Yom Haatzmaut is not only the day in which we celebrate the modern day State of Israel, but it’s also a time to appreciate all those who have helped make the Holy Land into the home of Jews from around the world and build up the country into one of the leading nations in the world in all areas of life.
One of those of course is sports and there’s no question that the Inter Aliyah has been one of Israel’s fastest growing sports club as both their soccer and basketball teams have taken huge steps over the past couple of seasons while also servicing the country’s community of Olim from all across the globe.
Inter Pro, the club’s professional soccer team playing as a part of the Israel Football Association earned promotion to Liga Bet from they first time in the franchise’s history, going from the 5th to 4th leagues while the basketball team made that jump after just one season.
Olim from South America, North America, Europe and other locales have joined together on the pitch to see Inter Aliyah succeed in its mission while off of the field of play, the club is making more and more inroads in helping those who have made Aliyah integrate into Israeli society as easy and as seamlessly as possible.
Sam Sank who has been involved with Inter Aliyah in a myriad of roles including as a player and as a board member discussed the organization’s uniqueness in Israel and how it has made an impact in the day to day life for many people through the realm of sports.
“We are a totally independent Amuta, non-profit organization created by Olim for Olim and we have our own ideals and mission which is very different from the other teams which may be just another Maccabi and Elitzur. We are something very unique with clear guidelines as to what we want to achieve which is to help people make Aliya and reduce the amount of Olim leaving the country,” Sank began.
“Everyone who plays for our teams must hold an Israeli ID card, a Teudat Zehut and must be citizens of the country. Our aim is promoting Aliyah as that is part of our identity and encouraging people to be Israeli. Also, our number one mission is to reduce the number of Olim who leave Israel which stands right now as a staggering 40% by creating a home through sports.”
Inter Aliyah is not just a sports club but a family for many of its participants explained Sank “What makes us special starts with the family aspect and when one comes to our team they realize that this is a very different club. Family and others help each other out and see each other socially. The coach asks everyone to pick up the balls and equipment which is a stark contradiction to the selfish and self-centered personalities we see in other teams. The majority of people come from a foreign country and there is a clear sense of bonding which is what strengthens us and that is what pushes us to keep winning these games.”
Sank, who works in high-tech has been in Israel for more than a decade and a half, sees many similarities in many of the soccer team’s players who are primarily in their late 20’s and early 30’s who also work in the same industry that he does. However, there are also those who are just getting their feet wet in the country and are just making their first steps in the Holy Land.
“Our Olim are in Israel from just a few months to close to 15-16 years and while some are here with their families and others like myself came as Lone Soldiers. The group are in the midst of various levels of integration and some are fluent in Hebrew while others speak Spanish, English and Russian. However, the language that is used during play is English.”
As for on the field action, Sank couldn’t be happier as to how the soccer team has improved and now moved up a league, “This was our 7th season in Liga Gimmel and now we moved up to Liga Bet. Every year we got a little better and before this season we didn’t think about winning the league, but as the campaign went on we began to look at that possibility. With an incredible coach, Borja Lema who is from Madrid and who is also the assistant coach with Hapoel Kfar Saba in the second division, we went on a great run where we won 20 games in a row.”
“With that we took the title while being level on points with Hapoel Tzafririm Holon but we had a better head to head record as we drew away and then won 1-0 at home. That game put us in first place for the balance of the season and saw us earn promotion. Half of the team are from South America, from countries such as Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil along with Ecuador and Peru. We also a few guys from the United States, the United Kingdom, as well as Russia and a few Israelis whose parents were Olim and are now second generation.”
One of the most interesting things about Inter Aliyah is that they do not pay their soccer players as many other teams do and that has not had any type of negative impact whatsoever but has actually helped the group grow even closer.
“Most of the guys live in Tel Aviv and not a single player is being paid which is a rarity for a team that won their league as all the other clubs pay their 5-6 best players. Teams in Liga Bet pay their players but we will continue not paying anyone. Our guys are playing to be a part of the family and they feel loyalty as some have been a part of the team since its inception. Most players in this league are mercenaries and they can jump teams 2-3 times each season. In our case, people want to be part of us and now that we are winning, that will help us attract better players next season.”
As for the basketball team which began last season, head coach AJ Mitnick and General Manager Ronnie Levi exceeded all expectations and earned promotion after their first season of operations as they now look towards doing the same in year two.
“The basketball team has been a massive success,” Sank said. “Inter Aliyah was a one sport club for the first 5 years and we knew that basketball was the second sport that would come under our umbrella. Under the leadership of AJ Mitnick and Ronnie Levi, we have exceeded all of our expectations as through its promotion this has opened up a new market for us inside and outside of Israel.”
“The basketball has been far bigger a success than we could have ever imagined as many players could be playing for other teams but play for us on a team that may be below their level because they love the club. The team is the first of a whole network of basketball related activities. We will have a youth department soon and we already have a pickup program as basketball has quickly become one of our strongest assets. We couldn’t be prouder.”
In addition to the soccer and basketball teams, Sank explains that there are even more plans to expand programs and activities in the club over the upcoming years.
“We have a number of pro and amateur teams and we have opened up other sports under the Inter Aliyah banner. We’re starting a field hockey team, chess, baseball and running club teams as well. All these activities are being opened because there is a demand from the Olim community and those have a place to play it and have a home in Israel that we are providing. Our community is in the thousands and we have more than 250 actively playing. We are organzied and official and work with the municipalities.”
Inter Aliyah’s main base of operations is currently in and around the Tel Aviv area but there are plans to expand their reach to other cities in the country Sank said, “Currently, we are focused around Tel Aviv right now because that is where we started and 95% of our participants live in area. We are very interested in expanding Inter Aliyah into other cities like Jerusalem and Raanana which would be the first cities that we would like to focus on. We recently met with the Jewish Agency as to how they can help us get sports fields in both cities along with manpower and funding. The idea for Inter Aliyah was never that Tel Aviv would be an exclusive location. Jerusalem with the amount of Olim and the connection to the city as a people is important for us.”
Partnering with Nefesh B’ Nefesh, the country’s largest organization working with Olim has always been an important connection for Inter Aliyah but they would also like to see that relationship grow.
“Nefesh B’ Nefesh have recognized us and they share events that we are hosting. We all have the same objective in mind, encouraging Aliyah, settling Olim and integrating into Israeli society. They see us as too small a project to get involved with and there are no hard feelings as we are happy to be affiliated, but we would love them to be more involved with any type of assistance.”
Sank is very proud that when people who are involved with sports are looking to move to israel, the name Inter Aliyah always pops up in the conversation which continues to help spread the organization’s gospel throughout the world. Add to the fact that the club has had terrific success over the past couple of years also helps them find new recruits who are looking as sports as a way to make their landing in Israel softer, so to speak as well as helping them become part of the Israeli fabric.
“Inter Aliyah has a very good reputation outside of Israel amongst the Jewish communities around the world from where our members are from. Everyone knows that this is where you play sports in Israel if you are an Oleh. The Olim community knows who we are and the next step is entering into the Israeli mindset more.”
“Winning the Liga Gimmel title is one way and that will give us more media exposure. Israelis are less interested in a team of Olim so it’s hard and challenging on the financial side and it’s a struggle as we are looking for serious investors who want to become part of this club. It’s difficult to find those individuals and hopefully we will locate those people. Regardless, the success will raise our profile in Israel and beyond.”