Maccabi Tel Aviv clinch Israeli league crown

Maccabi Tel Aviv became Israeli champions for a record 20th time on Monday when they sealed the Premier League title with a 2-0 win over hosts Hapoel Ramat Hasharon.

The result gave Tel Aviv an unassailable 13-point lead over second-placed Maccabi Haifa with four matches remaining and will see them play in the preliminary rounds of next season's Champions League.

Against Ramat Hasharon, Maccabi continued their dominant form and secured the points with a 19th-minute goal by midfielder Dor Micha and a 78th-minute strike by Swedish forward Rade Prica.

The National Stadium in Tel Aviv erupted in a loud cheer as the final whistle sounded and players and club staff celebrated by dancing around the centre circle and completing a lap of honour to allow their success-starved fans to applaud.

Fearing a crowd crush, Tel Aviv police forced Ramat Hasharon to move the fixture from their tiny home ground in a suburb north of Tel Aviv to the National Stadium.

They were rewarded by a tenfold increase in attendance as some 40,000 spectators, almost all supporting Maccabi, turned out to celebrate.

Maccabi, founded in 1905, are Israel's most revered team and the most successful in previous decades, but titles have been scarce in recent years and their previous league crown was won on goal difference from Maccabi Haifa in 2002-03.

The change in the club's fortunes was brought about through large investment by Canadian owner, Mitch Goldhar, who imported overseas training staff led by manager Oscar Garcia, formerly Barcelona's youth coach, and technical manager Jordi Cruyff.

“I want to thank all my players for being so professional, all the people at the club for their hard work, the fans who supported us all the way, and Maccabi Haifa, who had a very good season and pushed us hard to the end,” a beaming Garcia said.

Goldhar, who took over the club four years ago, was praised by pundits for breaking Maccabi's old mould of under-achievement and perceived arrogance and instilling a new culture of success, modesty and hard work.

“This is the fourth year of a process and we are seeing the fruits of the labour of that process… work ethic, commitment, respect for people… are all things we have had to implement but we still have a way to go,” Goldhar said.

Writing by Ori Lewis, editing by Toby Davis

Who is the latest Jewish trivia whiz?

Answer: Jason Keller. The man who won $213,900 over the course of nine episodes on Jeopardy!, the classic quiz show, now envisions traveling to Israel for competitive Scrabble.

While many Jews who have never been to Israel anticipate their first visit to the Western Wall, Jason Keller also has the Tel Aviv Scrabble Club—one of the world’s largest clubs of its kind—in mind.

A brainy tour of the Holy Land would only be natural for the 30-year-old Highland Park, NJ, resident, who last month won $213,900 during a nine-episode run on Jeopardy!, the classic answers-and-questions quiz show.

“I would love to see everything that Israel has to offer,” Keller said. “I really want to tour the country, but I’ll admit that if I happen to go during a time when there’s a Scrabble tournament, I may go to the Scrabble tournament.”

Appearing on Jeopardy! marked the fulfillment of a 16-year quest for Keller, who benefitted from a lifelong appreciation for trivia and brain games. He had been sending postcards and self-addressed stamped envelopes to the show since he was a teenager.

When the registration process evolved to online testing as the first qualifying filter, Keller passed that test four separate times and received three in-person auditions. Eventually, he wowed producers by telling them about his friendships with former Jeopardy! contestants through Scrabble tournaments, quiz bowls and other events.

“This is something that I’ve wanted for a really long time, and I’ve usually been an optimist,” he said. “I always felt that it would happen eventually.”

Nearly three months after his June audition, Keller was called to appear in late October. The show tapes five shows a day, two days a week, and Keller’s first game was the final show of a Tuesday taping.

As he stood on the stage, Keller grew more excited hearing famed announcer Johnny Gilbert:


From the middle position—between Leslie Hamilton, a teacher and swim coach from Erlanger, Ky., and one-day champ Beth Watkins, a graduate student of medieval studies from Savannah, Ga.—the exam prep tutor was ready.

“There were some nerves, but it was more like ‘Here we go,’” Keller said. “I was more nervous sitting in the audience before my game. By the time I got up there, I felt relieved, and thought I would just see what happened. I thought I had a pretty good shot.”

Keller took control of the game early, accumulating $7,000 after the first round and $20,200 heading into Final Jeopardy, $6,400 more than second-place Hamilton.

The final answer, “A Roman legal term for a debtor sentenced to servitude is the origin of this term for a slave to a vice,” stumped Keller’s opponents, and his response of “What is addict?” made him a champion.

