When Brooke Perlman of Princeton, a senior at Peddie School in
Hightstown, learned about a winter high school service trip to Israel, she knew she had to go. First, she had wanted to “experience the country again” since her family’s trip to Israel, when she was 11, for her sister Jaclyn’s bat mitzvah. But more importantly, the trip was sponsored by Israel Lacrosse and involved teaching the game — which Brooke has played since kindergarten — to underprivileged Israeli youth; for her, that was an ideal way to share the values she had learned through the sport.
So she was among a group of 30 young men and 17 young women from North America who were in Israel from Dec. 25 to Jan. 1 under the auspices of Israel Lacrosse — which, according to its website, is “committed to using lacrosse to bridge divides and build community.”
Brooke, who plans to play lacrosse when she enters Vassar College in the fall, is the daughter of Naomi and Barry Perlman; the family are members of The Jewish Center in Princeton. She spoke to NJJN by phone a few weeks ago.
The important values lacrosse teaches, according to Brooke, include teamwork, communication, and leadership. “There’s almost nothing one person can do in the sport — you can’t do anything by yourself,” she said. And, noting that a good team is never quiet, she added, “It takes a lot to yell at your teammates and tell them where to go,” a skill that “helps you use your voice and makes you more willing to put yourself out there, to speak up, to say ‘Hi’ to a new person.”
The trip itself gave her the opportunity to put to good use the leadership skills she has developed on the field.
Since its founding in 2011, Israel Lacrosse has developed an intercity league and national men’s and women’s teams, and last summer hosted an international tournament. The nonprofit organization also works to engage and empower at-risk youth via lacrosse; the trip was part of its mission to raise the interest of Israeli youth in the sport and improve their skills.
The organizers wasted no time in deploying the visiting teens’ skills. “The second we got there, we got on a bus and drove to a school,” Brooke said. After screwing their lacrosse sticks together, they “had to go play a game and show the kids why we were here and why they should play lacrosse.”
In the 10 or so clinics the teens ran in towns like Ashkelon and Sderot and Kiryat Gat in the Negev, they worked either one-on-one or two-on-one, providing instruction based on the Israeli players’ athletic abilities and their familiarity with the game. Brooke found it particularly interesting that “the kids really took to it.” Compared to experiences at home — where there were always some kids in a class who were not so eager to improve in the sport, all the Israeli youngsters worked hard to learn the skills Brooke and her fellow visitors were teaching. “They wanted to do it,” she said.
Brooke’s own theory about why the Israelis were more willing to participate than some of their American peers was that the clinics also offered a distraction from what can often be Israel’s stressful environment. Playing lacrosse, she said, “was something they could focus on to take their minds off where they are — it didn’t have anything to do with the threats they faced on a daily basis.”
Brooke said that Israel Lacrosse also wanted the American teens “to be an inspiration,” and, Brooke acknowledged, she believes she actually was. She said her “best moment” was working with a girl who wanted to try to be a goalie. The girl, who played for a team in her town, was able to handle the goalie stick — heavier than other sticks and with a head twice as large — and she picked up the required movements quickly. “She was a natural,” Brooke said. “At the end I was tossing it to her and she was responding like a goalie would.” This girl will likely play goalie for her Israel Lacrosse team, said Brooke, adding, “To think I contributed to that is an awesome thing.”
The teens also managed to fit in a little sightseeing. When they visited the Kotel, the Western Wall, in Jerusalem, Brooke said, she was “able to feel again” the special connection to the holy site she had felt at age 11. Brooke also emphasized the importance of visiting Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum and memorial in Jerusalem, which made it clear “that it was really important that we were in Israel and we should do everything we can on our part to continue Israel’s legacy.”
Their time in Sderot, Brooke said, was “a real eye-opener.” They saw rocket canisters at the police station, remainders of missiles launched into Israel by Hamas from nearby Gaza, and toured with a boy from Sderot who talked to them about the post-traumatic stress that the city’s residents experience as a result of the ongoing threats and attacks. “A lot of their lives revolve around constantly thinking about where they can be and how they can handle being safe,” Brooke said.
In Sderot what appeared to the lacrosse players to be a playground, with huge snakes and cement tunnels for children to play in, turned out to do double-duty as a bomb shelter. In the event of an imminent attack, “If the kids were playing outside, they would at least have someplace to go,” Brooke said.
In Sderot they also visited an underground playground, built by the Jewish National Fund, where Brooke saw a plaque acknowledging that her synagogue, The Jewish Center, had joined other congregations in contributing to building the facility.
The American lacrosse players also learned to empathize with the Sderot residents. After the teens were told that people usually have 15 seconds after a warning siren goes off to get to a bomb shelter, Brooke said, “I think everyone was scared at that moment.”