Always Believe in Magic
Dan Stein’s Journey to the Blue & White of Rugby Israel
By Soul Sport
“Daniel Stein? Yeah, I know him. He’s that ace Karate Kid from King David High.”
That was the common response to the “Do you know Dan Stein” question while Dan was in primary and junior high school. Dan was prolific on the mat. He’d won many titles and medals in karate; he’d travelled the world attending tournaments; and represented South Africa on the international stage and at the Maccabi Games.
But an epiphany in Grade Eight at King David High School would change all that. Dan decided to attend a school rugby practice and, from the moment he picked up the rugby ball, he was sold. Today, Dan Stein is part of the Israel National Rugby Squad!
He lovingly recalls his grandfather, Norman Stein obm, who he called ‘Papa’, as the inspiration driving him forward in the sport. Norman was passionate about rugby and had played Hooker for Potchefstroom High as well as for a Provincial team.
Being relatively small in comparison to your average rugby player (weighting a mere 40kg when he started playing), Dan had to push himself harder - but with his signature strength of commitment and character - succeed he did! He made it into the King David first team and received the school Honours blazer for rugby. He was selected for the Lions Presidential side and competed in the acclaimed Saint John’s Rugby festival.
For Dan, playing for King David was memorable for a few reasons: they had a good squad with a special camaraderie. The bonds that were forged among the players carried over beyond the pitch and their school years. Further, there was a perception at some of the other rugby schools that KDHS was just some ‘small Jewish rugby school team’, but the boys at KDH took great pride and pleasure in disproving that notion against their opponents. Dan recalls that, ”we even won the league one year!”
Kevin Musikanth, now Director of Israel Rugby, first spotted Dan at a game between King David and St John’s. Musikanth, who was then the coach at St John’s, was so impressed with Dan that he took him aside after the game and offered him the opportunity to play for St John’s the following year as a post-matric or ‘second matric year’ student, to gain rugby experience. Tantalising as it was, Dan had already made plans to study in Israel and the semester dates of Uni clashed with the St John’s opportunity. However, a solid relationship was struck up and Dan trained under Kevin at St John’s for the balance of the year, getting vital experience from the very best until he left for Israel.
“Getting introduced to Kevin’s training methods and philosophy was life-changing,” says Dan. “Kevin has a saying, the acronym of which is ‘ABIM’, which stands for ‘Always Believe In Magic’. It’s not just positive thinking. He actually instils it in you [his players] and helps you to realise the magic you’re capable of and he brings it out in you.”
Dan travelled to Israel for the Maccabi Games to represent SA. The ‘Jewish Boks’ took home the Bronze in the 15’s and the Gold in the 7’s. Upon his return, Dan played for Pirates. There was discussion of a contract at the Sharks, but he insisted that he was going to study in Israel. While at the Maccabi Games, the then Israel Rugby Coach, Ra’anan Penn, encouraged the squads that had come to play at the Games to consider playing in Israel to strengthen rugby in the country.
So, as Dan finally touched down in Israel, even before going to University lectures, he went directly to the National Team training. It took him three years to get the opportunity to play for Israel - as International Rugby rules state that you can only represent a country once you’ve lived there for three years (that is, if you’re not a natural born citizen).
To date, Dan has represented Israel in the 15’s and the 7’s on many occasions. More recently, he was part of the squad that came to Stellenbosch to complete a training camp together with the Blitzbokke. It was one of the most memorable experiences “to train with and see up- front the very best in the world.”
With Covid regulations in place, Dan was held back from returning to Israel. The delay turned out to have a fortuitous, albeit rather sad, outcome for him. His ‘Papa’, Norman, took ill and passed away. Having been in lock-down in SA thus allowed Dan to be able to be with his beloved grandfather and family through the ordeal.
With the appointment of Kevin Musikanth as Director and Head Coach of Israel Rugby in 2017, Dan was reunited with his mentor. Under Kevin’s tutorage, his game continues to be raised and his passion and drive to succeed is as intense as ever.
For Dan, it has always been an uphill battle - the smaller player playing for the underdog school; enduring a three year wait for his first cap; and now playing for a country that has to fight every step of the way to prove itself on the world stage.
Dan’s wearing of the Blue and White is really fitting because Daniel Stein’s journey is one that perhaps reflects the story of the tiny nation of Israel itself - ever the underdog that with courage, fight, resilience and commitment, succeeds in rising up and, by ‘always believing in its magic’, achieves great things!