Israeli athletes play for the Panthers, Wolves | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Israeli athletes play for the Panthers, Wolves 


The Israeli woman had only good things to say about her time so far in America, at Cardinal Stritch University in Glendale.  

“They call America the land of opportunity, not for nothing,” said Gal Dahan, 24, a junior at Cardinal Stritch University. “They give you the opportunities to be more successful, because of the facilities, because of the education and because there’s so much money in the program.” 

At least three Israelis – Dahan, along with Adi Vaknin, 20, and Lior Halevi, 23 – are attending college in Wisconsin for the sports opportunities available here. Hillel Milwaukee has aided them with Shabbat deliveries, and Milwaukee Community Shaliach Uria Roth has also been helpful, they said. But the Israelis are feeling far from home, and said that seeing the Jewish items in the Harry and Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center felt like a boost. If you’ve got an idea on how they can connect with the Jewish community while in a somewhat foreign land, contact Roth at 

The Israelis all said they are doing well and are thankful to be part of their teams. They expressed gratitude for their schools, coaches and programs.  

In fact, Dahan, at Cardinal Stritch University, said she didn’t choose that school just because of its strong offer. 

“It was the interaction with the coaches mostly,” she said, referring to emails and video calls. Dahan, a shooting guard on the women’s basketball team, indicated that playing for the Wolves just felt right. 

Challenging transition 

Halevi said she and her team were quarantined for a lot of the last season. She was limited to going to class, gym and her apartment. Halevi is a sophomore on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s women’s basketball team. She is a forward for the Panthers, which won a Horizon League championship last year.   

Vaknin is a freshman and a forward with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panther’s soccer team. He’s been in Milwaukee less than three months. 

“For me, it was a hard transition to come from Israel all alone here,” he said, but his soccer schedule fills his time. “I don’t have enough time to think about my family, my friends or my girlfriend back in Israel.” 

Halevi, too, said the transition has been hard. She’s close with her family back in Israel, she said. 

“It’s come with a lot of difficulty but it’s for a good reason,” she said.  “To be here and to have this amazing facility and teammates.” 

“So, it was hard, but my coach is very understanding. She respects my holidays,” she said.  

The team even celebrated Chanukah with her, holding a dreidel contest.  

American culture is different 

“For me it was tough, honestly, because the American culture and Israeli culture and very different,” Dahan said. Israelis are touchy and huggy, she said. It’s not better or worse, just different. 

Also, she said she’s had a hard time understanding the slang of Americans. “I talk English, they talk slang,” she said.  

She gave an example of an American expression that confused her: “I’m down with that.” 

Here’s another: “Oh, those shoes are sick.” 

“Sick?” she said, laughing at her own confusion. “I listen to a sentence and l’m like, that doesn’t make any sense.” 

Bigger opportunities 

After the Israel Defense Forces or other national service, the three players all came to the Milwaukee area for more opportunities.  

The two women’s basketball players said female sports carry more gravity in the United States than elsewhere. This presents them with an amazing opportunity. 

The players all said American facilities are superior and their teams and schools have been great. The differences in playing style can offer a new perspective. 

“I think the physicality of soccer here is way different here than Israeli physicality,” Vaknin said. 
“The touch with the ball by the American players is different than the touch of the international student.”