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Today is no ordinary cold rainy November day. Today is no ordinary Tuesday. Today is the most exciting day in Y’s life!  Today, right after school, he will don the red shirt for the first time in his life.  Number 17.  That’s right!  Today Y is joining Hapoel Tel Aviv.


For those of you who don’t know, Hapoel is not just another football team in Israel.  For Y and thousands of other teenagers, Hapoel is THE best, the one and only, the greatest football team that ever was. Indeed, Y is still a youngster, only 14 and a half, but he has seven years of experience playing for other teams. For years his great dream was to join “Hapoel”.  He was the outstanding player on his last team and did his best to reach the level that would enable him to join the premier team. And today it is happening!


Y sits in his history class, but cannot concentrate on what the teacher is saying. Who cares about the past? Y can only think of the Future, which is drawing nearer every moment. He pictures himself on the pitch, impressing the coach with his ball skills. He pictures his proud father cheering him on from the stands.


The school bell sounds and brings Y back to the present. Now! Y is off like a rocket, runs to unlock his bicycle and peddles quickly to the football field.  Ten minutes later he is already at the practice field, walking into the players’ entrance.  He walks towards the dressing room, his heart pounding from joy and excitement, but also from the fear of not playing his very best.


The moment before he goes in, he stops for a second to hear the voices of his new teammates. They are laughing and teasing one another as they change into their uniforms. Now he is one of them. His life will change the moment he opens the door.


Y enters the room and stands for a moment. All eyes are on the new teammate. He walks into the room slowly, his eyes move slowly from one player to another.  Some are well-known, and Y has played against them in one tournament over the years. He smiles, and they return his smile. He feels welcome.  Then suddenly his eyes rest on the player on the corner.   This other player is not smiling at all. His expression is a mixture of surprise and disgust, yes disgust!


“What are you doing here?” Y asks quietly. 


“I joined Hapoel three weeks ago. And what are YOU doing here?”, J asks in an angry tone.


What an awkward situation!  Last year Y and J met on the pitch of the final league match.  Y was the star striker of his squad, leading the conference in goals scored. J was the team’s strongest defensemen, in charge of preventing Y from getting anywhere near the goal.   Towards the end of the first half, the two players charged after the ball at the same time.  They collided, and then the pushing and shouting began. Who knows who began the fight? Who remembers whether  Y pushed first or J pushed. In any case, Y fell down and the referee gave J the red card.  With J gone, Y scored two goals in the second half and his squad won the game.  J has never forgotten, never forgiven.


Y decides that he won’t let J spoil his excitement.  He slowly puts on his new uniform, carefully ties his shoes,  and races out onto the pitch to warm up with the other players.  Y wants the coach to notice how enthusiastic he is.  Y is here to succeed!


 The practice game is next. Every time Y and J compete for the ball, you can see the sparks flying.  Y’s elbow in J’s ear, J’s knee in Y’s stomach.  J is also a new player on the team and wants to impress the coach.  They each go home battered and bruised, but happy to have joined their new team.


That evening Y peddles back home to prepare a special dinner with his mother for the whole family.  During the meal, Y and his Mother don’t talk too much. Each of them is deep in thought.  But when the family digs into the chocolate dessert that Y has prepared, he tells his brothers and parents about his new team. He wonders whether to tell them about J, and when his mother asks him about the bruises, he almost breaks down and tell them, but decides to keep his problems to himself. “I slipped during school” he tells them. 



, Over the next few weeks J and Y become accustomed to their new team.  The level of their playing grows, but so does their rivalry. A knee here, an elbow there.  The coach is growing tired of the fighting. He warns them that the next time he catches them battering each other, someone will be sent home for a week.


Five minutes later,  the coach hears a shout and turns around to see J sprawled on the grass, grabbing his stomach and screaming with pain.  “Get up and play ball!”  yells the coach, but J can’t get up. His pain is terrible. He rolls over in the grass. “Why is he faking this”, Y thinks to himself, his face going white with anger.  “He’s just trying to get me into more trouble”.  Sure enough, the coach yells “Where is Y?”.  He goes over to Y and tells him to pack his things and go home. “I told you two not to fight with each other! What have you done to him?” 


Y is in shock.  “Coach, I didn’t do anything, I wasn’t even near J when he fell down. Please don’t punish me, I had nothing to do with it.”  The coach is very angry and still wants to send Y home, but Tom and Ben, two other players on the team run over to the coach and back up Y’s answer.  Now the coach is angry with J.  “J, why are you pretending that Y hit you?  Are you faking? Maybe I should send YOU home. Both of you come over here right now”.


But J stays on the ground, moaning.  He can’t move at all.  He manages to mumble to the coach that it wasn’t Y’s fault at all.  


