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Wolves star Levin faces mandatory military service in Israel

For a rookie player in the OHL, the summer would be a chance to reflect on year one, unwind and then improve on weaknesses and get ready for year two.
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David Levin (third from left) with his parents, Pavel and Lena, and his little brother. Photo supplied
For a rookie player in the OHL, the summer would be a chance to reflect on year one, unwind and then improve on weaknesses and get ready for year two.

David Levin will tackle all those and more as he faces the reality of perhaps not being able to go back to his home country again.

Many know the story of David Levin by now: born in Israel, living there until his early teens with his father, mother and brother.

He discovered hockey while watching a game with his dad, took up inline skating and quickly became a star, choosing to come to Canada to stay with relatives in order to pursue a dream.

He was taken this year as the first overall pick in the OHL draft, which almost didn’t happen because his citizenship was questioned and almost had to wait another year for the import draft.

It all worked out and Levin was drafted. But the 16-year-old now faces another challenge.

This very well could be the last summer he can go back to see his family and friends in Israel before he will be enlisted into the Israel army, the Israel Defense Force (IDF).

“So when you turn 17 you get an enforcement letter, so you have to go there and see what you’re going to do in the army and when you have to go there,” Levin said last week. “When you’re 18, you start until you’re 21.”

Military service is mandatory in Israel for all citizens over the age of 18, but despite that, only about 50 per cent of potential conscripts actually serve in the military.

However, Levin turns 17 in September and it’s only going to get harder as those days get closer.

“It’s going to affect me a lot,” he said. “I moved here when I was 12 without my family to make my dreams come true and I’m almost there now. It’s really close and that will really affect me to go back and then my dreams go down and I can forget about it.”

His family visited him in Sudbury this month, but before that, it was nine months since he saw his mother and brother.

Levin tells us that his family, agent and management are working on getting him exemption. Fortunately, he said, there are precedents that could work in his favour.

“It’s a situation that going into David’s draft year last year, everyone was aware of and knew it was a unique circumstance with him,” said Wolves General Manager Barclay Branch. “So this is something that we were prepared for. It’s just going according to what was known and what was expected. It’s being handled by his representation.”

There are a number of cases where athletes tried and failed to get an exemption, and had to go back to Israel to finish their service. One of the most famous was that of soccer player Ben Sahar, who caught the eye of Chelsea in 2004.

Sahar was due back in Israel to complete the three years of service, but a piece of legislation was drafted, nicknamed “The Ben Sahar Law,” which would have allowed him to compete civil service in Britain instead. The bill didn’t pass and Sahar was conscripted. Everytime he vacations in Israel, he must go to the military base where he was assigned.

The case of Tom Maayan is another high profile example.

Mayan was a college basketball player who was only able to play a few games for Seton Hall in the U.S. before having to join the Israeli military.

If Levin does go back after refusing to serve or past the age of service, he will be put in jail for three months — before being sent to put in his time with the IDF.

For Levin, it’s something he thinks about every time he laces up the skates.

“I’m thinking about this every day, but my dad always tell me don’t think about it, do what you can do now and I will work on it,” Levin said. “So I believe him and believe my agents and managers.”

Could it mean the Wolves would lose their up-and-coming star at any point in his OHL career?

“Based on what we know right now, we don’t foresee that happening,” said Branch.

Levin said he is confident a solution can be found and thinks Israel should let him go for his dream.

“They should let me go, make Israel get on the map for hockey as well,” said Levin.

While there have been a few pro basketball players from Israel — Omri Casspi was the first to play a game in the NBA — there has never been an NHL player from the country.

One solution would be having his family move here, but it’s something that Levin doesn’t believe is feasible at this time.

“Maybe my mom (could move, but) they have work there, friends and a business, so they can’t just leave it,” said Levin.

But then there is the question of his 10-year-old brother. In a few years, he, too, will be in the same situation, and Levin has some pressure to deal with that as well.

“My dad always tells me it’s your turn to move him here when you make the NHL,” said Levin.

But he doesn’t view it as pressure.

“(It) just gives me more motivation,” said Levin.

A sentiment echoed by the Wolves GM.

“David’s dealing with whatever comes at him like a professional,” said Branch.

For now, all he can do is wait and see where the chips fall. Meanwhile, he will head home this summer for a visit, possibly for the last time.

“Yeah, I am going to head back there to see my family, friends, stay there a little bit,” he said. “Maybe (for) two weeks — then I will start to work harder, run and skate.”

Spoken like a true hockey player.



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