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Hakoah back in play — after 73 years

Local soccer team revives historic Viennese sport club

 
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Sport Club Hakoah of Bergen County trounced its opponents in its most recent outing. The team’s name memorializes the famed Austrian national championship team of 1925-26, forced off the field for good by the Nazis in 1938. Courtesy Ron Glickman

On a recent Sunday night, with darkness all around, a rectangle of bright light illuminated a soccer field, and a small bit of Jewish sports history was replayed as Sport Club Hakoah of Bergen County trounced its opponents, 6-2.

The victory, at the Fairleigh Dickinson University field in Teaneck, was the second in a row for Hakoah, showing that the new team was beginning to gel, said its general manager, Ron Glickman.

More important, the new team honored its namesake, Sport Club Hakoah Wien, which formed in 1909 to give Jewish men in Vienna the chance to participate in high-level sports. The team was Austrian national champion in 1925-26.

The Bergen team is the brainchild of Glickman, who shares managerial and playing duties with his brother, Dov.

The Vienna team built a solid record of wins, taking their league in the 1919-20 season. As the team’s history notes, success brought an invitation to an exhibition series with West Ham of England.

Before a crowd of 40,000, Hakoah battled to a 1-1 draw with West Ham in their home game. Then, in England, it beat Ham 5-1, said to be the first time a foreign club defeated an English team on English soil.

Two seasons later, Hakoah fought its way to the Austrian championship. In a dramatic final game, the goalie, Alexander Fabian, injured a shoulder with the score at 2-2. With his arm in a sling but his legs working fine, he switched to offense, booted a weak shot that deflected off a defender, and scored the winning goal.

A Hakoah tour of the United States in 1926 included a game in the Polo Grounds in Manhattan (it was then the home of both New York Giants teams —baseball and football) before a crowd of 46,000. Warmed by Jewish fans in New York and less anti-Semitism than in Europe, many players signed up with U.S. clubs, taking a toll on Hakoah’s roster. Nazi oppression ended the original team in 1938.

For Glickman, 28, continuing the Hakoah legacy was a dream since he was 17, he said, when he visited the Diaspora Museum in Israel with his father. His great-grandfather saw the original Hakoah play in the Polo Grounds all those decades ago. “I was a soccer fanatic, but I didn’t know our people had such a big part in it,” he said.

Two years ago, Glickman canvassed college team rosters for potential players, contacted friends from Teaneck High School, where he was on the soccer team, and posted flyers in various towns.

The team came together this year and now stands at 20 registered players, he said. The rebuilt Hakoah club competes in the North Jersey Soccer League, which is accredited by the United States Soccer Association. Most of the players are Jewish, said Glickman, coming from Teaneck, Tenafly, Closter, Union City, South Orange, and New York.

The team jersey displays a Star of David and the words SC Hakoah. The SC stands for sport club, and Glickman noted that the original club encompassed several sports, notably swimming, and he hopes the Bergen club will, too.

Speaking of last Sunday’s victory over Emerald, which followed a victory in the game before, Glickman said “it was long overdue.” The players, in their first season, are beginning to click as a team, and “nobody wants to lose momentum,” he said. The team record for the season to date is three wins and four losses.

Although the team has a strong Jewish identity, it also has a multinational flavor. At the game on the FDU field, cheers rang out as Saeed Suleman-Baba, born in Ghana but raised in Saudi Arabia, scored for Hakoah. He was assisted by Mathieu Gouverneur of France.

Asked if the fact that a Muslim who hails from Saudi Arabia is playing for a Jewish team raises any eyebrows, Suleman-Baba said no. “Nothing wrong with that, it’s soccer,” he said.

“We really are a melting pot,” Glickman said, noting languages spoken by team members include Russian, Arabic, Norwegian, Spanish, French, Swedish, and, of course, Hebrew and English. Glickman also speaks Hebrew, learning from his U.S.-born parents and having served in the Israeli army after high school.

One of the Hebrew speakers is Ofir Singal, an Israeli who played in Jerusalem for the professional team Hapoel. “It’s great to play on a Jewish team, with great guys. It’s fun,” he said.

Singal is 45 but says he has no trouble keeping up with the younger players. “I run all the time,” he said. “It’s no problem at all.”

For the players, soccer transcends ethnic boundaries, and for Bergen Hakoah, Jews, Christians, and Muslims play together for the common goal, to win games, said Narel Nahar of Tenafly, team captain.

“It’s a great opportunity to show the community that many religions can play together as one team,” said Nahar, who played professionally in Israel. “As a Jew and an Israeli, it’s very emotional to be able to represent the Jewish community in Bergen County,” he said.

