Lansdowne resident and former Israeli Football League player Koren Cohen will be a guest at the second Charlotte Jewish Film Festival’s free Fan Appreciation Day on July 19.
The event will be at the Regal Ballantyne Village Stadium Theaters.
Cohen, 31, will answer questions about his experiences and attend the local debut of a documentary film, “Touchdown Israel,” which gives audiences a look inside the thriving American-style Israeli Football League.
Founded in 2005 by Israelis who wanted to play American-style football, IFL games initially were played without pads.
In 2007, the IFL incorporated under the umbrella of American Football in Israel. The 2007-08 season introduced pads and consisted of four teams, from Jerusalem, Haifa, Hasharon and Tel Aviv.
By the time Cohen joined the IFL in 2009, it had expanded to eight teams.
There currently are 11 teams with “nearly 500 players from a cross-section of Israeli society, including Arabs, Christians, secular and Orthodox Jews,” according to the documentary description on www.charlottejewishfilm.com.
The Kraft Family Stadium is the only American Football stadium in Israel. Any games not played in that stadium are played in available soccer stadiums.
Before joining the IFL, Cohen said, he had no experience with American football; he didn’t even watch it on TV. His sport, he said, was volleyball.
Originally from Kfar Saba, Israel, Cohen served three years in the Israeli army in combat engineering, then was a mechanical engineering student at the university in Be’er Sheva.
Cohen’s sister, Shoshan, saw an ad for the IFL and signed him up for tryouts.
“The rest was history,” Cohen said.
With coordination developed by years of competitive volleyball and any other sport involving a ball, said Cohen, football came naturally. He said he enjoyed the brotherhood, the challenges and the physicality of the game.
Cohen played with the IFL from 2009 through 2012 on the Beersheva Black Swarm team. He played running back, then switched to quarterback.
IFL rules are the same as American football rules, according to Cohen. “The padding is the same. Everything is imported from the U.S.”
There are differences, however; the IFL is a semiprofessional organization, said Cohen. The players are volunteers and must buy their own equipment.
“We had players that are dads, students, people that are working full-time,” said Cohen, who talks about the players’ love of and commitment to the game. Cohen said players’ ages range from 22 to 40, and teams often are composed of players from different countries and religions.
Another difference between the IFL and American football is that Israeli football uses an 80-yard field instead of 100 yards.
IFL also plays eight-man sides instead of 11.
Cohen moved to the U.S. in 2012. He lives in Lansdowne with his wife, Talya, and 4-year-old daughter, Callie.
Cohen is an assistant football coach at Charlotte Country Day School, where coaches running backs and defensive backs.
“Coaching is one of my dreams, because I love it so much,” he said.
Marissa Brooks is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marissa? Email her at email@example.com.
Want to go?
The second Charlotte Jewish Film Festival’s free Fan Appreciation Day will be July 19 at Regal Ballantyne Village Theaters, 14815 Ballantyne Village Way, Charlotte. Times vary; reservation required: www.charlottejewishfilm.com.
Koren Cohen will participate in a question-and-answer session with “Touchdown Israel” director Paul Hirschberger. The tailgating party starts at 5 p.m. at Regal Ballantyne Village Stadium Theaters, with the movie at 7 p.m.
▪ Schedule and reservations: