August 19, 2019

Moms Spike the Ball Playing Mamanet

Photo by Leslee Komaiko

Two years ago, Encino resident Galit Peled was visiting family in her native Israel. One day, she met up at a gym with her sister, who was playing in a Mamanet tournament.

Mamanet, which often is used to describe both the league and the game itself, is similar to volleyball. It is played with a volleyball on the same size court with the same height net and the same number of players, six per side. However, in Mamanet, players catch and throw the ball. The game is reportedly derived from a much older one called Newcomb, invented by Clara Baer 125 years ago in New Orleans.

“I walk in and I see mothers playing on the court, husbands and kids cheering their lungs out in the bleachers,” said Peled, who operates a senior home in Northridge. “I was just blown away.” She vowed to try to bring Mamanet to Los Angeles. 

True to her word, more than 200 women representing 22 Mamanet teams from around the country, including 11 from Los Angeles, gathered May 31 at the Mamba Sports Academy in Newbury Park for an all-day tournament.

The players, who came from as far away as Ohio, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Oregon, wore jerseys emblazoned with the logo for the Valley Jewish Community Center in Woodland Hills, which has worked closely with Peled to build and support the local Mamanet effort.

“We want to promote exercise and fitness and sport to all the mothers.” — Galit Peled

While Mamanet might sound slow, it is anything but. Because players aren’t allowed to hold the ball for more than one second, the action moves quickly. Players pass and fake. No prior competitive sports experience is required. But it’s clear in watching the women, especially those who shine at the net, slamming the ball down on their opponents (the equivalent of a spike in volleyball), that some are veteran athletes.

At lunchtime, players participated in a ceremony that began with a raucous parade to the tune of Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire” and ended with a group photo of all 220-some players along with the coaches, sponsors and officials. In between, they heard from several speakers, including Eitan Weiss, deputy chief of mission for the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles. “You are the true ambassadors of Israel, and not just Israel, but the Israeli spirit,” Weiss told the moms, many of whom are Israeli Americans.

But the loudest applause was reserved for Ofra Abramovich, who founded Mamanet in 2005 in Israel, helped Peled bring the league to Los Angeles and came into town for the occasion. “A dream without people who can fill it stays a dream,” Abramovich told the crowd. “So, thank you.”

Among those who played in the tournament is full-time mom Maya Bienenfeld of Westlake Village. During the Mamanet season, which runs from September through May, Bienenfeld usually plays on the Mamagoura Mamanet team. But for the tournament, the Los Angeles players formed new teams since not everyone was able to take the time off to participate.

For Bienenfeld, the best part of being involved in Mamanet is “this feeling of belonging to a group, to a community.” She played soccer when she was younger and also competed on a swimming team. But she hadn’t realized how much she missed the camaraderie of being on a team until she had it once again.

“We want to promote exercise and fitness and sport to all the mothers, because we are the example,” Peled said, adding that the benefits of the game go “way beyond the net,” to “empowering women. And for me, driving so many kids to so many sports games and spending every Saturday in the rain or sun, it’s like, oh, my God, I’m playing, and my husband and kids are cheering in the bleachers.” 

In other words, now it’s the moms’ turn.