TRENTON, NJ – Throughout the week of June 6, the Under-19 team, coaches, and executives of Maccabi Haifa Football Club, one of Israel’s most celebrated soccer teams visited New Jersey for the first time since 2013 and were co-hosted by the New Jersey-Israel Commission in partnership with St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark. Maccabi Haifa F.C., known for its diversity as much as its talent, and is made up of players spanning backgrounds across Israeli society and stands as a symbol of unity and inclusion.
Aside from their athletic achievements in Israel and Europe, Maccabi Haifa F.C. is often held as a symbol of peacebuilding and social cohesion. The New Jersey-Israel Commission and St. Benedict’s facilitated their visit to New Jersey to play friendly matches against Under-19 teams of the New York Red Bulls and St. Benedict's Prep/Cedar Stars in Newark and the Philadelphia Union in Cherry Hill. The games were competitive and attended by local community members and fans who came out to support the visit and the players.
In addition to the games, community engagements were held that promoted diversity, inclusion, peacebuilding, and tolerance. These were supported especially by New Jersey-Israel Commission Members Ralph Zucker and Elias Mattar in addition to friends of Maccabi Haifa F.C., Dani Neuman and Miles Berger. Participation at the events and games included individuals from the City of Newark, Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey, New Jersey Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the office of Assemblywoman Shanique Speight, the World Jewish Congress, American Jewish Committee, New Jersey-Israel Commission Members, St. Benedict’s Preparatory School, and several other organizations in addition to former Governor James McGreevey and Assemblywoman Beth Sawyer.
The mandate of the New Jersey-Israel Commission carries the responsibility for New Jersey-Israel cultural relations and this opportunity afforded a unique opportunity to engage in community outreach through sports diplomacy and culture, successfully connecting our communities at home and in Israel while showcasing New Jersey as a global sports destination.
“I am a strong believer in the power of sports uniting communities, and I applaud the New Jersey-Israel Commission for this ambitious project,” said Acting New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way. “Through visits like these, we are showing our youth and future leaders that our diversity strengthens us as we connect and build meaningful relationships with other people around the world.”
“Thank you to the New Jersey-Israel Commission, St. Benedict’s Preparatory Academy, and the State of New Jersey for a deeply meaningful visit for our players and coaching staff, said Itzik Ovadia, CEO, Maccabi Haifa F.C. “Visiting New Jersey was extremely important to us as were our professional and social goals which we achieved successfully thanks to the warm hospitality we were showed the entire time. The outstanding athleticism of our players combined with our team’s commitment to respect, understanding and equality is a shining example to the world and a source of our continued strength.”
“Among the biggest problems in the world, and certainly in the United States, is our inability to understand the reality and the sufferings of others,” said Fr. Edwin Leahy, head of school at St. Benedict’s Prep. “Our relationship with Maccabi Haifa, which began nine years ago, offers all of us the opportunity to relate to peers across the world, leveling and transcending the playing field, as we come to know our mutual realities. We are grateful to the New Jersey-Israel Commission for yet another opportunity to enhance our long-standing friendship with Maccabi Haifa and further new relationships in Israel.”
“I am extremely proud of these young players and the incredible message of friendship they delivered to communities across New Jersey,” said Karin Elkis, Co-Chair, New Jersey-Israel Commission. “We will continue to focus on cultural programs like these, uniting people across different backgrounds and beliefs, while strengthening the special and unbreakable bond we share between New Jersey and Israel.”
“The outstanding character of both the Israeli and New Jersey players was apparent through these remarkable games,” said Mark S. Levenson, Co-Chair, New Jersey-Israel Commission. “Whether we speak Hebrew, Arabic, English, or Amharic, we are all reminded that sports is a crucial tool that brings people together and bridges New Jersey and Israel in truly profound ways.”
“Both on and off the field, the players of Maccabi Haifa F.C. showed us that there is more that unites us than divides us,” said Andrew H Gross, Executive Director of the New Jersey-Israel Commission. “Whether in New Jersey or in Israel, we are all destined to live together and these incredible games show us that there can be a bright future for the next generation.”
About Maccabi Haifa Football Club
Maccabi Haifa Football Club is an Israeli professional football club, based in the city of Haifa’s Sammy Ofer Stadium and plays in the Israeli Premier League. Maccabi Haifa F.C. has won fourteen league titles, six State Cups and five Toto Cups including being the Israeli Premier League champions in the 2020-2021 season. They were the first Israeli club to qualify for the group stage of the UEFA Champions League in the 2002 - 2003 season and hold, with Maccabi Tel Aviv, the joint record of two Champions League group stage qualifications for an Israeli team.
About St. Benedict’s Preparatory School
St. Benedict’s Preparatory School prepares boys and girls in and around Newark to fulfill their potential as emotionally mature, morally responsible and well-educated citizens. Operated by the Benedictine monks of Newark Abbey since 1868, St. Benedict’s offers a rigorous curriculum that sharpens the mind, shapes the character and nourishes the spirit.
About the New Jersey-Israel Commission
The New Jersey-Israel Commission was established in 1989 to implement the goals of the New Jersey-Israel Sister State Agreement and is under the administration of New Jersey Department of State. The Commission promotes the development of trade, culture and educational exchanges; encourages the development of capital investment and joint business ventures; and fosters a spirit of cooperation between the citizens of the State of Israel and the State of New Jersey.