The Waldorf Rimon Junior High and High School in Pardes Hanna was recently the scene of a touch rugby carnival.
The brainchild of Simon Kuttner (my youngest son), a teacher at the school, this semi-final and finals competition held in a carnival atmosphere was the culmination of weeks of training and preparation and followed elimination matches held previously. Six teams each consisting of 5 pupils (boys and girls) from years 9 & 10 (ages 14 to 16) took part as well as a team comprised of teachers.
Usually during class breaks the students play soccer in the playground but in the weeks leading up to the finals they concentrated instead on honing their rugby passing, kicking and running skills. Simon’s love of rugby motivated him to share it with his pupils and expose them to a sport which is not so well known in Israel.
A carnival atmosphere prevailed with parades, an opening ceremony, balloons, flags, music played by the school band, songs and even a raffle. The Israel Rugby Union supported this unique venture by providing a cup, medals, rugby balls and tee shirts. Without a doubt one of the highlights was a spirited Haka led by Simon who has been a passionate All Black supporter since his school days back in New Zealand. In addition each team created their own haka and performed it to the delight of onlookers and participants alike. One of the most difficult tasks, according to Simon, was teaching the students the elementary rules of playing rugby. The concept of passing a ball backwards while running forward is very difficult especially for Israeli kids brought up on soccer and basketball. One of the parents who originally made Aliyah from South Africa and whose son at the school is part of the Israel rugby youth team assisted with training.
Each team had its own name and coloured t-shirt. Watching the games it was obvious that all those participating as well as the spectators were enthusiastically enjoying themselves.
The object was not however just to have a fun day and a break from lessons of a more serious nature. It was an opportunity to expose the students to a new sport that requires different skills and which also fosters an atmosphere of community and togetherness. As one of the parents watching commented: “I was astounded at the lack of frustration and anger displayed by the pupils. They showed competitive spirit yet played with good sportsmanship attitudes, something I have not witnessed in my many years of watching football in Israel.” A banner hanging at the ground summed it up with the slogan Rugby for all – integrity, passion, solidarity, discipline and respect.
An Israel Rugby Union representative who is in charge of rugby development in Israel and was present at the competition came away impressed at this unique tournament. He mentioned that there are currently 300 youngsters playing touch rugby in the Modi’in area and he raised the possibility of future inter-school competitions being organized at the Wingate sports center in Netanya.
Kol Hakavod to Simon Kuttner for bringing the passion of rugby from New Zealand all the way to Pardes Hanna.
Michael Kuttner is a Jewish New Zealander who for many years was actively involved with various communal organisations connected to Judaism and Israel. He now lives in Israel.
[This article was originally published on J-Wire and is reproduced here with permission from Michael Kuttner.]