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Hebrew snap counts highlight unique Jewish football rivalry

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

Monday night is usually reserved for a single pro football game, but that wasn't the case on Oct. 17. Instead, the Jets and Dolphins had to compete with a rather unique South Florida rivalry game featuring two of the only Jewish-affiliated schools in the country to host football teams.

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Lipson Hillel quarterback Jake Najjar

Lipson Hillel quarterback Jake Najjar

As reported by the Miami Herald, among other sources, the 2011 Kiddush Cup was won by North Miami Beach (Fla.) Lipson Hillel Community School, which drubbed fierce but friendly rival Plantation (Fla.) David Posnack Hebrew Day School, 51-0. The shutout marked the fourth consecutive year that the Hillel Hurricanes have won the game named for the pre-meal blessing given before meals on the eve of and during the Jewish Shabbat and holidays. The game was played on a Monday so it could coincide with ongoing Jewish holidays.

Just how unique is the Kiddush Cup? Consider this: One of the Hillel squad's biggest advantages is its ability to use Hebrew snap counts to throw off opposing defenses. That distinct advantage is negated against Posnack, whose players also speak Hebrew.

As a result, Hillel quarterback Jake Najjar has to essentially change the actual meaning of Hebrew words to throw off the Posnack defensive line, a confusing but entertaining subplot that would be lost on all other opponents.

"We use Hebrew snap counts all the time," Najjar told Prep Rally. "It gives us a big advantage, because [other teams] have no idea what we're talking about. For instance, Shalosh means three in Hebrew.

"But against Posnack, we have to change that because they speak Hebrew, too. So we change what the the number means. Shalosh means two against Posnack. It's just funny, because what other school, or what other kid in Florida knows what we're talking about. We definitely laugh about it in the huddle all the time, try to make jokes."

All of that shared culture brought added emphasis to a high school game that is about as close-knit a rivalry as they come. Many of the players from both Hillel and Posnack grew up playing flag football together at their local Jewish Community Center, creating communal bonds that continue into high school, ensuring that the fierce rivalry is also a friendly one.

Not that the larger community benefit made the game any less competitive. Najjar, who accounted for five touchdowns in the game (three on the ground and two through the air), would happily have racked up more points against his Posnack counterparts if he could have.

Still, even the senior quarterback spoke of the greater significance of the annual rivalry game.

"It's always a very important thing for me, because it's a good battle between the two Jewish schools in Florida," Najjar told Prep Rally. "We continue to succeed against them, and other schools in the county."

Indeed, Hillel entered the game with only a single loss for the second consecutive season. The Hurricanes finished the 2010 season with a 6-1 record, a near-astonishing accomplishment considering the fact that the program is only 3 years old.

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Lipson Hillel players raise the Kiddush Cup

Lipson Hillel players raise the Kiddush Cup

The school hopes that future growth in the program may coincide with a breakaway league of smaller private schools in the South Florida area which would consider eschewing the high-profile postseasons of the Florida High School Athletic Association for a more closed league with other private schools of a similar makeup.

Regardless of how that develops, Najjar and his teammates -- and their opponents on the Posnack side -- understand that they've gained something from the development of the two programs that goes far beyond wins and losses.

"This is my fourth season, and even though we play for a small school, and we might not play the biggest schools; the St. Thomas [Aquinas], the [Miami] Northwesterns, I feel like we should be more recognized," Najjar said. "We really came from nothing, literally, and turned it into something. The first season we were like 1-6. Then we went 5-2, and then we went 6-1. And now we're 3-1."

Hillel athletic director Cindy Lyon was quick to give credit to the larger community for embracing the team's progress and helping it build on its existing successes.

"I think that our parents have really embraced the football program," Lyon told Prep Rally. "Three years ago I don't think those parents would have been there in umbrellas in pouring rain. Now they really understand the game and enjoy the game.

"It's just a great community and I think a great story."

That it most assuredly is.

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