By Jenna Soroka
(AJNews) – Over the May long weekend, you could find Jewish youth and parents gathered at the Westridge fields in Edmonton for a Sunday afternoon of soccer. Born from a desire for a sports program that worked with her family’s schedule and religious needs, Dr. Shoshi Aziza established an 8-week Jewish Soccer program for Jewish youth.
“There must be other parents that are like me that have multiple kids and/or are shomer shabbos that can’t do the games that are on Saturdays,” Shoshi shared in an interview when discussing how the soccer program came to fruition. Having grown up in Toronto and seeing the local shuls do different leagues together, she thought it was something that could be done in Edmonton too.
Prior to the formation of the program, Shoshi reached out to Talmud Torah parents and connected with various synagogue youth departments to see if there would be interest. Based on the positive responses she received, she proceeded to confirm the soccer fields with the city, get coaches, and put out registration.
“I was blown away,” Shoshi expressed. “It took off way more than I could imagine.” Around 50 kids are officially signed up for the program. She went on to say that “it was a really good collaborative community sign-up.”
Soccer groups are split into kids under grade one, boys from grades 1-3, and then girls from grades 1-3. Coaches guide them through soccer drills for the first half, then the kids take a snack break with kosher snacks provided, and finally they split up within their groups to play a soccer game for the last half. Dr. Eitan Aziza, Shoshi’s husband, is one of the coaches and shared how it is the highlight of his week. “I love coaching and getting out there. It’s great to be outside and be with the kids, and it’s such a positive experience.”
There is a rotating schedule of parent volunteers to help with assistant coaching which allows the program to have more kids involved, especially with the younger ones. Shoshi explained “some parents just naturally got involved until we officially brought them up, but it’s just nice to have an extra pair of hands.”
Through Beth Israel’s youth department, Shul Director Moshe Siderson applied for a Jewish Federation grant which allowed for the program fees to remain low and affordable. The grant also provided the opportunity for t-shirts to be made by a local mom. The players were excited to put on their team jerseys. Each t-shirt depicts a Jewish star incorporated into a soccer ball logo. Around the image is the text that reads “Edmonton Jewish Soccer League.”
Shoshi described the soccer program as a one-stop shop for parents with multiple kids looking to enroll them in an extracurricular activity. Coordinating schedules and juggling various activities in a household can be challenging and is what inspired Shoshi to pursue this endeavour.
“Kids are loving it and parents are loving it,” Shoshi shared enthusiastically. Smiles and laughter were all around as parents watched their kids enjoy the outdoors with friends. It is a great opportunity for parents to meet and get to know other parents within the community as well.
Knowing that the soccer program garnered a great amount of support from families and the community, Shoshi hopes to collaborate more with the Federation going forward to expand and develop the program further.
“For the kids to get out on a Sunday afternoon to play, parents to hang out and socialize, this is exactly what I envisioned it being like,” added Eitan, and he hopes that “we can run this for years to come.”
The program runs every Sunday in May and June, excluding Shavuot, for a total of 8 weeks. If anyone has any questions or wants to join, reach out to Dr. Shoshi Aziza at email@example.com or the Beth Israel youth department.
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Jenna Soroka is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Alberta Jewish News.