Jonah Silk, 26, found playing for Hakoah a meaningful Jewish experience. “Initially, I missed playing soccer,” said Silk, who played for his alma mater Drew University.

“As I learned more, it fueled a desire to get in touch with my Jewish roots. It became far more significant,” said the South Orange resident. “It feels like you’re part of something special.”

The team relies on sponsors, including El Al, Always Travel of Paramus, and Data Life, a software company.

The next game is scheduled for this Sunday against Real Wyckoff, in Wyckoff. [Visit bergenhakoah.com, www.facebook.com/bergenhakoah, or on Twitter at @bergenhakoah for details.]

 
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A rabbi hasn’t walked into the bar ... yet

It’s not every day that a liquor license comes up for sale in Teaneck. (State licensing laws limit the number of licenses in a formula based on a town’s population.)

So when Jonathan Gellis heard that the owner of Vinny O’s in Teaneck was looking to sell the establishment, including the license, after 28 years behind the bar, he realized that only one of the more than 20 kosher restaurants in Teaneck could sell alcohol.

That seemed to be an opportunity.

Mr. Gellis is a stockbroker by day. He’s used to working in a regulated business — and the alcohol business in New Jersey is highly regulated.

Mr. Gellis grew up in Teaneck; his parents moved the family here from Brooklyn in 1975, back when the town had only one kosher restaurant. His four children attend Yeshivat Noam and the Frisch School, and he serves on the board of both institutions. He also is president of Congregation Keter Torah.

 

Where greatness lies

A memorial to Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

On July 3, 5 Tammuz, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi died. He was 89.

He inspired tens of thousands of people directly — and indirectly he inspired millions more, people who have yet to discover that the spiritual approaches they hold dear were invented and graciously shared by him.

Reb Zalman was prodigiously influential over many decades, but he was not proportionately famous. He was not always given credit for his vast learning or for his astonishing array of contributions. And he was okay with that.

The first time I saw Reb Zalman, he was on the bimah of an auditorium that held 2,000 people. His face beamed love at the congregation. I had been leading another High Holiday service, and I was able to join his congregation for the last few minutes of Rosh Hashanah morning.

 

Paying it forward

Remembering Gabby Reuveni’s generous spirit

Just a glance at the web page created in memory of Gabby Reuveni of Paramus gives some indication of the number of people she touched and — through the ongoing efforts of her family — she continues to touch.

Killed two years ago in Pennsylvania by a driver who swerved onto the shoulder of the road, where she was running, Gabby, who was 20, was “an extremely aware and kind person,” her mother, Jacqueline Reuveni, said. “We’re continuing her legacy.”

The family has undertaken both public and private “acts of kindness,” she said, from endowing scholarships to meeting local families’ medical bills.

According to her father, Michael Reuveni, Gabby — then a student at Washington University in St. Louis and a member of the school’s track team — was a victim of vehicular homicide.

 

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The good is oft interred with their bones.”

Is there any way to turn that around? To make any miniscule amount of good come out of great evil?

The Holocaust as living memory soon will flicker out. Survivors who can tell their stories are growing old. Soon it will be just images, photographs, videos, written and spoken words.

The Holocaust was pure evil, the unleashing of the worst human fears and instincts. There was nothing at all good about it. But in a soul-affirming act of reversal, it now is possible, almost 70 years after it ended, to use it to teach students how to become better people.

The first steps in that process are never to forget it, to honor its victims, and to listen to its survivors.

 

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Rabbi Kirshner, religious leader of Temple Emanu-El in Closter, who this year spent his fifth summer at Hartman, said that “ironically, the topic was war and peace in Jewish texts. Little did we know it would be so relevant.

“A lot of rabbis in the diaspora talk about Israel from a distance,” he said. “But to be there, to attend the funerals of the three boys” — Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah, whose abduction and murder were the catalyst for the ongoing situation in Israel and Gaza — “to be familiar with bomb shelters,” makes a big difference.

 

‘It’s a communal responsibility’

The sages say that before a Jewish community builds a synagogue or buys a Torah, it should build a mikvah, the ritual bath used to observe laws of family purity and complete conversions.

The Teaneck mikvah on Windsor Road, next to Temple Emeth, was built in the 1970s, and the township’s mikvah association opened a second ritual bath this spring. Set across the street from the Jewish Center of Teaneck, it is positioned to better serve families on the south side of town. The two mikvaot serve about 1,000 people each month, but rely solely on donations to cover operating costs. Now, many of Teaneck’s Orthodox synagogues are creating a new kehilla fund fee in their membership dues to help support the mikvah.

“Certain things are communal responsibilities,” said Michael Rogovin, president of Teaneck’s Netivot Shalom. “The eruv and the mivkah are really critical to our functioning as an Orthodox community.”

 
 
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