Israelis and Argentina have always been a love story. The scenery, the food, the football, the trips - all these have made the South American country one of the favorite destinations for a trip after the army and in general. Even now, June 2023, Mochilleros can be found on the streets of Buenos Aires and throughout the country for several weeks already accompanying Israel's youth team in every game on its wonderful journey to the World Under-20 Championship.
Ofir Haim and Stav Lemkin's press conference ahead of the World Cup semifinals
"My twin brother and I have been traveling in South America for six months," says Ido Vogelter. "We came especially to this tournament after seeing the game against Japan in Bogota. We are returning to Israel in ten days but thank the team for the opportunity to connect to something bigger than us on this trip."
Ido and his brother Omri didn't come to Argentina just to watch the games. Together with a number of other Israelis, they decided to take the initiative and try to help the team in the cheer sector as much as possible. In recent days, the folks in Argentina have launched a donation campaign on social media, in order to raise money for props of encouragement. "There is a group of a few dozen Israelis who have been accompanying the team since the first game," says Ido, "and everyone's goal is to bring as many Israelis as possible to the semi-finals and create the best possible atmosphere of encouragement." For this purpose, buses were hired to bring the fans from Buenos Aires to La Plata, an hour and a half away, and special shirts were printed to be distributed to the Israeli fans.
One of the largest projects is a huge deployment flag specially sewn at a local sewing workshop in Mendoza. It measures 11 meters by 9 meters and in the center is a Star of David measuring 2.5 meters by 2.5 meters. Security in San Juan did not allow him into the stadium for the last game. In recent days, the fans have been working together with the national team to obtain permission to bring the flag into the semi-finals.
In any case, on the field there will be pennants purchased especially for the game, and with the help of the fans of Atlanta, the Jewish community team from Buenos Aires, there will also be drums, trumpets and everything necessary to create noise that will push the players of Ofir Haim. Special songs were also written for the young team, and before the game there will be pages of words waiting for the Israeli and Jewish fans.
Fans of the national team in Argentina, Photo: AP
Star of David 2.5 meters
Itamar Olensky, of Ultras Israel in Argentina, was at every game, in every city, and did not lose cheering for one second. In a Facebook post, he talks about losing his grandmother during the tournament, considering returning to Israel, but being persuaded to stay by his father and uncle. In every game he asked for her help from above, and in the meantime he accepts. "Grandma Vert, I will forever love you, thank you for who you were and for what you taught me," he wrote after the victory over Brazil, "and thank you for the World Cup which, no matter what happens next, is perfect for me." Itamar is also one of several Israelis who promised that if the team makes it to the semi-finals they will miss their hair ahead of the encounter against Uruguay, and he has already done so.
The fundraising by Israelis and the response of the Jewish community is exciting and contagious. It is, of course, a product of the success, but also of the openness and accessibility of Ofir Haim and his players. When you combine this with patriotism, community and the desire to beat the world far from Israel, you understand how stadiums in La Plata, Mendoza and San Juan felt like stadiums in Israel in recent days.
"There's no greater fun than hearing the reactions here when I say I'm from Israel," says Ilan Halperin, who made the journey from Mexico to Buenos Aires. "Whether it's the taxi driver who was excited about the Israeli number 9, the hotel employee who praised the victory against Brazil or just talks about Ofir Haim's team. It's just a World Cup, but here in Argentina we understand the significance and the good name it gives Israel and its national team."
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