Matkot, the wooden paddleball game that’s a regular feature — and sometimes a nuisance — on the Israeli beachfront, is making its way to the United States.
The game that’s inspired a documentary and a Tel Aviv museum won’t be played on the shore, but on the fields and courts of Jewish camps and schools.
“I wanted to pitch this to people who didn’t know it existed,” said Mona Henoch, a former New Yorker who has been living in Israel for the last ten years, and in Tel Aviv for the past four.
Henoch was familiar with matkot from her own childhood on Nantucket, where she knew it as Kadima. She became more adept at it when she moved to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem, doing her best to infiltrate the pickup games played by regulars at the Tel Aviv beaches she frequented.
“You go to the beach, and you go up to someone and ask to play with them,” she said. “People look at it as fun, not really as a sport.”
At the same time, it can be an intensive game, said Henoch, with the experts playing it four, five, six or seven hours a day, every weekend.
“We have such fun playing it,” said Henoch. “It’s no kumbaya, but real competition out there.”
It’s also sometimes played by local kids in the park rather than on the beach. The tarmac of a playground or field offers a different experience than does a sandy beach, said Henoch. Some of the regular Tel Aviv players also play matkot against a wall or on the nearby promenade on windy days.
“I wanted to pitch it to people who didn’t know it existed, offering it as another form of physical fitness,” said Henoch. “It can be played on fields and in a gym, it doesn’t have expensive equipment and you can be in any kind of shape to play it. And, amazingly, there are no points, it’s just about keeping the ball off the ground.”
Henoch’s kids — she has a son in the army and a daughter who recently completed her army service — attended the Hannah Senesh Community Day School in downtown Brooklyn and summer camp at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, and she started pitching it to those two institutions.
The matkot project is part of “ThisIsIsrael.Today,” Henoch’s ongoing short video journey aiming to show the culture, style, nature and life in Israel.
She is flying in several well-known matkot players from the Tel Aviv beach to schools and camps in the US this spring and summer. They include Nissan Levi, a Tel Aviv Rastafarian who plays double-handed, and Ilan San, a French immigrant.
She is also embarking on an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise $40,000 to help pay for the project, which will include custom-made, carbon fiber matkot paddles for the participating institutions.
Future plans include publicizing the game beyond the Jewish community, and looking for major athletic label sponsorship.
“This can go in a lot of directions,” said Henoch. “It’s pretty unbelievable that there’s this whole sport that is almost unknown. You just don’t hear about stuff like this anymore.”