Trip of a lifetime
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A team of Jewish footballers swapped their north London base for Ukraine this week.
In a ground-breaking visit, organised by World Jewish Relief (WJR) and London Maccabi Lions, the club played a youth team from Dynamo Kiev as part of a trip aimed at fostering links between young communities in the UK and Ukraine.
The 20 players, who are all approaching barmitzvah age, played at Dynamo's training ground in front of 200 spectators, including 20 proud fathers who also made the journey.
Beaten 4-0 by the Ukraine's top youth team, the Lions played a second match, drawing 1-1 against DK DYSC courtesy of a strike from Morgan Leizer.
The delegation also had the opportunity to learn more about WJR's work supporting vulnerable people in Ukraine. They visited the homes of some of the families who are assisted by the charity and distributed gifts for the children as well as food and household items for the families.
The group witnessed the poverty and daily challenges faced by the community and the vital need for food, school uniforms, medication and social care.
Lions player Zak Zamet said: "It was so exciting to play Dynamo Kiev, who are definitely the best team we have played against. We also learned so much on the trip about what life is like for Jewish kids our age in Ukraine. We saw that even though we live miles apart and in very different worlds, we also have so much in common."
The team also visited Babi Yar, the site of a massacre of tens of thousands of Jews during the Second World War, where they held a moving ceremony.
Lions manager Darren Dryer said: "The club is constantly looking for ways to enrich the experiences of the players, both on and off the field, and encourage them to make a positive difference through their interactions.
"To have the opportunity to play at Dynamo Kiev and, at the same time educate our children about the difficulties faced by smaller Jewish communities in eastern Europe, was a very humbling and uplifting experience."
Paul Stein, WJR's Director of Fundraising and Communications, said: "We were overwhelmed by the enthusiasm shown by the Lions team who were keen to learn more about the Jewish community in Ukraine.
"They acted as wonderful ambassadors for Jewish football in the UK and we were delighted by the impact of this inaugural tour."
It is hoped that the trip will become an annual event, with next year's being organised to coincide with the Euro 2012 competition.