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Israel’s Most Popular Social-Sport for Women Targets Montreal, Toronto

Ofra Abramovich met some of the Montreal Mamanet players when she visited last spring

Nov. 2, 2018


MONTREAL –  Can the sport of Mamanet, more commonly known as cachibol or Newcomb, become a sensation in Quebec and Ontario as it is in Israel?

We will get a good indication during the weekend of Nov. 9, 2018, when Ofra Abramovich, founder of the largest social-sports organization in Israel, comes to Montreal to organize a series of clinics.

Abramovich created Mamanet in 2005. The name stands for the words “Mama” and “Net” (as in networking and Newcomb ball net). It is aimed at mothers and women over the age of 30.

The rules of the game are based on volleyball, the main difference being that the ball is caught before passing it to the next player or over the net. This allows novice sports enthusiasts to participate as well. Each team consists of up to 14 mothers (players) and one coach, with players representing the schools their children attend.

I reached Abramovich in Spain where Mamanet has been included in the World Sport Games, where she told me that two Mamanet leagues have started in Vancouver and she now has her eyes set on Montreal. In February, Israeli Mamanet player Jenny Shuster will be moving to Toronto with plans to launch a huge league there.

Montreal Action Plan

David Levy, who arrived last year as the new Consul General for Israel to Quebec and the Maritimes, is very anxious to see Mamanet get started here. Last summer, he met with Abramovich and a small group of Montreal Jewish moms who were ready to be part of the initiative.

Israel Consul General David Levy (middle) meets with Mamanet enthusiasts, including Ofra Abramovich to his left

Levy quipped that Mamanet players are the exact opposite of soccer moms. “Here is where it’s moms who are playing on teams and the kids come to watch and cheer,” he said.

Carly Berlin, Director of Youth and Family Engagement at the Sylvan Adams YM-YWHA, is one of the leading players getting Mamanet started in Montreal. Abramovich says there are some 30 committed players and hopes this number will grow when the Mamanet Academy sets up shop at the McGill University Field House at 475 Avenue des Pins.

Registration is underway on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Ofra Abramovich and one of her teams

Berlin says she has been organizing Mamanet games since last year alongside her Jewish community colleagues Shanie Ora Dotan and Meghan Weinstein. “Shanie first brought the idea to me last Fall,” Berlin said. “As an activity that blends physical and social activity, as well as connecting the community to Israel, it is a perfect fit for the Y.”

Last winter, the Y held two free open gym nights to promote a 10-week winter session for January. “This was a way for women to get acquainted with the game and start creating a community,” Berlin said. “We started offering a 10-week session of Mamanet on Saturday nights last winter.  In the spring, registration for our 10-week session doubled.  Now, we have begun hosting free open gym practices again for the Fall, the first of which had a great turnout.”

As for Abramovich, she got hooked after going to an all-women’s class of cachibol.

“This made me so happy, because it’s something I was doing something for myself and second, I felt like I was 16 years old again,” she said. “It really brought me back to my happy time in high school, and it is a team game, so everybody’s together.”

Abramovich’s goal is simple: wherever there are mothers there should be a cachibol league.

“When children see their mothers participating in sports, they also want to play like her,” she said. “In every municipality where there is Mamanet, the number of children playing in a sports club (volleyball specifically) rises. Second, when mothers start to do sports, they become aware of a more active way of living, and they see what they are eating.  In Israel, women in sports is much subordinated in terms of money and in terms of facilities, in terms of everything.”

Ofra Abramovich at one of her speaking engagements

A Local League

Berlin says that the Y would love to host a league, a competitive team or just continue its weekly “rec” game. “All we need is a few dedicated women in different areas to start recruiting and forming their own teams,” she said. “So far, feedback has been positive and as a player myself, I can tell you it’s a great way to stay active, meet new people, and get involved in something meaningful.”

The November clinic, adds Berlin, will be a great way to build momentum and motivate women to go out and create their own teams. “Long term,” she says. “I have no doubt that Mamanet will continue to grow and branch out into different schools, workplaces, and other community institutions. We’re pleased and excited about the interest we’ve received and hope to continue growing Mamanet in Montreal.”

Mike Cohen is B’nai Brith Canada’s Quebec news bureau chief, a veteran writer and municipal politician. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecohencsl.-