The new goalkeeper of the Ahva Umm al-Fahm soccer team is already used to seeing people burst into tears after meeting him. That's what happens when your name is Gilad Shalit.
Shalit, 21, recently joined the Arab team as its only Jewish player after playing for Maccabi Barkai. He grew up in the northern community of Mei Ami and served in the IDF
Armored Corps, just like the kidnapped soldier.
Last Wednesday, when the team's secretary tried to register the new player with the Israel Football Association, he received the same familiar response.
"I asked the IFA secretary to register him," said the team's secretary, Dafer Mahmid. "She picked up his card and was shocked. She went aside, took off her glasses, and burst into tears."
From his very first training session with the team, Shalit felt like one of the guys. He just had one request from his teammates. "I asked them not to call me Gilad Shalit," he said. "Gilad is enough. It's not something to joke about."
On Saturday, ahead of the team's match against Hapoel Arara, Shalit appeared satisfied. "I feel great here," he said. "I love Umm al-Fahm, the atmosphere and the people. What more does one need?"
The match ended with Umm al-Fahm trouncing Arara 7-1.
The new player has raised hopes among Ahva Umm al-Fahm's fans to restore the glory days of local soccer team Hapoel Umm al-Fahm. But alongside the sports-related aspirations, the goalkeeper and team have greater and more important hopes.
"I pray that in one of the upcoming matches you'll be able to take a photo of me together with Gilad Shalit," the goalkeeper concluded.
Majdi Abed contributed to this report