Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The ageless Mordechai Goodman leaves his mar

Sixteen teams will battle it out over the next month to find out who will become this year’s AFI Holyland Bowl XXI champion.

This weekend marks the beginning of the American Football in Israel (AFI) Men’s Flag Football playoffs.

Sixteen teams will battle it out over the next month to find out who will become this year’s Holyland Bowl XXI champion.


While 13 of the 16 playoff teams are composed of American Yeshiva students studying here temporarily, the other three teams are made up of local Israeli players who live, work, learn, and in some cases serve in the IDF, but manage to get some weekends off to visit their families, and, of course, to play football.

The most anticipated first-round playoff contest this year pits two local teams against each other: seven-time league champ Big Blue and 1993 champions Pizzeria Efrat.

Pizzeria Efrat is lead by quarterback and captain – an AFI first-ballot hall of famer – the ageless Mordechai Goodman.

Goodman, affectionately known as “Mordi”, has been in the league since its inception in 1987. In fact, Mordi – who made aliya in 1986 from New York to pursue a lifelong dream of living in Israel – attributes a successful absorption into Israeli society to his involvement in the football league.

One of the biggest highlights of Mordi’s career was the 12-0 undefeated championship season of 1993. As a result of that victory, Mordi was named The Jerusalem Post’s 1993 “In- Jerusalem athlete of the year.”

The game ball, which is now completely deflated, and the enormous trophy from that perfect season are proudly on display at Mordi’s pizza shop.

While winning the title was a highlight, it wasn’t the only one in Mordi’s 25-plus year career.

The most special moments of Mordi’s career began in the early 2000s, when Mordi started to play the game that he loves, in the country that he loves, alongside several of his sons, who were finally old enough to join the men’s league.

Mordi took great pride while standing back in the pocket and completing pass after pass to his sons Shimon and Yosef, who were gifted players from the second they stepped on the field.

While Pizzeria Efrat has not (yet) won another championship in the past 17 years, the team has posted a winning record every single year since Mordi’s children began playing for the squad.

However, tragedy struck the Goodman family – as well as the entire AFI community – in February 2006, when Yosef, a 21-year-old IDF soldier from the elite Maglan unit, was killed in a parachute training accident south of Ashdod.

Yosef died a hero that day, because when his parachute became entangled with that of his commander’s, Yosef’s altruism took over as he cut the ropes of the chute saving his commander’s life while plummeting to his death.

I’ll never forget the sadness surrounding Yosef’s funeral as literally thousands of his family members, friends, former teachers, AFI teammates, and fellow soldiers packed into Efrat’s main synagogue to pay their respects to this young hero who had touched so many lives.

I remember the pained look on Mordi’s and his wife Ann’s faces as they were going through a calamity that no parent should ever have to experience.

One of the first things Mordi did after seven days of sitting shiva for Yosef was to return to Kraft Family Stadium on a cold Saturday night in order to serve as the honorary captain and throw out the first ball for that night’s playoff games.

Mordi delivered an emotional offthe- cuff speech to the players and fans assembled at the stadium discussing how special his son Yosef was, and how much he loved playing football, especially teaching young children from his neighborhood the game.

Not a single eye was dry while Mordi delivered his speech.

That very night, AFI co-founders Steve Leibowitz and Danny Gewirtz appropriately decided to name the newly-formed AFI High School League in Yosef’s memory, as it was Yosef who almost singlehandedly organized the high school division as a preparatory league for the next generation of men’s players.

Though Yosef may be gone, he will never be forgotten – for what he accomplished on the field, but more importantly for what he accomplished off it.

On a recent Saturday night, with several of his younger sons now proudly wearing the Pizzeria Efrat purple uniforms, Mordi takes the field following an Efrat touchdown to carry out his quarterback duties on the extra point.

Despite being by far the oldest player on the field, Mordi calls “hike” in his distinctive voice and zips a bullet pass towards an open receiver. The receiver catches the ball cleanly in the endzone, converting the point.

After all these years, Mordi’s still got it.

Regardless of whether Pizzeria Efrat wins or loses against Big Blue this weekend, one thing is for sure. The ageless Mordechai Goodman will be on the field with a smile on his face, playing the game that he loves, in the country that he loves and for which he has already made the ultimate sacrifice.

Hasten, a long-time player in the AFI, is a proud former teammate of Mordechi Goodman and his son Yosef, of blessed memory. This week marked Yosef’s fifth Yahrtziet

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