Early Sunday morning, when the grass was still fresh with dew, a group of men gathered under a sizable tree on Chabad of Northern Virginia’s campus in Fairfax to get ready for the day.
They swapped sneakers for cleats and baseball caps for kippot before donning tefillin and reciting the Sh’ma.
Doing so served two purposes, said Jim Kaplan as he strapped on his shin guards. The men performed a religious commandment and “paid the rent” on the playing field charged by Chabad’s Rabbi Sholom Deitsch,
Some 100 members of Northern Virginia synagogues came to Chabad’s field for its ninth annual round-robin soccer tournament to raise money for the children of Sderot, a town in Israel that has been the target of rocket fire from Gaza.
Hours before the game began, a rocket was launched from Gaza, exploding between two residential buildings in Sderot but causing no injuries. The military wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack. In response, the Israel Defense Forces carried out dozens of air and artillery strikes on Gaza on Sunday and Monday, according to media reports.
The annual fundraiser was created after a group of Chabad centers brought 100 children from Sderot to spend a summer in the United States, after several attacks on the border town.
“We brought 10 kids here and you could really see how traumatized these kids were,” Deitsch said.
This year’s tournament included teams from Congregation Olam Tikvah, led by Kaplan; Temple Rodef Shalom; Temple B’nai Shalom, the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia, the Edlavitch DCJCC and Chabad.
With each player donating $36 or more, the tournament organizers estimated the event raised $2,000.
“We [play soccer] every Sunday as a pick-up game, so once a year we make it a little bit more special” by hosting the fundraiser, said Neil Richmond, who led Temple B’nai Shalom’s team.
Richmond, who grew up playing soccer in São Paulo, Brazil, has been involved in the tournament since its inception and the pick-up games before that.
The players’ ages ranged from 15 to 73, but in the years before the tournament, it was primarily parents who played pick-up games after dropping their kids off at religious school on Sunday mornings.
“We started talking and thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to get a whole bunch of groups and teams together from different synagogues to play a tournament?’ So we put it together and it’s been fantastic since then,” Richmond said.
The league’s talent is diverse with players from countries including Argentina and Israel.
“The tournament is a nice mix of casual and intense” competition, said Ted Donat, who was participating in the tournament for his fourth year playing for Temple Rodef Shalom.
Kaplan, the captain of Olam Tikvah’s team, which won the tournament, was in his fifth year of the tournament. He joked that if Deitsch sees someone playing poorly, he pulls them out to don tefillin, and when they return to the game, “Hashem is on your side.”