“I prepared myself for everything, from the best to the worst,” he said. “I dreamed about winning game number 75 [thus setting a record] and having all this confetti in the studio and having [former Jeopardy champion] Ken Jennings watching. I also had visions of getting on one show, having the categories not go my way and being really angry about it afterward.”

Keller’s winnings were the sixth-most in Jeopardy’s long history and the largest of the current season. His nine-day run is also among the longest since the show relaxed its rule that forced champions to retire after five straight wins.

During his run, Keller defeated an elementary school teacher, comedy writer, travel specialist, medical student, grocer, librarian, chef and assistant principal, among others. Keller gave the most correct responses in each of his nine wins, answering 229 questions in that span.

Three times, he entered Final Jeopardy as a runaway winner—meaning he had more than twice the amount of the second-place score—and twice won despite trailing.

With his fifth win, Keller guaranteed himself a spot in the Tournament of Champions.

“That was my first thought,” he said. “Not a lot of people get to do that. It was just wonderful.”

Keller wished his mother a happy birthday on his 10th show, which aired Dec. 29, thanking her for instilling in him a love of all games. They played Wheel of Fortune when he was a child, and Jeopardy eventually became an evening viewing staple.

He got a Scrabble board in third grade, learned how to play chess from his dad, and learned card games from his grandparents.

After a whirlwind weekend of commuting between coasts, Keller lost despite a last-minute charge. Tired by the taping of that day’s fourth episode, Keller didn’t know that the correct response to, “Concluding a four-book series, his 2004 novel ‘Folly and Glory’ features Kit Carson, William Clark & Jim Bowie,” was author Larry McMurtry.

He lost to Dave Leach, a software analyst from Atlanta, Ga., who also didn’t know the answer.

“I knew that [McMurtry was] a writer who does stories about the West, but I don’t know if I would’ve come up with that about him,” Keller said. “I was disappointed. There’s always regret when it’s over. You love the experience, and you don’t want it to end.”

For the Tournament of Champions, Keller will seek to improve his breadth of knowledge. While he thrived at geography, opera, women in sports and literature, he considers movies, animals and questions that ask for specific dates as weaknesses.

Raised in a Conservative Jewish home, Keller became intrigued with the prospect of traveling to Israel after hearing about his younger brother’s experiences on a Taglit-Birthright trip.

But for his next public endeavor, Keller is thinking bigger, picturing himself in physical jeopardy while dashing around the world on The Amazing Race.

“There could be a bunch of different angles,” Keller said with a laugh. “My younger brother thinks we should go on together. I could do the brainy stuff, and he can do the physical stuff. Or maybe they’d want two long-running Jeopardy! champions [on a team].”

New Punims in Sports Hall of Fame

Freestyle swim champion Jason Lezak of Irvine and fellow Californian, hot rodder Kenny Bernstein, have been elected to the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame for 2006.

In all, four Americans, one British Australian and one Brazilian are among the chosen athletes, with a New York sports writer rounding out the seven inductees.

Youngest of the group is Lezak, who won four medals, including two gold, in the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games. He is the world-record holder in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle.

Bernstein of Forest City is the six-time National Hot Rod Association champion and in 1972 became the first driver-owner to break drag racing’s 300-mph barrier.

Tenpin bowling champ Marshall Holman of Medford, Ore., is the winner of 22 major Professional Bowlers Association championships and the first bowler to top $1.5 million in career earnings.

The only woman in the group, Adriana Behar of Rio de Janeiro, is Brazil’s beach volleyball star. She and her partner won silver medals in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics and ranked as the world’s number one team in 2000, 2001 and 2004.

Two great champions of the past, Al Singer and Albert Rosenfeld, were also elected.

Singer of New York won the world lightweight boxing crown in 1930 with a first-round knockout of reigning champ Sammy Mandell. Singer, who died in 1961, won 61 of his 72 pro fights, 25 by KO.

Rugby legend Rosenfeld started his playing career (1909-24) in his native Australia, but won the bulk of his laurels with England’s Huddersfield Club. His record of 80 tries scored in a single season remains unbroken and he was an original member of the Rugby League Hall of Fame. He died in 1970.

The seventh inductee is Ira Berkow, New York Times sports feature writer and columnist for the past 24 years. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his series “How Race Is Lived in America: The Minority Quarterback,” and also wrote biographies of Hank Greenberg, Casey Stengel, Bill Bradley and others.

The International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame Museum is located on the campus of the Wingate Institute for Physical Education and Sport in Netanya, Israel. Since 1979, it has inducted 315 athletes and sportspersons representing 24 countries.


