Berkenblit, Szafman named Man/Woman of the Year for 2014

The Israel Lacrosse Association has named Rob Berkenblit (Albany ’86 / Briarcliff, NY) and Julia Szafman (Dartmouth ’13 / West Hartford, CT) the winners of the Mort and Judi Beroza Award for Man and Woman of the Year, for their outstanding individual contributions to the development of the sport in Israel in 2014.

Berkenblit, who first visited Israel in summer of 2013 to coach the associations’ inaugural youth lacrosse camps in Ashkelon, has been a pioneer for the growth of the sport in the Jewish State. His work inspired many to enroll in lacrosse “chugim” (after-school programs). After coaching the first generation of Israeli youth lacrosse players, he created a connection program between the Ashkelonians and his Briarcliff girls team. Several of Berkenblit’s original youth players in Ashkelon are expected to represent Israel at the upcoming 2015 FIL U-19 World Cup in Scotland. Berkenblit made a pair of trips back to Israel in 2014 to help sustain his efforts; in July at the second-annual Ashkelon Youth Lacrosse Camp, and again in November to serve as a guest coach for the Ashkelon LC “chugim”. In October, Rob organized a youth lacrosse jamboree featuring over 100 girls, raising over $2,000 to be split between Israel Lacrosse, and team Red White and Blue, and organization that helps wounded American veterans integrate back into society. In addition to his selfless contributions to the growth of the sport, Rob has proudly donned the blue-and-white as a member of the Israel Masters Team.

Szafman made Aliyah in the summer of 2013 to represent Team Israel in goal at the 2013 FIL Women’s World Cup. Two months later, inspired by her experience with the team and organization, she relocated to Ashkelon to help spearhead the growth of youth lacrosse in Israel. In 2014 alone, Szafman has organized clinics for over 1,000 children in Ashkelon. She has helped Israel Lacrosse forge relationships with dozens of Elementary Schools, High Schools, and “Modoniote” (after school programs for at-risk youth). Szafman has further connected over 100 young Jewish Americans with Israel, through programs such as the “Amazing Israel Lacrosse” Taglit-Birthright trip, the Israel National Developmental Program Service Trip, and the associations’ Internship Program. In summer of 2014, Szafman directly managed 20 interns, who despite the struggles of Operation Protective Edge, continued to hold lacrosse camps for hundreds of Israeli children in Ashkelon, Netanya, Ramla and Tel Aviv. Despite active rocket fire from Gaza, Szafman continued to utilize lacrosse to engage the communities in the periphery, visiting bomb shelters and running activities for Ashkelon youth. Szafman, who is passionate about development in the South of Israel, has been recognized by Nefesh b’Nefesh as an outstanding Olim dedicated to leadership, Negev development, and community building.

The Israel Lacrosse Man and Woman of the Year Award is named for the late Mort and Judi Beroza, whose contributions to the sport, their family, and their community in Hempstead and Long Island as a whole are immeasurable. The parents of Bill Beroza, who has served as head coach of the Israel men’s national team since its’ inaugural games in Europe in 2012, Mort and Judi have been a mainstay for Long Island Lacrosse Club for over 34 years, attending every game, scrimmage and practice in support of the team and history of the club. Mort, a WWII Veteran who was awarded the Purple Heart, as well as The Legion of Honor Award by the Chapel of the Four Chaplains, has been involved in the sport on Long Island since 1978. His and Judi’s support for the Long Island Lacrosse Club — financially, emotionally and physically — extended well beyond the norm, as Judi was well-known for helping sew and repair uniforms, launder clothes, chauffer and host athletes at their home for meals before and after games. The Beroza family support and generosity extended to create a pair of scholarships for students at Hofstra University, which still exist in perptuity, as well as the LI Metroplitan Lacrosse Hall of Fame Dinner, the Greenport Shootout, New York Saints games, and many other regional lacrosse initiatives. Mort was serving as the Baldwin-Hempstead Post 312 Commander of the Jewish War Veterans of the USA, as well as the Nassau-Suffolk District Council Deputy Chaplain at the time of his death. Judi previously served as National President of the Ladies Auxilliary of the Jewish War Veterans of the USA.

Mort and Judi, who were active members of Hempstead’s Temple Beth Israel for over 60 years, exemplify the passion for the sport of lacrosse, as well as the commitment to service, family, and community in which the Israel Lacrosse Association is based upon.