Since picking up lacrosse five years ago, Oliver Brown took to it quickly – so quickly he gave up hockey to pursue it as his only sport. But beyond excelling at it, the Minnesota True Lacrosse player recently got another honor: playing for Israel’s Under-13 national lacrosse team.
Oliver, a rising eighth-grader at Wayzata West Middle School, is a long-stick defenseman who is part of the Israel Lacrosse Association program that takes Jewish lacrosse players from the U.S. and brings them together to compete under the Israeli flag. The team recently competed against other teams at the Lacrosse World Series Championship in Maryland at the beginning of July.
“It was really cool,” Oliver said after the tournament wrapped up. “I’m lucky that I get to do this. We were playing hard, having fun, and trying to build up the family that is Israel Lacrosse.”
Oliver said the team didn’t do great, but did win their last game. The team is at a distinct disadvantage as the players come from all over the country, and don’t get time to practice together until they get to the site.
“It was great being able to represent Israel and meet new people,” he said. “I’m building lifelong connections with them.”
The strength of those connections is something that is a big goal of Israel Lacrosse. Ian Kadish, the North America executive director of Israel Lacrosse, said helping grow the sport in Israel was where things started for the organization.
“We wanted to grow the game and create youth teams while developing the next generation of Israeli lacrosse athletes, and as it has grown, it’s taken on a handful of other pillars,” he said. “One is reinvigorating the Jewish diaspora.”
Kadish talked of his own experience growing up where he didn’t feel particularly engaged with Judaism in the traditional sense. But connecting through sport offers another avenue.
“There are other ways to be engaged with Judaism that fit a modern lifestyle,” Kadish said. “Now we run trips where we bring lacrosse players to Israel and they can coach in schools and experience it in a more genuine way.” Oliver said he hopes that he can be a part of that trip.
Kadish coached Oliver’s team in Maryland and stressed that winning wasn’t the end-all.
“It’s about repping Israel, ourselves, and our fellow Jews,” he said. “And having fun. And when you hammer those home, winning seems pretty dumb by comparison.
“But it was sick that we got our first win on the last day playing against the best U-13 teams in the world.”
Kadish said Oliver was great to have on the squad.
“He played hard, he’s coachable and he wanted to be a part of it,” he said. “He was one of our more improved players. He’s a soft spoken kid, but behind the quietness, he’s dialed in. You could feel his heart and passion the whole team.”
Oliver’s parents, Liz and Erik Brown, said that he is raising money for Israel Lacrosse as part of his mitzvah project for his upcoming bar mitzvah.
“Oliver knew that he was playing for more than just himself; he was playing for a country, a religion, a culture. Before Team Israel, Oliver didn’t know any other Jewish lacrosse players,” they said. “Meeting these kids and coaches has meant a lot to us as a family. It’s given us long-term connections to Jewish families across the country, and has given Oliver an appreciation for his heritage and culture. He knew that he was representing a lot more just than himself.”
As a lacrosse family, the Browns follow all things lacrosse. Oliver said his dad saw something about Israel Lacrosse on Instagram from last year’s Lacrosse World Series Championsip.
“Over the winter they posted that they were looking for players for their U-13 team and Oliver jumped at the chance to see if he could make it,” Liz Brown said. “He emailed the coach, followed up with additional information, scheduled interviews with his current coaches, and made the team.”
Oliver is hoping to go to Israel to help teach the game to others and grow the Israel lacrosse family, which was a theme that wove throughout their time at the tournament.
“We would say ‘mishpacha’ in our team breakdown,” where all the players huddle and put their hands in the middle, he said. “We’re trying to build the family up. It’s really cool. I’m lucky that I get to do this.”