There is No Place Like Home – My First Trip to Israel (part two)
Editor’s Note: Max Seibald, a Jewish American lacrosse player, accompanied Israel Lacrosse on their U17 Winter Service Trip to Israel and Serbia over the school holiday. Read on in part two of his two-part post as Max recalls the last two days – and notably his favorite – of a life-changing experience.
Seibald is an eight-time MLL All-Star who currently plays for the Boston Cannons. He earned the 2009 Tewaraaton Trophy in his senior year at Cornell University and was a member of the USA National Team that won gold in 2010 and silver in 2014 at the FIL World Championships. He recently released his first book, The ABCs of Boys’ Lacrosse.
The next 24 hours was my favorite part of the trip. We headed to the West Bank to a Druze Arab village to run a clinic. Again, no expectations or even a real understanding of what we were walking into. We pull up to a place in the middle of nowhere with an empty field, a building, not a single car around and one man standing waving down the bus. We unload the bus and walk towards the building. When the doors open and we walked in, there was about 25 boys and 25 girls sitting against the wall separated and wearing what looked like team soccer uniforms.
We start the clinic with a small scrimmage in the gym with some of our crew from the trip to demonstrate what the game looks like as the little kids had never seen lacrosse before. After that, we handed out some sticks and jumped right in with the kids. We basically had a one-to-one coach to kid ratio, which helped a lot, especially since not one kid spoke English or Hebrew. All they knew was Arabic. There was one teacher amongst us all that could speak a little English and Arabic, but that was it.
This was a challenge, but one all of our players embraced. We had to explain the game using gestures, non-verbal cues, emotional responses and demonstrations. It was incredible to see how quick these kids picked it up and how genuinely excited they were when they did. We taught them the basics of catching, throwing, shooting and ground balls without ever speaking.
There was a pureness to the whole experience. There was a real human connection between people from a different culture, religion, set of beliefs, and way of life all through the sport of lacrosse. And what was even more invigorating was to see the passion, excitement and eagerness of the kids to be playing. From my perspective, back home in the US, this pureness sometimes gets lost amongst the noise, and I plan to try to draw on this experience to change that.
After we finished the clinic the one teacher who spoke a little English told us that the kids said it was the most fun and exciting weekend activity they had done in a long time. This unique experience was a great lesson to me and the kids as well. Sometimes back home we are all inundated with news on conflict and hate in the Middle East amongst different religious communities, but that day, a group of Jews and Arabs coexisted, worked together and connected through lacrosse without any issues other than a language barrier.
Dead Sea was our next stop on the schedule. After a quick bite, I was the first one to the beach eager to disprove the myth that water could hold my big behind from sinking. It is winter, so even though the sun was out, the water was cold, so it did not make for an easy dip. I slowly eased in and eventually sucked it up and went for it. And yes, I was wrong, I floated like a leaf. It was unbelievable. Me and my buddies Will and Brian who were the film crew documenting the entire trip, jumped in with me and we were like giddy little boys, astonished that we actually were floating. Lets just say, our time at the lowest point on earth did not disappoint.
After washing the salt off and loading back up on the bus, we were en route through the desert to the Bedouin tents. We pulled up and right away we climbed up on some camels. It was two per camel, so I loaded up with my boy Zach, aka Tree, and we were guided for a short walk through the desert with the rest of our crew. We then entered the village and were directed to our tent. When I said earlier that I didn’t know what I was getting into, this is what I meant. We walked up to this massive tent and crawled in through the side. Picture a yoga studio in NYC filled to the brim with about 60 yoga mats already laid out and a towel on each mat, but replace the towels with thin sleeping bags, the mats with 1 inch thick pads, and the wood floor with a thin cloth covering the sand/dirt/rock of the desert. That was to be our humble abode for the evening.
After settling in and checking out the village for a bit, we gathered in another big tent where the Bedouins explained their history and cultures. What stood out most to me was their belief of respecting all people. It doesn’t matter the age, color, race, religion of any person that wanders into their village, they will help them and welcome them with open arms. It was a very interactive experience. We were served their homemade tea, which was the best tasting tea I have ever had, and we were also served their coffee, which tasted like hot water mixed with dirt. The group asked questions and it was another great insight into another perspective and way of life that I would have otherwise never been exposed to.
The rest of the night bringing in the New Year consisted of a campfire, roasting some marshmallows, some glow in the dark Frisbee, some quality hang time with the group, and even a wander into the complete darkness and silence of the desert to stare at the starry sky. With all the light pollution that consumes the sky back home, it was unlike anything I had ever seen. Of course being outside my comfort zone in a foreign and unknown place, a bit of a distance away from the village, in the cold blackness of the dessert, part of me was also playing elder statesmen and watchdog for the others so I didn’t get to let my guard down as much and lay on the ground to stare up at the sky, but I got what I needed.
