Everyone on her lacrosse team called her “the baby,” but on the playing field, Felicia Tissenbaum proved just how grown up she really was.
The 17-year-old Mt. Lebanon native scored the winning goal in overtime to lead the Israel women’s festival team to a 14-13 championship victory over a combined squad of American and British players at the recently completed European Lacrosse Championships in Amsterdam.
“The whole trip I had been referred to as ‘the baby,’ and everybody took me under their wings because I was younger,” said Felicia, a midfielder for her squad, whose college-age teammates were three to four years older than she, “so it was cool that I scored it.”
Felicia wasn’t the only Pittsburgh connection to Israel lacrosse at the championships. Her brother, Jeremy, a senior at Jacksonville State University, played for the men’s festival team, which also won its division.
Festival teams are different from the actual national men’s and women’s teams at the championships in that the national teams consist entirely of players who hold passports to the countries for which they play. Festival teams can include players from other countries — mostly the United States — and they hold clinics and exhibitions to promote the sport.
Lacrosse, which was invented by Native American tribes, is not as well known outside the United States.
The Israel National Team, which made its international debut in Amsterdam, advanced to the quarterfinals of the European championships and finished eighth overall.
The Tissenbaum siblings come from a family of athletes. Their parents, Dr. Alan and Charlene Tissenbaum, are both veterans of the Maccabiah Games — track and gymnastics respectively. Their sister, Darrian, also ran track at the Maccabiah Games, and their grandfather, the late Ben Tissenbaum, competed in the first two Maccabiah Games on the Canadian basketball team.
“I think I played pretty well [in Amsterdam],” said Felicia, an incoming senior at Shady Side Academy who has made a verbal commitment to Stanford University next year. “It was fun playing with older girls who had gone through everything you were going through.”
But there was another, perhaps more important, dimension to the Tissenbaum family’s Amsterdam experience: Felicia and Jeremy’s grandmother, Ellen Tissenbaum, who is from Amsterdam, and is a Holocaust survivor, joined the family on the trip.
“She wanted to show us areas where she grew up,” said Charlene. “She was also hidden but we didn’t go to that area.”
One of the places they did visit was a station in the Netherlands where Jews, including Ellen, were deported to the concentration camps. Today, it is a museum.
“It was so bittersweet but it was so important to her [Ellen],” Charlene said. “She always wanted to take us to Amsterdam. So when you ask about the experience, it was phenomenal on so many different levels.”
One of those levels, she added, was how the lacrosse team serves as a bridge between young people and their Jewish culture.
“A lot of lacrosse players in Israel and have Israeli passports are Americans who made aliya,” Charlene Tissenbaum said. “That was so important to my kids, [to ask] ‘what made you want to make aliya? What experience did you have to make you decide … that this is where you wanted to live.’
“Lacrosse strengthened their identity to be Jews,” she added.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)