Jewish youth in Westchester have played in athletic competitions for years in the Maccabi Games, honoring their Jewish heritage. However, Jake Suesserman, 19, had an opportunity to represent Israel, a country he holds near and dear to his heart, in a different setting. “Playing for Israel means the world to me,” Suesserman said about his experiences competing with the Israel Lacrosse Association.
Suesserman played lacrosse on the varsity team at Blind Brook in each of his four years of high school, serving as the captain of the team in his senior year. That same year, Suesserman began playing with Israel Lacrosse. He played in a tournament dubbed the Heritage Cup, a series of games played in the U.S. where American athletes can play for a country in which they have heritage. Suesserman played in this tournament in both his senior year of high school and this past year as a freshman in college. His performance in both of those tournaments secured him a spot on the Israeli national team for the first Men’s U20 Lacrosse European Championship ever in Prague, Czech Republic.
Due to Suesserman’s participation in the NCAA in his first year at Muhlenberg College as a lacrosse student-athlete, he was not allowed to play on the actual Israeli U20 championship team, but instead played on the American festival team. This group was made up of mainly Americans but in any one game they could play alongside 4-5 native Israelis. However, prior to this tournament in Prague, the players on the championship team and festival team would sometimes play together in competitions. Although many of the Israeli and American young men competed separately, they roomed together, ate together, and toured the city together for almost two weeks between June 25 and July 8.
“The experience was eye-opening for me,” Suesserman explained. “It was the first time I had met anyone my age from Israel, and to see how much kids from Israel were similar to me even though they had grown up across the world was absolutely incredible.”
Suesserman continued to explain the bond that was shared between his American teammates and their Israeli counterparts. “We shared a common bond of both playing lacrosse and being Jewish, and it led to instant friendships and brotherhoods that I will not forget for a long, long time.”
For those curious, the Israeli championship team (which Suesserman did not play on) placed fifth of eight teams in the U20 tournament, defeating Wales, Poland and Latvia and losing to the Czech Republic, Ireland and England.
The team Suesserman did play on, the festival team, competed in three different tournaments: The Prague Cup, the European Lacrosse Festival, and the National Team Challenge, where Suesserman and his teammates competed against other European men’s national teams such as Poland, Spain, Norway, and the Netherlands.
In the European Lacrosse Festival, Suesserman’s squad faced a 3-1 deficit in the championship game but stormed back to take the gold medal by a score of 6-3. Suesserman scored the fifth goal of the game as his team defeated a team made up of Czech and American players.
What made Suesserman’s experience on the festival team a bit different from the U20 tournament was that he mainly competed against men’s teams, not Under 20 teams. In the final game of the European Lacrosse Festival, a portion of the team that Suesserman and his teammates faced were former Division 1 or Division 3 lacrosse players. The men’s tournament featured some players years removed from college, but his teammates ranged only between 16-21 years old.
On his experience playing with teams made up of grown men, Suesserman explained that his time at Muhlenberg helped him get used to the speed and physicality of international lacrosse. “Playing against great competition day in and day out at Muhlenberg definitely made me battle tested and ready to go in Prague. Playing lacrosse in college also helped increase my knowledge of the game and lacrosse IQ so I was better able to understand both offensive and defensive sets.”
Although Suesserman played alongside mainly Americans, the festival team represented Israel in the three tournaments and wore the same jerseys as the Israeli team. Suesserman described his feelings about wearing the Israeli jersey: “I’ve been raised to be extremely proud and outspoken about my Jewish heritage, and having seen so much anti-Semitism around the world, I feel a great sense of pride wearing the Star of David on my helmet and on my jersey.”
Suesserman finished his journey in Prague with eight goals and six assists across the three tournaments.
His experience in Prague extended beyond the lacrosse field in what was a unique and interesting two weeks. Along with his American and Israeli teammates, Suesserman visited Terezin Concentration Camp and the ghetto museum there, which is located 30 miles north of Prague. The young men also toured the Old New Synagogue in the city, which was built in 1270 and remains the oldest active synagogue in Europe.
Suesserman and his peers also visited the Jewish cemetery in the Jewish Quarter and many Holocaust memorials for Jewish victims in Prague. “I learned so much about my heritage and our people that I never would have guessed I would have learned on a lacrosse trip,” he said.
Through his bonds with his Israeli counterparts, Suesserman also learned about Israeli life as a young man. Israelis enlist in the military at 18 years old as a part of their mandatory service, a stark difference between Israeli and American youth. However, Suesserman’s new Israeli friends taught him about the length of service and the differences in service for men and women.
He also explained that he learned about the different jobs Israelis can have in the military. “Some of the guys were cooks, some worked in intelligence and base security, some made sure the base was clean, cut the grass and mowed the lawns, and some were in combat zones and on patrols on the border,” Suesserman explained. “I was impressed with how much pride they had for both their service and their country in general. It definitely drew me to Israel, and I definitely want to go [to Israel] next summer.”
Overall, Suesserman’s experience was unforgettable and linked two things he is passionate about: lacrosse and his Jewish heritage. “I can’t thank the Israel Lacrosse Association enough for giving me this amazing opportunity to meet and play with lacrosse players from Israel,” he said.Suesserman is looking forward to spreading the word about Israel Lacrosse and encouraging younger lacrosse players to get involved with the organization. Israel Lacrosse “has showed me so much about my heritage and given me so many opportunities to meet new people from around the country and across the world in a very short period of time,” he said. “Seeing how much the Israeli players loved lacrosse and watching them play and making friendships gave me a sense of fulfillment I haven’t had in quite some time.”