Israeli flag football team wins gold in Europe despite Shabbat forfeit

The team, made up mostly of Orthodox players, now have their sights set on a global victory


Israel’s under-17 boys' flag football team has triumphed at a European championship after forfeiting a game that coincided with Shabbat.

Flag football - a non-contact offshoot of American football where tackles are made by pulling off flags worn by other players - has become increasingly popular outside of the US in countries including Israel.

Now Israel's under 17s boys' squad have earned a tournament win for their country, taking gold at the 2023 International Federation of American Football (IFAF) European Junior Flag Football Championships.

The team, made up mostly of Orthodox players, beat Serbia 34-14 in the championship game after narrowly beating host country Italy in the semifinal, which took place in Grossetto, Tuscany.

Their victory came despite a major setback: Several of the games, hosted by the International Federation of American Football, were scheduled on Shabbat despite appeals from the Israeli players.

“We weren’t entirely sure we were going to make it,” Nate Fried, who plays receiver for the squad, told The Times of Israel at the time. “Throughout Shabbos I was just davening [praying] really hard, praying that we make it."

Steve Leibowitz, president of American Football in Israel said now the team has triumphed in Europe, their sights are now set on a global win.

"[This is] our first gold after decades of trying,” Leibowitz told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

"[These were] tough young Israeli players against the best young players in Europe. The moment the whistle blew… I knew we had finally arrived... First we conquer Europe, the Worlds are next.” 

Israel’s under-17 girls' team and under-15 mixed-sex team both finished fifth in their respective categories. 

American football has been on the rise in Israel, where roughly 2,000 players, coaches, and referees are now involved in the league, according to the JTA. In 2019, Israel hosted the European Flag Football Championship and, in 2021, the Flag Football World Championship. 

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