It’s practically a dream come true to spend a year living in Ashkelon, Israel, with the Israel National Lacrosse team. I am currently a senior at UMass Amherst and am a member of its women’s lacrosse team. Due to COVID-19, I have the opportunity to continue my studies at UMass by learning remotely.
I grew up in Wayland, where my love for sports and especially lacrosse began. I had never really had an opportunity to play on teams with other Jewish girls, besides my sister, Jackie. I was pretty much always the only one on my team who was Jewish, both at Wayland High School and at UMass. While training here with the Israel National Team, I have finally been able to do what I love with other Jewish athletes, which has been such an unbelievable experience.
We start our mornings here with a team practice, lift, agility and conditioning sessions. We also have Hebrew lessons each week, which has been very helpful. We are even learning vocabulary that we can use on the field with our teammates and coaching local youth.
After practice, we come back to the apartments we are living in, where I take my UMass classes remotely on Zoom. Our apartment is amazing! It’s a beautiful new high-rise building overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. I love spending time with my roommates on the balcony, where we hang out, and it’s also a great place to get homework done. After class, I typically return to the field to coach Israeli youth, which is my favorite part about the program.
I truly love growing the game of lacrosse in Israel. It has been especially rewarding to see the joy young Israeli athletes experience while playing a competitive sport. I love how it’s a mutual learning experience for the gap-year participants and the Israeli players as they teach us all about their language, culture and lifestyle.
Not only are we able to tour the beautiful beach city of Ashkelon, we also tour the rest of the country. We have visited Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, a kibbutz in the South and many hikes in between. I can’t wait to see more of the country this semester! Israel has also done an amazing job at vaccinating its citizens, and I am so fortunate to be receiving the vaccine shortly. While this is not how I imagined my senior year of college, the current world situation has afforded me the opportunity of a lifetime.
I look forward to representing Israel in future international competitions and bringing my experience here back to my community. I am so grateful for Masa Israel Journey, Israel Lacrosse Association and Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston for helping me pursue this life-changing experience.
Abby Stoller is a senior at UMass Amherst majoring in psychology and education. She grew up in Wayland.