'We'll Be Champions Within 10 Years'

Soccer team owner Izzy Sheratzky has big plans for Kiryat Shmona.

This week Facebook has insistently pleaded with its users to sign the petition against closing the Kiryat Shmona library. Izzy Sheratzky, the owner of Ironi Kiryat Shmona, has done much to help the town, recently saving the bankrupt municipal theater, but he does not intend to save the library because he says there are limits to what he can do. He has deep pockets but says he is no superhero, and his pockets are still pockets and not sacks.

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Sheratzky decided to effectively adopt the town in 1999, after another fatal volley of Katyusha rockets fell on it. He's helped establish dental clinics, support the soup kitchen, the schools (he flies his high school English teacher in once a week, in order to raise matriculation scores ) and other community education projects. He has a dominant presence in a place where the state shows symptoms of clinical apathy.

"The problem in this country is that almost no one cares about anything," Sheratzky told Haaretz this week. "You think the state cares about Kiryat Shmona? If I weren't there, no one would be there. Nowadays everyone is egotistic. The country's problems are not about security, they are socioeconomic."

It's easy to be cynical or suspicious about Sheratzky's endeavors in Kiryat Shmona, but when you discuss his life and his businesses (he also owns Ituran ) with him, you don't find a many-layered onion and certainly no ulterior motives or egomaniacal thirst for publicity. "I just love giving, it really makes me happy more than anything else," he says. "Time was if I saw a general or professor I'd want to stop and salute. Today no one cares about them. People only pay attention to their money, to rich people. Believe me, there are a lot of rich idiots out there."

Sheratzky began playing soccer in the Maccabi Tel Aviv youth division. "I quit because the coach caught me smoking, and I was embarrassed to return." In 1973 he ran Maccabi Ramat Amidar, but he had to leave during the Yom Kippur War, and never went back.

He goes to Kiryat Shmona at least twice a week, but he's not alone. In addition to his three sons, all Ituran employees give five days a year to the town.

By 2007 the team had worked its way up from the third tier to the Premier League, to become a club that is difficult not to like. And it's not about pity or Katyushas. Something there works as it should. A refreshing feeling emanates from there as well as a sanity that's hard to find in the endless filth of Israeli soccer.

"I was always a soccer person, particularly a Maccabi Tel Aviv fan," he says. "I put at least NIS 8 million into the team annually, and believe me I earn nothing from it. The main thing is the youth division. There are several hundred kids who come from kibbutzim, Druze villages and of course the city itself, and they do amazing things with them, both in soccer and especially education."

But all that goes on in Israeli soccer doesn't make you ask yourself why you need this headache?

"Nothing will break me or make me leave. It's like adopting a child. Why would I abandon it? If something should happen to me, heaven forbid, I have three sons who won't let this project fail. I happen to admire chairman Avi Luzon. He lives and breathes soccer. He's wrong at times, but who isn't? I make mistakes at least twice a week."

And if you became chairman tomorrow, what would you do first?

"There's a lot to do, to improve, like the level of the stadiums, but I would first do two substantial things. I'd stop the turmoil about team owners. The control system has begun to work recently, but I would not allow a situation where owners do not meet their commitments. I would bring stability. Look what's going on at Hapoel Petah Tikva and Hapoel Tel Aviv. It's outrageous. Second, I would require every team to spend 20 percent of its budget on the youth division because that's basically the whole story."

Sheratzky's single trauma as owner and chairman, he says, was seeing the team relegated three years ago, not long after fulfilling his promise that the team would reach Europe within a decade (in 2008 ). But like the sign on the team's field that reads, "you're allowed to fail, you're not allowed to give up," he took a deep breath and got back to work. The team returned and is now on more solid ground, having won the Toto Cup and placing fifth in the league.

So what's the next goal?

"The next goal is the championship. I'm not joking. You can write it down, within 10 years we'll be champions. I don't intend to sell players. We sold Alroey Cohen, but that's over with. Wiyam Amashe will stay. I'm not releasing him. I told him that. He's of course a bit frustrated and wants to move up, but he understands me. I put a lot into him. Only this year did he begin playing the way that he knows how, so he'll give the team a little more of himself. Nothing terrible will happen if he waits a little."