BY SIMON YAFFE
FOOTBALLER Tomer Chencinski is an advocate for Israel — no matter which country he plays in.
The Canadian goalkeeper, who was born in the Jewish state, currently plys his trade in the Republic of Ireland with Shamrock Rovers.
Tomer has played for 11 clubs in countries around Europe and North America.
And he regularly engages with teammates when they ask him about Judaism and Israel.
Pro-Palestinian feeling in Eire is high. Last month, the Palestinian flag was raised over South Dublin County Council hall.
Tomer said: “I know that the Palestinian ‘cause’ is big in Ireland and the UK and I think a lot of it is down to the media.
“If I hear someone say something about the situation and I do not agree with it, I will speak up, but it is not as though I go into training with an Israeli flag or anything.
“There are a lot of people in the world who lash out at Israel, but they have little knowledge.
“Maybe because the Irish saw themselves as oppressed by the British, they then align themselves to the Palestinians, but I do not think that is the right way to look at things.
“Why not raise the Israeli flag alongside the Palestinian flag.
“I believe in peace and unity, so raise both of them.”
A few weeks ago, for the first time in his career, Tomer claimed he received antisemitic abuse from Dundalk fans while playing for Shamrock.
“There were a couple of comments made, so I reported it to the referee,” he explained.
“It is now in the hands of the League of Ireland.”
That aside, Tomer and his wife Jessie have found the Irish people and Dublin to be friendly and hospitable.
The couple, who had their first child, daughter Maya, two months ago, have become involved with the Irish capital’s Jewish community.
They belong to the Dublin Hebrew Congregation in the residential suburb of Terenure.
“It is difficult to go to services on a Friday night because that is when League of Ireland games are mainly played,” Tomer said.
“But wherever I have played, we always keep the festivals, like Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Pesach, and we mark Chanucah.
“Jessie was at a mummy yoga class and she met another woman who was really interested in Judaism, so we invited her over for the Pesach seder.”
The 32-year-old signed for Shamrock in December.
One of the team’s coaches, Finn Sami Ristilä, knew about Tomer’s abilities following his spell in the Finnish top flight.
“I had just finished the season with Helsingborgs IF, in Sweden, and we had been relegated,” he continued.
“Jessie was pregnant at the time and we were not sure what to do, but we decided to give it a shot.”
He has established himself as first choice goalkeeper at Shamrock — and “the supporters even have a song about me, which goes, ‘Tomer, Tomer, we can’t pronounce your name, but we love you all the same’.”
Shamrock are currently fourth in the table and also reached the second round of the UEFA Europa League qualifying stage, but lost on aggregate to Czech side Mladá Boleslav.
“We lost to Bohemians, who are our close rivals, last weekend, which was a dampener, but I played in the Europa League, which was on my bucket list,” Tomer said.
He compared the standard of the division to League One in England.
“It is better than Finland, but probably lower than the top league in Sweden,” Tomer explained.
“The thing in Ireland is, a lot of the good young players move to the UK at an earlier age.”
Tomer was born in Tel Aviv, but moved with his parents and brother and sister to Ontario, Canada, when he was eight. He spoke no English at the time.
Tomer’s parents, Beni and Aneta, were born in Poland, but left for Israel in the 1960s due to virulent antisemitism.
A more promising financial situation led the Chencinskis to move to Canada.
Until then, Tomer was not particularly interested in football.
“My dad was more keen on volleyball and handball,” he recalled. “In Israel, I just played with friends in the streets and in the parks.
“I didn’t join an organised team until we moved to Canada.
“I was a boisterous kid and when I did join a team, my parents told the coach not to put me in goal as they wanted me to get rid of my energy by running all over the pitch.
“But he did put me in goal and I still had a lot of energy when I came home, so my parents were livid with him.”
Tomer’s goalkeeping talent soon became evident and he was offered the chance to play in France.
However, he decided to concentrate on his education and played two years of college football at Pittsburgh’s Robert Morris University.
He then went to Fairleigh Dickinson University as a junior, where he played two seasons of college football before being snapped up by Major League Soccer side Toronto FC in 2007, when the Canadians were formed.
However, ecstatic at being picked up by Toronto, his dreams turned to devastation when he was released after they brought in two goalkeepers from Europe.
“They didn’t have any room for me in the squad and I did not have enough experience, having just come out of college,” he explained.
He went to work as a business consultant for a software company.
Tomer had a spell with indoor football side Detroit Ignition before signing up for USL Premier Development League expansion side Newark Ironbound Express, where he was named PDL goalkeeper of the year.
It was after that his nomadic football career began, taking in clubs in Moldova, America, Finland, Sweden, Israel and now Ireland.
In 2013, after impressing for Swedish club Orebro SK, he was signed by Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Despite only making one league appearance for the club and being farmed out twice on loan, he enjoyed his time there.
“It was incredible to sign for Israel’s biggest club,” Tomer recalled.
“The Maccabi manager Jordi Cruyff was the sporting director when I signed and we still keep in touch.
“Playing there definitely helped me grow as a person.”
Two years ago, he signed for RoPS, who play in Rovaniemi, in Lapland — just four miles from the Arctic Circle.
“My wife and I were definitely the only Jews there,” Tomer laughed.
“We even made Rosh Hashana dinner for some of my team-mates, as they were interested in our customs.
“I have never had any animosity at any of the clubs I have been at — everyone has always been really interested and welcoming.”
During his time in Finland, Tomer also played for a RoPS’ feeder team, the amusingly-named FC Santa Claus.
The team has a picture of Father Christmas on its logo.
Rovaniemi markets itself as the official home of Santa Claus.
After helping RoPS to a runners-up spot in the Finnish top division, Tomer signed for Helsingborgs, who were managed by Celtic legend Henrik Larsson.
“To know that he wanted me was really humbling,” Tomer continued.
“Unfortunately, we were relegated and because of the club’s financial problems, a lot of players had to go.”
Tomer signed a one-year contract with Shamrock and is open to staying on in Dublin.
“It has always been my dream to sign for Tottenham Hotspur — I would play for them for free,” he added.
“But, being realistic, I am 32 and I don’t think there is much chance it is going to happen.”
He has played once for Canada, in a 2013 friendly against Belarus, but has not been called up since.
Tomer is also planning on moving back to Canada once his career comes to an end.
“My parents and brother are there, although my sister went back to Israel,” he said.
“I like life in Canada — it is simple and quiet.
“I would hope to get involved in coaching there or in some kind of football business venture.
“Hopefully, there will be opportunities for me.”