Hapoel Jerusalem Football Club (HJFC) is unique to Israel, it is fully owned by its fans through a registered association. The club’s aim is to harness the immense popularity of football in order to bring about social change in a city often characterized by tensions between its different religious and ethnic groups. The association has almost 900 registered members including men and women, young and old, of all backgrounds, communities and religious groups. By providing a safe, open, tolerant, and family-friendly environment, the club is looking to help create new norms of behaviour in Israeli sports & society.
Israeli soccer has a reputation for violence and intolerance. The club has a goal to create an entirely different atmosphere, one that values diversity, openness and solidarity between people from different backgrounds, and discourages all forms of violence. At HJFC, the concept of being a fan carries a much more substantial meaning: being engaged in its everyday activities; volunteering in its various social programs; and taking responsibility for the club’s progress and development in order to ensure that its impact continues to grow.
Bringing Social Change
HJFC has an explicit social agenda, realized through a number of influential programs organized in light of three main objectives:
1/ Promoting Peaceful Coexistence through Soccer – Bringing together boys and girls, Muslims, Christians and Jews, children from immigrant Ethiopian and Russian communities, children from facilities for troubled youth and children with disabilities. When playing together and competing with one another, they are equal and nothing differentiates between them.
2/ Bridging the Gender Gap – HKJFC aspires to break the stereotype associating soccer (and sports in general) with men by bringing women’s soccer to centre stage, and giving any girl and women in Jerusalem the chance to play soccer in a professional, supportive setting.
3/ Creating a Climate for Diversity, Acceptance & Change – HJFC has embarked on a targeted and coordinated effort to identify potential youth at risk and provide them with a varied and extensive selection of programs that could help deter destructive behaviour.
Some examples of the inspiring social change programs run by HJFC:-
The Neighborhoods’ League – Football teams from schools across the different neighbourhoods of Jerusalem come together to practice twice a week, as well as receive support with schoolwork and additional educational curricula. Once a month all teams come together for a joint tournament. The league is unique in that it brings together children from all of Jerusalem’s diverse backgrounds – Jewish and Arab, religious and secular, children from affluent neighbourhoods and those from less fortunate economic backgrounds. The 2017/18 league included 42 boys & girls teams with a total of about 700 children.
“One on One” – One-on-one meetings prior to practice session between teams from Jewish and Arab neighbourhoods where the children are taught football terminology in Hebrew and Arabic, so that games are played using both languages.
Women’s Soccer Program – About 400 women and girls take part in the program, which connects women from the different neighbourhoods across Jerusalem, enabling a rare interaction between Jews and Arabs. The adult women’s amateur league offers an organized framework for adult women to play soccer, helping to normalize the participation of women in ‘non-traditional’ roles and breaking down social barriers.
The Soccer Schools – Children ages 5-12 come from different neighbourhoods and backgrounds to receiving top-notch professional training which emphasizes important values such as team play, sportsmanship and rejection of all forms of racism and violence.
Kiryat Yearim Project – The Kiryat Yearim Youth Village is a ‘last chance’ boarding school for boys and girls from disadvantaged backgrounds, including many who are children of immigrants from the Former Soviet Union and Ethiopia. HJFC leads a soccer program within the village, emphasizing values of teamwork, dedication and sportsmanship. The program has been credited by school leaders for a distinct reduction in violence in the village and increase in graduation rates.
All of these initiatives have been developed, refined and implemented by an ever-growing number of volunteers. The UPLIFT Foundation assists with the growth in resources allowing HKJFC to expand the scale and scope of it’s programs, reach out to more people, and ultimately have a greater impact on Israeli society.