FOOTBALL, often described by players, fans and commentators as the “world game”, will be the latest sport utilised as a vehicle to unite people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds under Maccabi Victoria’s Henry Jolson Pathways (HJP) Program.
Despite football pitches across the country being empty, Maccabi Australia’s branding and marketing committee chairman Samuel Strunin and Maccabi FC Caulfield president Kevin Milstein – with the input of Henry Jolson’s son Jeremy – held a meeting with Football Victoria officials last month to discuss running an inaugural multicultural junior football gala day in Melbourne this October.
“It will be a full day of mini football matches to be played by participating junior clubs that either have a mostly multicultural player base or who tend to have members from a particular ethnic or faith background,” Strunin said.
“Football Victoria loved the concept, and while the COVID-19 situation could affect its timing, they agreed it will happen, and pencilled it in for October.
“If it is a success, we’ll look to use it as a model that could be expanded to other states and sports, and bring programs into schools.”
Strunin said promoting inter-community understanding and connections is one of the four main pillars of Maccabi’s HJP Program, and the aim going forward is to maximise its focus on youth.
“We want to start as much as possible with the kids, because that’s where you can make the most traction and positive change.
“You can instil a culture of mutual respect and understanding, and the hope is that continues into adulthood.
“Sport is a really good way to break barriers and build bridges across society.”
The promising football initiative is the latest in a series of HJP projects with the goal of bringing young players from different backgrounds together.
At the MCG one day after last year’s AFL grand final, U18 Jewish players mainly from AJAX footy club played a match against Muslim teenagers coached by Richmond star Bachar Houli – a member of the Tigers’ premiership-winning team – for the inaugural Jolson-Houli Unity Cup.
After that memorable event, an equal number of players from each side were selected to play for a Unity Team that, if the 2020 AFL season had commenced, was due to have played in April’s AFL Multicultural Round against the Indigenous Lagunta team and a Jim Stynes multicultural squad.
And in December 2018, Maccabi Victoria Tennis Club hosted its first junior inter-community day in partnership with the HJP Program and the Les Twentyman Foundation that saw Jewish kids play tennis with Australian youth of Sudanese heritage.
“We had special guests take part in that including Maccabi tennis legend and former Wimbledon women’s doubles quarter-finalist Eva de Jong-Duldig,” Strunin said.
“The kids really bonded over tennis, they sang I am Australian together, and the Sudanese kids even lit Chanukah candles.
“This is the power of sport as a tool for good, and we have plans to add basketball to the program mix soon too, post COVID-19.”
To find out more, email enquiries.VIC@maccabi.com.au.