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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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Laughing with Joan

I made Joan Rivers laugh.

Of course she made me laugh, like she did to millions of others through her decades-long, often unfiltered, and ever-funny career, but yes, I made Joan Rivers laugh.

At the time, I was working at the celebrity-obsessed New York Post, and as the features writer for its women’s section, I had reason to ring up the raspy-voiced, Brooklyn-born blonde for a quickie. I had to grab a quote for some story that I was writing. As I recall, the conversation had turned to food, a favorite subject of the Jewish woman on my end of the phone, and, apparently, of that Jewish woman on the other end as well. Joan told me that she just adored the creamed spinach served at the legendary Brooklyn restaurant, Peter Luger’s — a must-have accompaniment to its famous and robust steaks. Joan told me she would dine there with a hairdresser-to-the-stars, the late Kenneth Battelle. (She kept her physique petite with this practice: She never ate anything after 3 p.m. If she did find herself dining with someone, she popped Altoids to keep her mouth busy.)

 

Cookin’ it up!

Tales of a Teaneck kitchen prodigy

How did 12-year-old Eitan Bernath of Teaneck come to be on the Food Network’s popular cooking show “Chopped”?

“He’s always been curious and he likes science,” said his mother, Sabrina Bernath. “He thinks it’s cool to mix flavors and watch things rise. He also likes to make people happy,” she added, pointing out that he had just brought his friends a freshly baked batch of cinnabuns.

For Eitan, a student at Yavneh Academy in Paramus, cooking is more than just a hobby. Struggling for the right word, the fledgling chef — whose website, cookwithchefeitan.com, will launch this week — described his relationship with the culinary arts as a “passion.”

 

Policies are the best policy

Teaneck synagogue forum addresses child sexual abuse

Does your synagogue have policies in place to protect children from sexual abuse? Do your children’s schools and camps?

Such policies, Dr. Shira Berkovits told a meeting in Teaneck on Sunday night, can make a difference to children’s safety.

Dr. Berkovits is a consultant for the Department of Synagogue Services at the Orthodox Union, and she is developing a guide to preventing child sexual abuse in synagogues. She was speaking at Teaneck’s Congregation Rinat Yisrael, as part of a panel on preventing child sexual abuse co-sponsored by three other Teaneck Orthodox congregations: Netivot Shalom, Keter Torah, and Lubavitch of Bergen County.

 

RECENTLYADDED

Many ways to learn

Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey reboots its adult ed program

We don’t know much yet about the findings of the soon-to-be-released survey by the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, but there is one nugget that already has been made public.

Jewish adults hunger to know more. Their desire for Jewish learning continues to grow. Jewish educators and leaders know that to be true intuitively, and that understanding is borne out in the proliferation of programs and institutes around the area.

Until recently, the federation has fed that hunger with its Melton program. For years now, the Florence Melton program has brought its two-year, pluralistic, in-depth lessons to synagogue classrooms across the region. But nothing lasts forever, and the Melton program has now ended locally — as it has, in fact, in many of the other places that once hosted it.

 

Walking for life

Bone marrow donor, recipient to meet

At the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation’s third annual Walk for Life in Memory of Mel Cohen on Sunday, October 26, a 23-year-old Englewood bone-marrow donor will meet his 43-year-old recipient for the first time since the successful procedure was done, more than a year ago.

These emotional meetings are a highlight of the annual walk, Gift of Life’s CFO, Gregg Frances, said. “Every year at these events we introduce a donor who has never, until that point, met the recipient whose life he or she saved. There’s a one-year moratorium from the date of transplant to the date of meeting, as legislated by the United States.”

 

Teens: Don’t drink on Simchat Torah

Local yeshiva high schools send joint letter urging celebration but also restraint

The principals of six Jewish high schools serving northern New Jersey sent a joint letter to parents urging vigilance in the face of teenage drinking on Simchat Torah, “to guarantee that this special time of holiness will not degenerate into the opposite kind of experience for anyone.”

Nobody is sure how alcohol consumption became a tradition of this holiday, which celebrates the completion of the yearly Torah-reading cycle.

“There are rabbinic sources about drinking wine in the context of the Purim seudah,” or meal, says Teaneck’s Rabbi Michael Taubes, head of school for the Yeshiva University High School for Boys, and one of the six signatories.

 
 
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