I wanted to share with you the incredible experience my family recently had with Israel Lacrosse. We live on the North Shore of Long Island – an area that has a reputation of being a hotbed of youth lacrosse. Most of the towns in our area field extremely competitive high school lacrosse teams, with several players going on to play in top tier Division I and Division III colleges and universities. Our own community is diverse, both economically and culturally, and this is reflected in our town and school’s lacrosse program.

Our son has been playing lacrosse for well over ten years and was privileged to be recruited to play lacrosse at a top 30 Division III College. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of his last high school lacrosse season and robbed him of the opportunity to play his senior year. Moreover, the pandemic significantly impacted his college freshman fall ball season, with practices severely limited in nature and size and all games being canceled. By November 2020, there was an expectation that his freshman college spring lacrosse season would either be canceled or severely reduced due to COVID-19. Our son was devastated and feared his growth, both as a lacrosse player as well as a student-athlete, would be significantly hampered by this inability to play at the college level. Despite all these roadblocks and disappointments, I can confidently state that our son was able to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic physically, mentally, and spiritually in large part to his participation in the Israel Lacrosse program. We first learned about the program from neighbors of ours whose own daughter spent a gap semester playing in Israel.

Their stories and her experience motivated us to research the Program’s offerings and determine that our son would benefit greatly from participation in the December Bubble program. Our son had no previous desire to visit Israel. When he learned that he could play lacrosse while simultaneously visit the Holy Land and learn about the country, its people, and its culture, suddenly, he was game to go. But he stressed that he only wanted to do the December Bubble program and that he would go back to college for the second semester upon his return.

But something clicked for our son while he was participating in the December Bubble. Realizing that being in Israel offered him the best possible growth opportunity, he stayed for the gap spring semester. It was his best decision for his personal growth and for his lacrosse development. Our son thrived on being independent, learning about his faith, visiting the sights, and developing some foreign language skills. He had the opportunity not only to train with and play against talented peers but also to teach and coach Israeli youth about the game. He appreciated the attention and insight that was provided to him by the Israel Lacrosse staff and coaches. We knew that our son made the right decision, and we had the confidence that the leaders of the Israel Lacrosse program would ensure that our son’s experience in Israel would be transformative.

The COVID-19 pandemic took away so many opportunities for college athletes during 2020 and 2021. Despite the losses, our son gained important life lessons from the Israel Lacrosse program. He was able to give back, not only to the sport but also to his faith and community. The Israel Lacrosse Program was the study abroad opportunity most college athletes do not get to experience. Simply put, it served as our son’s personal victory over COVID-19.

The Honorable Craig Johnson