Y is mumbling to himself, trying to understand what is going on. Suddenly he remembers! His brother had a similar incident four years ago, and fell down in pain at home.  Y runs up to the coach. “Maybe it’s his appendix”, he says.   “Append – what?” says the coach.  “Appendix”, says Y.  It’s this thing in your stomach.  My brother once had the same thing.  He had to go the hospital right away. He almost died.”


Finally the coach realizes that Y may be right.  He phones 101 and asks for an ambulance right away.  Soon, J is in a shiny white ambulance, on the way, hurrying to Wolffson Medical Center which is luckily close by. 


For J, the seconds seem like hours.  The pain on his right side is terrible. The ambulance rushes past the traffic, drives through several red lights, and within minutes whisks past the statue of the horse at the entrance to the Children’s Emergency entrance.


When J awakes, he does not understand at first where he is. Then he suddenly realizes that he is a hospital room. At first the walls seem to be moving. Slowly he beings to see normally.  There is a crack on the ceiling and a television on the wall. What is he doing there? He has trouble recalling anything that happened since the soccer practice.  His Mother and Father are sitting next to his bed and smile to see that he is awake.


“You give everyone a real scare” says his Mom. His Father just smiles and holds his hand. “You’ve had an operation and will have to rest here for a couple of days”.  


“What happened?” J asked. Did Y injure me? Is that why I am here?”


“No, on the contrary”, his Dad answers, “he has been trying to phone you.”


“What does he want from me?” asks J, upset.


“Well, to tell you the truth”, says J’s Mom, “he really saved you. He persuaded the coach that you had appendicitis and needed a hospital. I think you should phone him back and thank him. “


J took the telephone and called Y. At the beginning their conversation was difficult. After all, they had been rivals.  J thanked Y for saving him, Y said “Oh, it was nothing, in Arabic we say ‘do a good deed and throw it away into the sea’ ……”.  J wanted to know what happened after he was taken in the ambulance.


Suddenly Y asked “J, would it be ok if I came to visit you in the hospital? I will bring some chocolate cake that my Mother made specially for you.”


And sure enough, the next afternoon, between school and soccer practice Y came to visit J at the hospital.  Y entered the room and gave J the small box he was carrying. “Take this”, he told J. “It will defend you and look after us, we still have a tough season ahead”.  J. opened the wrapping and smiled – a hamsa.  He said “How did you know that this is good for defence?  After all, you’re the striker, I’m the defender.  Where did you get it from?  


“Where did I get it from? It’s a hamsa, doesn’t everyone have them?”, Y answered.


J felt that he owed Y an apology.  “Listen”, he said, “I don’t remember how this rivalry started, but I’m really sorry for being so mean, especially when you joined the team. And I’m really happy that you came to visit.  We should really be friends – my teacher in Arabic class taught us that Yossi and Youssef are really the very same name.”  Y offered his own apology, and soon the two were talking about who would be on the starting line up for the game on Saturday and who would sit on the bench. They complained about younger sisters, and how they both hated to study history and geography.  There was a lot to talk about. Suddenly Y looked at his watch. “Yo, I’ll be late for soccer practice.”   I’ll come see you tomorrow.  We can do our homework together.


And sure enough, he did. This time J helped Y a little with his Hebrew and English homework, and Y helped J out a little in Arabic and Math.  


It’s Saturday morning, the trophy match semi-final has finally arrived. J, a month after the operation, is still unable to play. He sits in the stands with his Father, cheering on his team. At halftime, the game is still scoreless.  A tall stranger seated next to him asks him what his name is.


“Joseph” he answers.


“Ah”, the man says. “You are the one who had appendicitis. I hear you are a really good player. I’d love to see you play sometime soon.  Can you tell me, Joseph, do you know the name of the fellow wearing #11. He is a really fine striker.”


Joseph doesn’t hesitate for a second.  “His name is Y and we are good friends.  He is a terrific player, the best on our team.  I’m happy to give you his phone number. Can you tell me please, why you are asking?”


“Because I am a scout for Westham”, answers the man. “I am looking for talented young players.  I will get in touch with him after the game. Can I say that you gave me his number?


“Of course”, says J , “I’d be happy to. We were big rivals at the beginning, but he helped save my life and now we are really good buddies.”


At half time, J goes down from the stands to the pitch and joins the coach and the players.  He gives words of encouragement to all the players, but especially to Y. “Play really well this half”, he says, and winks, smiling.


“Of course”, says J. After.  The game resumes. Hapoel is attacking. Just a few minutes remain.  Y receives a lovely pass from a fellow player, passes a defenceman, fakes twice and kicks the ball hard into the far corner of the net.  Gooooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaallllllllllllllll!


The noise from the bleachers is deafening. J, his Father and the scout are on their feet, shouting and cheering.  All his fellow players chase after Y  to  congratulate him, but he is running away from them,  towards the bleachers, and pulling off his shirt to reveal the T-shirt underneath.  On it he has written, in giant letters,


“For you, my friend!”








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