There are 7.6 billion people on earth. Roughly .002 percent are Jewish.
With such small numbers and limited outreach to nearly every corner of the world, a vast majority of the world are outsiders to Judaism, not only literally but also in experience.
According to the Jewish Virtual Library, 83.5 percent of all Jews live in Israel or the United States. Even with 39.5 percent of the world’s Jewish population, 5.7 million people is merely a drop in the more than 320 million person-full American bucket.
It makes sense that Brad MacArthur didn’t know much about Judaism for much of his life.
The only connection the former NLL player and veteran lacrosse coach, who lives in Barrie, Ontario, had to Judaism was driving by a synagogue every other day.
“I honestly didn’t know much, just that there were differences,” he said. “I am big into history, so I knew a lot of the history behind the religion, but the particulars about the religion itself, I couldn’t even tell you. There’s not much I really did know.”
In April 2013, MacArthur was coaching his club team, the Green Gaels, at the Ales Hrebesky Memorial Tournament in Prague. He noticed the Israeli team was struggling mightily, not only on the scoreboard but with equipment, players and other resources. MacArthur offered his assistance and helped right the ship. After the tournament, he was approached to join the program’s coaching ranks and accepted.
Now nearly five years and countless tournaments later, he is the program’s general manager, head coach of the box team and will be an assistant at the 2018 World Lacrosse Championships in Israel in July.
Most importantly, though, MacArthur is every bit a part of Israel Lacrosse as the Jewish players and coaches.
“I think it’s something kind of special,” said Bill Beroza, head coach of Team Israel. “He’s not Jewish, but at the same time he respects our religion and respects our culture. He respects what we’re trying to do in Israel and has added so much to our program.”
For most of his tenure, MacArthur would meet his players wherever the tournament was, never getting the chance to step foot on the Holy Land’s soil. But in December, he and his wife Linda made the nearly six thousand-mile trek.
It was Linda’s first time in Israel, too, but unlike Brad, she didn’t have a team of Israelis telling her what to expect. Her exposure to the country was through media only.
“What you see on the news would scare anybody,” she said. “I was concerned about safety only because of what you hear on the news all the time.”
During their first night in Israel, the MacArthurs went out for dinner and drinks with lacrosse friends. Immediately, Linda knew her perceptions were wrong.
“You didn’t get stares. You didn’t feel like you didn’t fit in,” she explained. “I had this thought in my head that there was going to be military soldiers everywhere walking around, and it just wasn’t like that. It’s just very calm and laid back.”
The MacArthurs had the chance to travel around the country, exposing themselves to Jewish and Israeli history. Perhaps their most unique experience, though, was spending a Shabbat dinner with an Israel Lacrosse family, surrounding by many of their good friends from the program.
It was their first taste of the traditional Friday night ritual, and to call it educational would be an understatement. Plenty of questions were asked, and even more were answered. Brad wore a kippah, they sang songs, ate news foods and gained a better understanding of their coworkers and friends.
“They participated with us, and we were 100 percent comfortable with that,” Beroza said. “Afterwards, Brad commented to me how much fun he had and how enjoyable the evening was.”
There were plenty of other learning moments, like at the Western Wall when Brad didn’t know if as a non-Jew he should or shouldn’t wear a kippah. He asked one of his players, who told him he should, and together they went to the Wall and experienced the holy site.
Whenever Brad has questions about the religion, culture, people or anything else, he doesn’t hesitate to ask, and he has never been made to feel ostracized for it.
“Any time I’ve ever had a question or wondered what was going on, they’ve never shied away from me being able to ask,” Brad said. “If there was some sort of religious observation or cultural difference, I was always able to ask anybody, and they’d give me an honest answer.”
Now, the MacArthurs are mishpacha, the Hebrew word for family, regardless of their faith.
“It’s about family and togetherness, family being mishpacha, togetherness being beyachad,” Beroza said. “Brad’s embraced it, Linda’s embraced it. He’s intimately involved in getting us ready for the World Championships, so having them in Israel has been invaluable to me and our organization.”