In honor of International Women’s Day it’s time to look back at one of the features from last summer when The Sports Rabbi had a chance to sit down with Oshrat Eini!
As I enter a brightly lit “Cafe Café” in Herzeliya, I find my mid afternoon guest, Oshrat Eini sitting by herself. I realize very quickly why the restaurant is so bright. Eini is radiating, lighting up the whole cafe with her huge smile going cheek to cheek.
“I’m hungry,” she says as I take a seat. Eini orders a Salmon steak and me, the chocolaty chocolate cake oozing with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. We now know who the athlete and who the journalist is.
“I just finished work at my dad’s place, but I wish I could concentrate on being a full time soccer player,” Eini says with confidence. “My father moved to Israel from Egypt and my mother from Iraq but I was attracted to soccer as soon as I was born! I started kicking everything in sight at nine months old, as soon as I could walk.”
Eini is a fit young woman about 30 years of age and has been addicted to sports from literally day one on the planet, not only as a player but also as a huge supporter of Hapoel Tel Aviv. “I always played handball with the older boys in elementary school and I loved going to Hapoel Tel Aviv matches at Bloomfield Stadium. There were so many reasons to go. To be a part of the community, all of us wearing red shirts, clapping at the same time, singing the same songs in unison and yelling at the top of my lungs at the players! What could be any better?”
We talk a bit about European soccer when she exuberantly blurts out, “I went on a birthday trip recently around Europe just to watch the best! In Holland I saw Ajax and Feyoonard along with Go Ahead Eagles and AC Milan. It’s great to be able to travel and watch some of the greats!”
Eini was made to be a soccer player, “I began playing soccer as a 15-year old with the Raanana team and then with the Hapoel Tel Aviv women the following year for a number of seasons but because of budget cuts the team folded. Playing with the various youth Israel National Teams was great and then moving up to the senior side was an amazing experience.”
Playing left back, Eini stayed with the National Team for 11 years but recently hasn’t been called up to serve the country. I probe a bit as to why that is the case. “I’m not totally sure, but I know that I can still contribute to the team and help the younger players. Not being part of the squad is as if someone ripped something right out of me.”
“There are a number of good players coming up through the ranks including Shirly Ohana, Lee Falcon, Moran Lavie and others. There is a women’s league with clubs from Tel Aviv, Sakhnin, Ramat HaSharon and other places in the country where we play over 20 matches in the season.”
In mid-July, Israel will be hosting the UEFA Under-19 European Women’s Championship with teams from Norway, England, Germany, Spain and others coming together for an 8 team tournament that will feature some of the best young women’s players in the world today. “Having this tournament in Israel is a definitely a good way for the advancement of women’s sports in Israel and will hopefully raise the awareness of people around the country and Europe. The U-19’s also played in our league and have some good players in Sahi Pearl, Eden Avital and Shahar Nakav.”
The tournament will be played at a number of stadiums around the center of the country including Lod, Ramla, Netanya and Rishon Le’Zion as the who’s who of European soccer will descend onto Israel for this special event.
Some of the Israeli women will be hoping to make a move to a more competitive league in one of the European countries that has more funding for women’s soccer, and that is something that Eini herself has been trying to do. “Last fall I went to Anderlecht in Belgium but it didn’t work out for a number of reasons and I have looked at a few other leagues but the salaries are so low. I’m going to try and make a move to a European league again this coming year but it all depends on me being in tip top shape, salary and a chance to play on a regular basis.”
Eini knows that at some point she will have to hang up her spikes and she’s been preparing for the day after her playing career comes to a close. “I’m currently working on getting my UEFA coaching license and I am involved in sports management at Wingate along with going for a FIFA Masters degree so I will be able to continue advancing women’s sports.”
Making an impact on today’s youth is also in the cards for Eini as she lectures to many school groups both to boys and girls across Israel. She sees herself as an Ambassador for the country she dearly loves and for the opportunity to influence those young and old.
However, there is still a ton of work to be done and Eini, a strong willed woman will attest to that. “Here in Israel we need to start from the ground up. The big men’s soccer clubs MUST have a women’s team that they can invest in and promote. The Israel Football Association and the media has to allocate more time and funding to make sure that this happens and that coverage of women’s sports is given its equal due. In some respects the women’s basketball league and National Team is closer to its male counterpart than the regular soccer league is and it seems that we might have missed the boat.”
“Hapoel Katamon is an example of club doing it the right way. When they began the club from day one they ensured that a women’s side would be crucial component to its program in order to be accepted and to really be part of culture and society. It’s all part of community building and makes our world more viable.”
As we finish off our food we tackle the subject of how Israel is viewed in Europe and what Eini feels her role is in that aspect, “We should all be proud of who we are and where we come from by raising the Israeli flag. From my experience it’s not easy to be Jewish outside of Israel, but the goal is to keep representing our country, respect one another and live in peace.”
“I don’t let the situation that I am in define who I am. In life, if you are strong enough you don’t need other people influence you. I define who I am, who I want to be and where I want to go.”
Oshrat Eini has done exactly that. Need I say more.