The energy, the enthusiasm and perspiration are the same as on any football pitch, but something about this team chasing the ball is quite a bit different: The players in this case are girls, not just any girls – but religious and orthodox youngsters from Bnei Brak.
For the past few weeks a group of girls wearing long skirts have been training on a football pitch in the heart of the religious Beni Brak neighborhood.
The girls are closely watched by a coach from the top league Hapoel Tel Aviv team. He roars at his team of players as he trains them for upcoming tournaments.
The girls on the team come from underprivileged neighborhoods throughout Israel and are enrolled at religious boarding schools in Bnei Brak.
The girl's coach, Ronny Levi, explained that the idea of setting up the football team was to help the girls forget their problems.
"They come from very problematic backgrounds and we are giving them something they wouldn't have received in their home towns," he said.
The Hapoel Tel Aviv football team has been involved in social and educational activities for many years. It assists some 16,000 youth who come from low socioeconomic backgrounds.
The idea was founded by past and present owners of the Hapoel club, including Moshe Teomim, Sami Sagol and Motti Orenstein. As part of their social assistance, the club sets up football teams in underprivileged areas and it was recently decided to also offer this pastime to another less popular fan – the orthodox sector.
Assisted by welfare personnel, the football club set up a football team in an orthodox boarding school.
Sense of belongingDr. Meir Orenstein, Director of Hapoel Tel Aviv's educational activities said it all started with football for young orthodox youth at risk.
"Next we thought up the idea of setting up a football team for orthodox girls as well. To my surprise the management at the boarding school was very enthusiastic about the idea."
Orenstein said he had explained to the management of the boarding school that playing football would give the girls a sense of belonging, teach them team play and give them an opportunity to vent negative energies.
The girls jumped at the opportunity, donned their red outfits and joined the coach on the pitch.
"It helps us forget our problems and gives us an opportunity to feel equal," the girls say.
Once a week the football coach comes to the boarding school, and after having completed their studies for the day the girls eagerly follow his stern orders. "I love playing football," says a twelve year old player, "ever since I was a little girl I played football with my brothers at home, because we weren't allowed to play outside. It's fun, I use up a lot of energy and it makes me feel good," she said.
Another 16-year-old said she loves scoring goals. "We wait impatiently for our training and I love scoring goals. It's not difficult playing in a skirt, we've learned to get around it. At first, our parents didn't quite understand why we wanted to play football. It seemed strange to them. But now they support me," she said while adding that she may even make it a professional career when she grows up.
The girls get to put into practice what they have been taught at the various tournaments played between the boarding schools.
"They are very enthusiastic, but they have a lot to learn," said the coach adding that if the girls are prevented from playing or coaching they see it as a punishment.