'Rabbi of soccer players of Israel' connects soccer and faith

Arutz Sheva speak with Rabbi Ami Pykovski, the Rabbi of Israel's soccer players.

Tags: Soccer
Yoni Kempinski ,

The 'Soccer Rabbi'
The 'Soccer Rabbi'
Arutz Sheva

Rabbi Ami Pykovski, the “Rabbi of soccer players of Israel," has spent his whole life as a soccer player and a fan of the sport.

Rabbi Pykovski spoke to Arutz Sheva about his work as Chabad's emissary for Israeli soccer players and explained how his unique spiritual calling began.

Soccer has always been a big part of Rabbi Pykovski's life. He used to play soccer in Israel when he was a child. In 1970, he played in the First Division in Israel for Beitar Tel Aviv. Then he played in Los Angeles on Maccabi Los Angeles.

In America he became observant, and through meeting the Lubavitcher Rebbe – “The Rebbe made me a mensch” – and being taken under his wing, he eventually became a Chabad emissary for Israeli soccer players.

He takes the immense energy of a soccer match to change the thinking to “what you can bring out from the players [in terms of] their faith.”

Lots of coaches have told him: ‘You know, you’re worth for the team 10 to 15 points a year.’ Sometimes they’re losing and feeling bad, and you have to tell them, ‘Sometimes you have to go down in order to come up.’”

The Israeli players are becoming observant, many want kosher food. He made a kosher kitchen for players. He does weddings for them.

Even Israeli players moving to European teams are becoming observant and not afraid to show their Jewish faith during matches.

“We are the strongest faith on earth. We are the Jewish people. We should be proud of it. And it’s very nice to see all over the world," he said. "We have great players today. When they come and they say Shema Yisrael and they put their shirts over their heads, it bring tears to people.”

Rabbi Pykovski strives to create that important connection between spirituality and sports.

“I live on it. It’s a drug that’s really a drive for me, for my life. I’m so happy to see this," he said. "So happy to see the players like this. So happy to see the dressing room is different now. In the dressing room, I teach them that when you go out on the field, you have to go in celebration… If the other team is going to see you happy, you’re going to win. Sometimes before a game, we sing in the dressing room. The coach is telling me ‘You’re crazy. What are you doing before the game?’ I say, ‘Yes, before the game.’ And we win and we continue to dance.”