Gaga Goes Mainstream as Israeli Dodgeball Game Becomes Fad

Game Takes Off Way Beyond Jewish Camps and Day School

The Circle Game: Schoolchildren in Upper Arlington, Ohio, show their skills at Gaga, which means “touch, touch” in Hebrew.
Courtesy Upper Arlington School District
The Circle Game: Schoolchildren in Upper Arlington, Ohio, show their skills at Gaga, which means “touch, touch” in Hebrew.

By Seth Berkman

Published February 15, 2013, issue of January 04, 2013.
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For Jewish summer campers everywhere, “Lady” is not the first thing that “Gaga” brings to mind. Instead, Gaga is the name of an addictive game that provides a great workout — and that’s spreading from Jewish summer camps and day schools to the rest of America.

“You don’t lose the rush,” said Jenna Silverman, 12, of Waukegan, Ill. “It gets your heart rate up when you’re really into the game and usually jumping and dodging. It’s a lot of fun.”

Silverman may have a conflict of interest: Her father, Cliff Silverman, manufactures the pits in which the game is played. But these days, Gaga, a recreational staple at Jewish camps for decades, is even attracting adult adherents and becoming a burgeoning industry.

“When the sessions are done, kids are exhausted, drenched in sweat and get a great workout,” said Don Melnick, an instructor in the Israeli martial art krav magav who opened South Jersey GaGa in Cherry Hill, N.J., last July. “Parents are happy because it gets them off the couch, away from TV. Anyone can play. I don’t equate it as a Jewish sport or Jewish-only activity.”

Video: Nate Lavey


Among counselors and parents, Gaga is regarded as a safer alternative to the popular playground game of dodgeball. The basic rules of Gaga dictate that a number of players open the game standing around an octagonal pit, usually constructed of wood or plastic. A ball is thrown into the middle of the pit and players then attempt to hit the ball at opponents below their waists. Once a player is hit below the waist, he or she is out until the next game. If the ball leaves the pit, the last player to touch it is out. The last player remaining is the winner. Games take no longer than five or 10 minutes.

There is no consensus on where the game began. “Ga, ga” translates to “touch, touch” in Hebrew.

“The word on the street was it was originally an Israeli game, although I haven’t met a whole lot [of Israelis] who are familiar with it,” said Aaron Greenberg, director at the JCC Camps at Medford in N.J.


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