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Dayimani realises dream with Maccabi debut

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Western Cape Stormers’ loose forward Hacjivah Dayimani is in Israel, captaining the South African rugby team in the Maccabi Games 2022.

On the back of winning the United Rugby Championship (URC) final against the Blue Bulls last month, Dayimani will participate in his first Maccabiah on his first visit to Israel, and will be making his debut there as the captain of a senior team.

Dayimani, the son of a Xhosa mother and a Jewish Nigerian father, says, “Playing in the Maccabi Games is something I’ve been looking forward to for years. Being part of it is something I always tried to do. I’m going to do my best. Hopefully, the guys can help me and I will help them.”

Representing South Africa at the games will be a 25-man squad, each of which play for a club in Johannesburg, Cape Town or Durban. Twelve of the players will be playing in the Maccabiah rugby sevens competition, which concludes before the 15s team play their first match against Israel on 15 July. The team then plays Great Britain on 19 July. The semi-finals are on 21 July, followed by the final on 24 July.

Dayimani’s journey to this year’s Maccabiah started when South Africa team manager Anton Chait asked if he would be interested in playing at the games. “I said, ‘Yes, if I’m allowed to,’” recalls Dayimani. “Then Anton obviously pulled a couple of strings and pushed and pushed. He eventually told me that I was part of the team, and asked if I would be captain.”

Dayimani says he feels at home in the team. “For me, it doesn’t matter where you come from. In rugby, when you go on the field, everyone is the same. It basically comes down to effort and what you bring to the game.”

Since the team’s first camp in January, the players have been, Dayimani says, “trying to speak one language and understand each other. It’s difficult at first, but the vibe has been good, the guys are getting along. We can’t ask for anything else. The attitude is there, and the boys are committed.”

According to South African Maccabi rugby convenor Brad Berger, “It’s a happy team. Everyone gets on. This is a very good group.” Berger and Dayimani are friends who go way back. “I approached Hacjivah when he was still a schoolboy at Jeppe.”

Reflecting on his younger days, Dayimani says, “I was raised in Jewish customs. We did Shabbat, Pesach, everything. It was tough for me growing up playing sport because of playing on a Saturday. I was the only Jew in the team and the only person who couldn’t play on Saturdays. For once, being Jewish and being part of this Maccabi team, everyone understands you, you aren’t different.”

Today, Dayimani observes Pesach, the fasts, and basically all the Jewish traditions except Shabbat, when he often has matches. He describes his unofficial adoptive parents, the Johannesburg-based Kobie and Leylah Smook, who are Jewish, as “the spine in my life”. “They are basically my parents. They look after me. They help me with a lot of things. They make a massive difference. They have done a lot for me, and I’m very grateful. I see them all the time.”

Dayimani says he has experienced discrimination because of his relationship with Judaism. “Being black and Jewish can be tough because you experience discrimination for both. So, sometimes you get it regardless. Being in certain spots when guys found out I was Jewish, there were always comments and jokes with an undertone. I just did my own thing. If guys make jokes, I just brush it off. I call them out, especially when they make fun of other Jewish people and make Jewish jokes. I have always tried not to look at the negative even though it’s there because I feel like if I focus too much on the negative, I’ll never get anything done.”

Dayimani tries to get involved in charity whenever he can help. “For example, I auctioned my jersey and donated some of the proceeds to a school. I’ve donated money I’ve won in previous years. I’ve donated money to a Home of Hope, a home for girls who were raped and abused. I know how it feels to be in an underprivileged position and not be helped. So, I always try to be helpful.”

Asked about his expectations for the team at the upcoming Maccabiah, Dayimani says, “As much as results matter, we’re not result-driven. We’re just there to have fun and enjoy ourselves. For some guys, this might be their last games, while others are in their first games, so we’ll try to make it an experience for everyone. If you win, it’s just a bonus, but we don’t want to put pressure on ourselves.”

Says Berger, “We’re happy to be going, especially grateful just to be participating with load shedding and the whole dynamic of the country at the moment. We’re going to try and make the community proud. The guys understand what it means to be putting on the green and gold.

“We’ve got a mix of experience and some good youngsters. We would have liked a bit more time, but they are a great bunch of kids, they are fit, and in good condition. A lot of them have been to Maccabi before so they know what to expect,” says Chait, who is responsible for the logistics, kit, setting the schedule, and setting standards and discipline in the team.

This former Western Province flyhalf won gold at the Maccabi Games in 1989 and 1993, captaining the team in the latter tournament. His son, Jordan, a flyhalf for the Sharks, is in South Africa’s team for this year’s Maccabi Games, having previously played in the 2017 edition.

“For the new guys, there’s just excitement,” says Chait. “Hacjivah is so humble, so helpful. He’s nurturing the youngsters. Coming from the URC final to Maccabi, you’d think he would be arrogant, but he’s not at all.”

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