You might not know it, but Israel is a European bowling powerhouse
One of Israel's three reigning European champions began the 2010/11 campaign for the local league title, but not with the fanfare one might expect for internationally accomplished athletes. While the limelight this week shone on Hapoel Tel Aviv playing in Portugal and Israel's Davis Cup tennis team playing Austria, Rhona Gill, winner of the women's doubles competition and the European Seniors Championships, opened the women's national league season in Rishon Letzion Wednesday.
Ten-pin bowling is a minor, modestly funded yet growing sport, says Arie Fisher, president of the Israel Bowling Federation. He says his federation, which in 1988 had eight groups, has expanded to 17 clubs, 60 groups and some 600 players. Competitions include 11 leagues for seniors, men, women and youth as well as a State Cup for each of the four categories.
Fisher says the federation gets by on a modest annual budget of NIS 900,000. Receiving about NIS 150,000 per year from Toto and NIS 35,000 annually from the state, players cover the rest of the expenses out of pocket.
That financial commitment has not kept Israel from being competitive abroad, as Fisher explains. In addition to Gill, and her partner Sara Aviram, Shahaf Antin - who averaged 205 pins in 18 games - won the European girls' championship this summer.
Or Aviram, Sara's son, finished second in the 2005 World Championships and was European champion in 2006. Aviv Alfital claimed the 2007 title at the European Championships. The men's team sent a delegation to the World Bowling Championships in Munich in August.
Arie Bregman, one of the founders of the current federation, told Anglo File Sports yesterday that the game came to the country in 1961 when the first bowling alley opened in Haifa at Beit Rothschild. "It was two lanes with pin boys since there was no automatic pin machine," recalls Bregman, 70. "We had no shoes, so we bowled in socks."
Bregman says there were about 30 players in the league, including an American Embassy team. Israelis made up about half the players. Brunswick then opened 16 lanes in the Carmel in 1964, and the league became more serious, he says.
Israel joined the international federation and participated in the European Championships for the first time in 1969 in Copenhagen. Bregman recalls dancing the hora with the other delegations at Tivoli Gardens "like it was yesterday."
However, the alley closed down in the mid-70s and the league was dormant until 1980, when Bregman and the late Tzvika Karo reestablished the association after a private business opened new lanes. Then Bregman and Karo opened a new alley.
Fisher, who had bowled for fun as a soldier, returned to the game in 1988 in Petah Tikva, where he lives. He became Israel's champ in 1990 and later won the title a second time.
Fisher, 62, speaks about his role of president as his calling. A quality assurance engineer by profession, he took on a leadership position soon after joining. "I saw there were no procedures," he told Anglo File yesterday. "I love to organize." He says the league brought in coaches from England to raise the bar.
Among the leagues, the men and women bowl Thursdays, while seniors play Fridays and juniors do in fact roll on Shabbos. Some women bowl with the men's teams, the national women's league sometimes meets on Wednesdays to avoid conflicts.
Riding on its recent success, Israel will host the 2011 European Seniors Championships in Haifa next June.