Radnor's Cherry makes Israel home

Israel's Matt Cherry (left) defends Australia's Thomas Graham during this week's Lacrosse World Championships. Cherry, from Radnor, is now an Israeli citizen.
Israel's Matt Cherry (left) defends Australia's Thomas Graham during this week's Lacrosse World Championships. Cherry, from Radnor, is now an Israeli citizen. (BRENNAN LINSLEY/ AP)
Posted: July 20, 2014

For Matt Cherry, pressure is not being forced to make a quick decision on the lacrosse field. It's having 10 seconds to get to a bomb shelter.

Cherry, a Radnor High School graduate, starred in lacrosse at Dickinson College and graduated in 2013 as a two-time all-American and the school's all-time leader in assists. He never would have guessed where his path would take him next.

He connected with Birthright, an educational organization that sponsors free 10-day trips to Israel for Jewish adults ages 18 to 26. He went with no plans to stay longer, but he has called Israel home ever since.

When he was on his Birthright trip, he spoke to Israel Lacrosse director Scott Neiss about an opportunity with the organization, whose mission is to promote the sport in Israel. Cherry had been to Israel only once before, in the summer of 2012, but after he extended his Birthright trip he became a citizen of Israel.

Cherry has been working and living in Ashkelon, a city 10 miles from the Gaza Strip. He works with children ages 8 to 18 to teach them the game, but their experiences are very different from those of most American children of the same age. Rockets are constantly fired from Gaza into neighboring cities, and Ashkelon is a frequent target during the battles between Israel and Hamas, which governs Gaza.

When a siren goes off indicating a rocket attack, Cherry and his players have 10 seconds to get to a bomb shelter. It has interrupted lacrosse practice multiple times since Cherry has been in Israel. The attacks make scooping up a loose ball on the field seem trivial.

"It gives you a reason to play," Cherry said. "Lacrosse for me has always been a privilege. Being in Israel for the past year, being involved with youth development really puts in perspective that lacrosse is more than just a game."

Cherry was speaking from Denver, where he had competed for Israel in the FIL Lacrosse World Championships. The conflict in Israel has escalated since he has been away.

"After every practice, after every game, my first thought is, 'What's going on? How are my kids in Ashkelon? How are my youth players?' " Cherry said.

His dedication to Israel isn't surprising to those who know him best.

"He was consistently one of the smaller guys on the field, but at the same time one of the toughest guys," Dickinson lacrosse coach Dave Webster said. "And I mean that both physically and mentally. He was a leader from the beginning."

Cherry will soon have a new uniform off the lacrosse field. He will begin an 18-month commitment to the Israel Defense Force in August, to fight for the country he now calls home.


mcohen@phillynews.com

@MaxACohen

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