Up Front

All the Right Moves

“He’s a nice Jewish boy,” Michal Finkelstein says of her son Shimon. “He likes to sing in shul, he’s an A student…. He never uses his strength or skills to bully others.”

Except on the wrestling mat.

The 10-year-old Shimon is the California state champion in the boys’ 65-pound division, ages 9 to 10. This month, he will compete in the Western regionals, then it’s on to Iowa for the nationals.

Born in Jerusalem, Shimon grew up in a West Bank settlement just north of his birthplace, Beit El. The Orthodox Finkelstein family moved to Los Angeles four years ago. It was on a return summer visit to Israel in 1995 when Shimon was introduced to wrestling by a Shabbat guest from Oklahoma.

“Shimon’s always been very physically built,” says his mother. “He learned to ride a two-wheeler at 3 years old.”

Third in a family of six, Shimon is dedicated to wrestling, specializing in freestyle and Greco-Roman style (no contact below the waist). In fact, the pint-sized powerhouse commutes from his family’s Pico-Robertson-area residence to the Valley several times a week to train.

Shimon’s father, Rabbi Baruch Finkelstein, shrugs off any potential for mayhem on the mat. “It’s less dangerous than baseball or football,” says Finkelstein, a teacher at Shalhevet High School.

Although the Finkelsteins will move back to Israel this summer, Shimon’s wrestlemania will continue on in the Middle East. As his proud mother puts it, “I hope to see him in the Olympics in Israel.”

WHY WRESTLING?: “My dad wanted to do this…I liked it. It was fun, and we kept on going.”

SECRET KILLER MOVES: “I have some moves that I’m really good at, like the ‘Flip.’ It’s the arm throw. You take the arm and you throw him. I also use a ‘Russian Roll’ — you get the guy’s head in a headlock, and then you turn him over and start rolling around the mat with him.”

KEEPING YOUR KIPPAH ON: “I don’t [wrestle with it]. They always fall off.”

FIRST-CLASS COACH: “My coach, he’s from Russia and he’s Jewish. His name is Sam Pinsky. I really love him. We practice moves a lot. I do it two times a week.”


FUTURE PROGNOSIS: “I want to be a doctor and wrestle.”

WRESTLING: REAL OR FIXED?: “It’s real. It’s not a show.”

— Michael Aushenker, Community Editor

‘Genius Grant’ Goes to Greif

Israeli economist Avner Greif of Stanford University has received a $265,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

The award, given to “the most creative minds” in the United States, is popularly dubbed the “genius grant.” It is one of the most coveted in America because it comes without any strings, and recipients can use the money in any way they wish, without having to file any justifications or reports. Individuals, from any field, are selected by an anonymous panel of “talent scouts.”

Greif, 42 and a graduate of Tel Aviv University, impressed the $4 billion foundation with his research, which has led to “greater understanding of the institutional evolution and the conditions that lead to social conflict or cooperation,” according to the citation.

Using game theory and other modeling techniques, he has shown “how beliefs, institutions and other social ties, which appear to be randomly connected, are in fact linked to cultural norms of trust and reciprocity.”

In a phone interview, Greif said that he plans to use the bulk of his grant to “buy some spare time” and to learn more about sociological and historical research, as it applies to economic systems.

He also intends to dig into archives in Italy and Israel. He has long been interested in the Maghribi traders, late medieval Jewish merchants who operated in the Moslem Mediterranean and kept detailed records of their business dealings.

Greif has also studied the records of traders from Genoa, where they dominated traffic on the Mediterranean in later centuries.

A native of Tel Aviv, Greif received bachelor’s degrees in both economics and the history of the Jewish people from Tel Aviv University, and subsequently a master’s degree in the latter field under Professor Moshe Gil.

He received his doctorate in economics from Northwestern University and joined the Stanford faculty in 1989. He is now an associate professor.

Greif said that the award came “without warning and caught me by surprise.”

Thanks to the grant, he will be able to take his wife, Estee, and their children, Adi, Yaron and Ariel, along on his study travels. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor


As Up Front goes to press, it’s too soon to tell how Lt. Gov. Gray Davis’ elephantine gaffe — saying Gov. Pete Wilson “likes to fan the flames of…anti-Semitism” — will affect the outcome of the governor’s race.

Davis quickly apologized for the statement, which he called “a total mistake.” Wilson may have alienated minorities with his support of Proposition 187 and other measures, but the man is no anti-Semite. He’s probably spent more time at the Simon Wiesenthal Center than Simon Wiesenthal.

But Davis’ attack of hoof-in-mouth did have one sanguine effect on Decision ’98 — it finally got the gubernatorial race some coverage on local TV news.