An Jerusalem football team dedicated to encouraging coexistence is one of four recipients of a NIS 300,000 ($80,000) prize awarded in memory of Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach, the Israeli teenagers kidnapped and killed by Palestinian terrorists in 2014.
The Hapoel Katamon soccer team, currently placed in Israel’s second-tier National League, was established by fans in 2007 and is popular with families.
It was awarded the local category unity prize for its Neighborhood League, which matches players and volunteers with social, educational and sporting activities for more than 1,000 Jewish and Arab 10-to-14-year-olds, among them religious, secular and special needs youngsters, “within the spirit of accepting the other and connecting between different sectors and opinions,” according to a statement from the Jerusalem Unity Prize.
Volunteers go out to schools and neighborhoods in Jewish and Arab parts of the city, providing twice-weekly football training, weekly help with homework and monthly soccer competitions that bring everyone together in boys and girls leagues.
Sports Minister Miri Regev, seen by many as a divisive force in Israeli politics on Arab-related issues, changed her Facebook cover picture to one featuring herself surrounded by professional soccer players, and posted congratulations to Hapoel Katamon for the team’s “contribution to coexistence.”
The prize, now in its second year, is a joint initiative of the religiously observant families of the murdered teens, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and the non-profit Gesher organization.
It was inspired by the unity that swept Israel and the Jewish Diaspora during the 18 days of searches for teenagers, before it emerged that they had been killed shortly after they were abducted.
The prizes will be awarded by President Reuven Rivlin on the anniversary of their deaths, June 1.
The prize aims to reward those “who inspire mutual respect and tolerance throughout the Jewish world.” This year saw more than 100 nominations.
The national prize was divided between two recipients. The first is Jewish Connection, an organization aiming to connect Orthodox and secular Jews via joint activities, to expose Jewish heritage and to “bequeath to observant Jews the feeling that they do not have a monopoly over the Torah.”
Also awarded a national prize were youth movements Bnei Akiva and Dror Israel for an initiative to bring students with different worldviews together for discussion and joint activities.
The international prize goes to the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Global School Twinning program, which links Israeli and Diaspora schools in conversations about issues such as Jewish identity and social responsibility.
The prize money will be divided equally between the four winners.