside Amsterdam. They slept in small cabins and cooked meals together, and quickly became supportive of one another — watching each other’s games as much as they could.
“It was nice to get to know all these other people who are involved in this program because it shows how much they love lacrosse and care about their heritage,” Roy said.
After the tournament, team members returned to Israel to lead lacrosse clinics. They spent nearly two weeks just outside Tel Aviv working with a cross-section of Israeli children, including those from underprivileged areas.
In particular, Roy, who has taught lacrosse for the past five years, thought it was nice teaching children north of Tel Aviv who mostly had never heard of lacrosse.
“Many of the kids didn’t know what lacrosse was, but they were very interested and eager,” she said. “There are a lot of people in Israel trying to learn the sport. I think that with American influence this sport will become so much greater.”