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But with more access to the Internet, interest in the American sport gained ground — so much that the enthusiasm to start a tackle league came not from Americans in Israel but from native Israelis. In 2005, a group of them went to the head of American Football in Israel, Steve Leibowitz. “They said, ‘We’ve been playing tackle football on our own, but without equipment,’” Leibowitz said. “I said, basically, ‘You guys are a bunch of morons.’ ”
Leibowitz helped organize teams, gather regulation equipment and find volunteers to help run the I.F.L. In 2007, the league began with four teams. Since then, four more have been added. Israeli enthusiasm took the league only so far. Long before the I.F.L. started, Robert K. Kraft, the owner of the N.F.L.’s New England Patriots and a practicing Jew, donated money to build the first and only football stadium in Israel to house the flag football league. Kraft Stadium, situated in central Jerusalem, has lights, stands and artificial turf. In the center of the field is a Patriots logo.
“It definitely helps that a lot of the guys here are 21-, 22-year-olds that just came out of the elite combat units,” said Yonah Mishaan, who coaches the Jerusalem Lions.
Mishaan was born in Los Angeles and moved with his family to Israel when he was 13. A brawny 38-year-old of Syrian descent, Mishaan owns one of the few American sports bars in Jerusalem, appropriately named the Lion’s Den [that's my son's bar!]. With a seven-hour time difference from New York, the bar regularly stays open past sunrise on Monday mornings so fans can watch Sunday night N.F.L. games.
“Football is such a cult here,” Mishaan said. “People just stay up all night, and then at 7:30, they’re out to work.”