Operation Jockstrap: Canadians donate 350 protective cups to Israeli hockey players in need

Glenda is accustomed to fielding phone calls from her -aged son, David, a Montreal banker and grown man who, for just about forever, has been enlisting his now 78-year-old as a helper during times of need. And that help can take many forms, such as digging out her boy’s car after he got stuck in the snow on his way to a law exam, some years back, or preparing a favourite Sephardic-inspired dish and, lately, looking after the grandchildren.

“I help David out when I can,” Glenda says. “But when he phoned me this time I didn’t know what he was . He told me he needed cups. Cups? So I asked him, ‘What kind of cups?’ David and his brother played , and so what he was was .”

Lisbona’s instructions to his mother were precise: she was to hit up every Dollarama outlet she could find in her end of Montreal and clean them out of jockstraps — an essential piece of hockey equipment that typically retails for $15 to $20, but was on offer at the discount chain for a mere three bucks a cup.

Lisbona, the younger, had a higher purpose in mind before setting his mother loose. The 48-year-old has long been involved in a charity that ships hockey bags full of hockey gear to Metula, an town on the Lebanon border that is home to the country’s only Olympic-sized skating rink — plus the Canada Israel Hockey School. The school brings together Jews, Christians, Druze and Muslim Arab kids in the hope that, through hockey, they build cross-cultural understanding in a region with long simmering tensions. It is also a program that, in November, had informed its Canadian benefactors that what the players needed most wasn’t more skates, or gloves, or pants or or goalie pads — but cups (aka jockstraps).

“It was so obvious to me after they told us,” David Lisbona says. “We hadn’t been sending them cups, and they don’t have a culture of tackle football — and they don’t really use them for soccer — so they simply aren’t available in Israel.”

Levav Weinberg, the program’s founder, and a farmer in the Metula area, puts it this way: “Without donations the program would still be running, but it would look like the hockey in Canada in the 1930s, when the players had no helmets.”

Lisbona and his mother purchased about 30 discounted jocks in the Montreal area, which was a good start, but far short of the 300-plus he required to outfit all the Israeli players. So Lisbona turned to Facebook, appealing to his friends across the country to go forth and buy cups. Progress reports rolled back to him in Montreal: Winnipeg had no discounted jocks; Edmonton had 15, procured there by a Montreal-based accountant on a business trip; Squamish, B.C. yielded 29 cups; while Toronto and the communities stretching east of the city — Oshawa, Bowmanville, Coburg — had jocks aplenty. Greens and blues and reds and whites and off-white cups, in many shapes and sizes.

David Lisbona lies in part of his pile of jocks he has collected and seen in his basement in Montreal.

“I had no clue just how much was going on out there in terms of jockstraps,” Lisbona says. The entire haul, at last count, numbered 350. It is currently displayed on Lisbona’s basement floor.

“My wife just shakes her head and goes back upstairs,” he says. “With my 14-year-old it is more of an eye-roll, and then she goes to her room and closes the door. But my 11-year-old daughter was the one who laid them out on the floor.

“She’s going to help me take them out of the packaging so we can pack them properly and get them on a plane.”

jockstrap is scheduled to depart Canada on Dec. 17, when the 350 cups are booked aboard a non-stop flight from Toronto to Tel Aviv.

“Those kids are going to be well-protected,” Lisbona says, chuckling. “We now have a jock for every child.”

And, in Montreal, we now have a doting Jewish mother, awaiting her middle-aged son’s next request.

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