As we observed when the World Cup tournament first opened, there really is almost now Jewish angle this year. The only strong Jewish presence is Colombia manager José Pékerman, whose team today progressed to the Round of 16.
But intrepid journalists will always find an angle — and the journos at JTA are no exception. One Jewish World Cup story is the presence of many Israeli and Jewish fans attending the quadrennial competition. But some fans arrived there in a more interesting way that simply buying tickets. Here’s the story:
Despite Israel’s absence from the World Cup, many Israelis are intensely following this year’s tournament in Russia. Some of these fans, thanks to Russian Jewish billionaire Roman Abramovich, have been given the opportunity to attend the Cup.
Abramovich, an investor and entrepreneur who owns England’s Chelsea soccer team, has donated a six-figure sum to the Israeli “Fulfilling Dreams” charity, which takes children with serious illnesses to major soccer tournaments across the world. The organization was founded and continues to be run by U.K. native Gilad Salter. Abramovich, according to reports, learned about the charity from his friend and former Chelsea manager Avram Grant.
According to CNN, Ambramovich’s and others’ donations have funded flights from Israel to Russia, hotels and food throughout the weeklong stay.
“We at Fulfilling Dreams are so grateful to all our donors, especially Mr. Roman Abramovich, for their tremendous generosity,” Salter told From The Grapevine. “All the months of hard work and organization become completely worth it when I see the happiness on these wonderful kids’ faces.”
The group of 68, which includes 38 caregivers, attended three matches, including Mexico’s defeat of reigning world champion Germany.
“I’m having the time of my life,” nine-year-old Polina Feldman, who suffers from cerebral palsy, told CNN. “I’ve never been abroad before, and football is my life.”
The Chelsea owner was Russia’s 11th-richest man with a net worth of $10.8 billion. Following difficulties securing a visa to enter the UK, Abramovich, who is Jewish, recently pursued and received Israeli citizenship. — JTA
He was born to Jewish parents in Lithuania but raised in Russia.
PS: For those not enamored of the World Cup, we promise, it all comes to an July 15, so bear with us soccer fans just a little while longer.