4:45 am rolled around real quick especially after finally falling asleep 2 hours earlier, but it was time to pack up and head to Masada. I was running on empty, haven’t showered in a while, wearing the same clothes for way to long at this point, but for some reason I woke jacked up and ready to go. Can’t say the same for the other 50+ people sleeping in the tent with me, but we all rallied. If you don’t know the story about Masada, it’s worth looking into.
We unloaded the bus on the side of the Roman Ramp while it was still dark outside and started our ascent to the top. It wasn’t a very long trek but it was steep. At the top, one of the Israel Lacrosse staffers told us the history of the hallowed ground we stood on. If you don’t know the story about Masada, it’s worth looking into.
When we got to the top it was about 6 am in the morning, which meant it was NYE back home in NYC, which for some reason seemed special at the time. I got a few texts from back home from family and some friends and even some pictures of my nephews (5 and 3 years old, passed out) and my niece (2 years old, still up and partying). Maybe because it was one of the few times in my life I was not with my family for New Years, or maybe because I was somewhat still with them but also at this incredible historical place watching the sunrise from what seemed like the top of the world in the middle of nowhere.
For the next hour or so I escaped from the youngens and walked around to experience it for myself. This capped off my trip to Israel in a perfect way, and as per my pops recommendation, I picked up a stone from the top of Masada and took it home with me.
The next 24 hours was quite the hectic ending to the trip. Straight from Masada we headed to the airport where we boarded our plane to Serbia. We landed in Belgrade around 5 pm, loaded up the buses once again and had a security detail escort us to a field where our boys and girls would play the Poland and Serbia national teams. Each of our teams played two full games. The weather was brisk to say the least, the lighting was iffy at best, but they boys and girls bundled up, and got out there and competed. I myself also bundled up so I could coach the boy’s squad, and I believe I hit a personal record for layers of clothes that I have ever worn at once. Our teams showed some real passion and for the most part competing for the name on the front of their jerseys, ending the week with two hard fought wins against some great competitors.
Aside from winning our two games, I also got to meet two players for Poland, Jan and Daniel, which was a highlight for me. Daniel told me he was a big fan and excited that I was the first MLL player he ever met. He proceeded to tell me that he was a Lizards fan, so that was cool – NOT – but I forgave him. And Jan asked me to sign my book, The ABC’s of Boys Lacrosse and even asked me to write in a quote that I always reference “Well done is better than well said.” Even cooler than that, he told me that watching me run over the Syracuse player in the National Championship in 2009 was the reason he started playing lacrosse. Watching all those teams compete in international friendly matches in some less than ideal conditions was pretty inspiring. And another refreshing moment was learning that 20+ men and another 20+ women from Poland drove 14 hours on New Years Eve/Day to come play lacrosse against Slovenia, Israel and Serbia. Talk about for the love of the game!
We finished up around 1:00 am, got to the hotel by around 2:00 am and were back on the bus by 4:15 am to head to the airport to fly home to the States.
And now for the big picture reflection…
After all of the words I put on the page here, I’m still not exactly sure how to accurately capture my experience with Israel Lacrosse – but it was yet another journey around the world that lacrosse has afforded me that has impacted my life. It has allowed me to expand my horizons, experience new worlds, cultures, and perspectives, encounter many great people and make new friends.
Being around a huge group of high school kids for a week was an interesting experience in itself. There were some interesting highs and lows with the group, but it was amazing to witness a group of kids from different backgrounds and different parts of the country united by their religion and their passion for lacrosse to become mishpacha or family.
I was impressed with the openness of many to meet new people and experience new things and open up about their experiences and vulnerabilities, unprovoked. I coach kids and am around them all the time, but its not everyday I have an opportunity to be with a group all day everyday for a week straight. My hope is that I, “the old guy” as some of them referred to me, was able to have a positive impact on their lives not just on the lacrosse field.
I am grateful for the experience.
I was able to play teacher on and off the field, to share my perspective on life and lacrosse on a deeper level than I usually do and hopefully some of that soaked in with the high-schoolers. I was able to be a part of sharing the game that has given me so much, to kids of many different cultures.
I am even more grateful that I was able to play student, to connect deeper to my religion, to learn about the past and about other parts of the world, and even gain some insight as to what its like to be a 15 year old in today’s world. They may not know it, but I learned a lot from many of the kids on the trip and want to thank them for that.
My first trip to Israel was a success and I’m looking forward to going back again but as the great philosopher Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz, “there is no place like home.”
To find out more information about the Israel Lacrosse Winter Service Trip, email email@example.com.