Instead of rocks, Scheck Hillel Community School will take aim with a soccer ball. Instead of a slingshot, well-placed kicks and headers will be used to take down a soccer giant.
The Hillel boys’ soccer team, brought together at least partially due to the desire to escape anti-Semitism in South America, has bonded and is a big upset away from the school’s first state title in any sport.
“I’ve talked to our kids this week about [the Biblical story] David and Goliath,” said Hillel coach Ben Magidson, whose team will challenge defending state champion Tampa Prep on Thursday at 5p.m. in the Class 1A state final in Melbourne.
The game was scheduled for Friday night but was switched because Hillel is a Jewish school that observes Shabbat. That’s the Jewish day of rest from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Hillel (19-1-1) already has made a historic run, going three steps further than any sports program has at the North Miami Beach school. But now it faces the Terrapins (24-1-3), who have won five state titles since 2005 and have allowed only three goals in the past seven weeks.
The Terrapins have 12 seniors — which is exactly 12 more than Hillel, who has a freshman, Alan Landau, playing goalie.
But Hillel will not back down on a soccer pitch – not with what the families of these boys have endured to get to the United States and not with a coach who knows what real battle is like.
Magidson, who is Jewish and a native of Miami, enlisted in the U.S. Army after the attacks of 9/11. He spent nearly six years serving his country, deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq and earning a bronze star for meritorious service while in battle. Now Magidson has a new mission – helping to mold boys into men at Hillel, a school in which a large majority of the students are Hispanic, many coming from Argentina, Venezuela, Peru and other parts of Latin America.
Each one of his players speaks Spanish, and they are bonded by religion, culture and soccer.
“These families wanted to come to a place where they could speak Spanish,” Magidson said, “and freely practice Judaism.”
Landau, the goalie, and sophomore defender Benjamin Vaisberg are among the players whose families left Venezuela because of anti-Semitism as well as security and political concerns.
Patricia Vaisberg, Benjamin’s mother, said the students at her son’s Jewish school in Caracas were harassed by bogus drug searches ordered by the government.
The family finally moved five years ago, just before one of the synagogues where they used to worship was vandalized and desecrated with spray-painted swastikas.
“Every day,” she said, “we say: ‘Thank God we’re here in Miami and part of this community at Hillel.’ ”
Class 2A state final
On Friday night at 8 in Melbourne, Gulliver Prep (19-2-3) will play Jacksonville Bolles (25-3) in a battle between traditional powers.
Gulliver, which won four state titles from 1992-06 under Jorge Dieppa, is now one win away for getting back on top in the first year under coach Matias Asorey.
The Raiders are led by senior Bryan Ruiz-Unger, who has had the key goals in each of the past four games.
Bolles, meanwhile, has reached the final four 10 times in the past 12 years, and its most recent state title came in 2009. Bolles has outscored four playoff teams this year 29-1. That includes an 8-0 win over Pensacola Catholic, the most lopsided boys’ soccer regional final for any team since 1993.
The Bulldogs are loaded with 14 seniors. They are led by forward Adam Demetree (42 goals) and midfielder Jay Bolt, a North Florida signee who has 15 goals and a team-high 25 assists.