Jerusalem’s biggest Bama fan is ready for some Alabama Crimson Tide football

Jerusalem’s biggest Bama fan is ready for some Alabama Crimson Tide football
Hani Imam's Alabama: The Heart of Dixie store in Jerusalem attracts Tide fans and those curious about the shop's connection to the Crimson Tide. Many items marry local items with the his beloved football team and school. (contributed)

While it can be hard to claim absolutes, it’s a safe bet that Hani Imam is the biggest Alabama Crimson Tide fan on his street. In his neighborhood. In his city. In his country.

It’s a claim that would be hard to make in a place like Tuscaloosa, Birmingham or pretty much any Alabama or Southern city. It would even be debatable in many U.S. cities.

But Imam lives in Jerusalem, Israel. His shop is a destination for those Tide fans making a Holy Land pilgrimage. Everyone from talk show host Conan O’Brien to Alabama U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne have documented their visits to the shop.

“My store is my biggest statement as an Alabama fan,” Imam said. “I love it when Americans walk in my store with their mouth open. I just laugh and yell, ‘Roll Tide,’ and they laugh and scream and holler.”

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Hani Imam owns a store in the dark and covered alleys of heart of Jerusalem. In the store, Alabama, The Heart of Dixie, you won’t find what most shops sell, from Red Sea stones to frankincense to stars of David to wooden rosaries to Jewish prayer shawls to bottles of holy water.

What you will find is all kinds of Alabama merchandise such as footballs, photographs, plates, shirts, art of football players, signed items, souvenirs and memorabilia with the Alabama logo front and center.

When I called Imam from Birmingham, it was midnight is Israel. He was still excited to wake up and talk about the Crimson Tide and his shop. When asked about Alabama’s loss in the national championship game last season, Imam’s voice dropped a couple of notches.

“We just did not show up last year against Clemson,” he shrugged. “I wouldn’t have been as upset had we played a good game, you know, a close game where the players played to the wire. They just didn’t, and that was very upsetting. That game was a disaster.”

Alabama lost to Clemson 44-16. Imam believes the team has learned from the loss.

“We are ready this year,” he said. “We learned from what happened, and the new coaching staff is very strong. We will win the national championship this year. We have a tough schedule, but we will win for sure. We have seven new assistant coaches; we will show up this year.”

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The new assistant coaches include Steve Sarkisian, who rejoined the staff as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, and Pete Golding who was promoted to defensive coordinator after being linebackers coach last year. Charles Kelly was named associate defensive coordinator and safeties coach, and Brian Baker is be defensive line coach and associate head coach. Sal Sunseri coaches the linebackers, Kyle Flood coaches the offensive line, and Holmon Wiggins coaches the wide receivers.

“This might be the strongest coaching staff we have ever had on the team,” Imam said. “When you combine that with what happened last year, what I mean is what the players learned, to show up for the game, we are winning the national championship for sure. Here is another reason why I think Alabama will win this year: The players have the heart for the win.”

Hani Imam was born in the West Bank and lived in Israel most of his life, but attended the University of Alabama from 1985 to 1989. He majored in Business Administration and became a huge Alabama fan. He loves showing his loyalty at his store.

“All the locals want to know why I am such a big fan,” he said. “I tell them Alabama has the greatest football team ever. Then they ask me what ‘Roll Tide’ means, and I say it means the same thing, the greatest football team ever. My favorite part, and what I have loved for years, is when an Alabama fan walks in with disbelief in their eyes. It’s like they’re dreaming. They look around, then look at me and point to the store sign. I just laugh and say, ‘Roll Tide.’ It never gets old.”

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