For Israeli tennis ace Andy Ram and ‘home’ crowd in Fla., a finale to remember

It wasn’t Tel Aviv, but thousands of people chanting his name at a Davis Cup match following a grueling victory was a pretty good way for Israel’s Andy Ram to leave the game of tennis to which he had devoted more than half his life.

Ram, 34, and his longtime doubles partner, Yoni Erlich, had just outlasted the Argentine duo of Federico Delbonis and Horacio Zeballos in a five-set match on Saturday that lasted nearly three-and-a-half hours.

With Ram sprawled out on center court — on his back, in tears — the crowd waved Israeli flags and “Todah [Thank you] Andy Ram” signs in Hebrew and chanted “Andyoni” and “Tishaer [Stay],” suggesting that he put off the retirement he had announced recently.

His teammates, wearing “Todah Andy” shirts, surrounded Ram, hoisted him in the air and carried him off the court. They proceeded to dump an ice-filled bucket on his head.

He would stay on the court for 20 minutes signing autographs and posing for pictures.

At a news conference afterward, Ram talked about his actions following the match, with Erlich and coach Eyal Ran at his side.

“I ran out of energy,” he said. “Then, as I was looking up at the sky and the birds, I got very emotional. And I cried like a baby.

“I thought of my father who couldn’t be here. I thought of my mom who was here. I left home at 14 to play tennis. Most of our relationship was on the phone. It meant the world to me that she was here.”

The doubles victory had put underdog Israel ahead 2-1 in the team match, but Argentina took both singles matches the following day to advance in the international tournament.

Despite the thunderous reception — as well as the Hebrew music heard frequently during the changeovers — Ram and his Israeli teammates lamented that the match was not played in central Israel, as scheduled, rather than South Florida.

In July, the Argentine Tennis Association requested a change in venue from the Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv due to security concerns surrounding the conflict in Gaza. The International Tennis Federation informed Israel in August that the match had to be moved. Israel appealed but lost; it would have to serve as host in a different location.

The Sunrise Tennis Club was selected from among several options. Much of the crowd there backed the Israelis, with a section of Argentines clad in light blue and white shirts rooting on their guys.

“We are playing here in the U.S.; it is a good feeling and yet it is not the best feeling,” Ram told JTA on Friday. “It was supposed to be in Israel. I wanted to play in front of my home crowd.”

His teammate, Dudi Sela, was a little more direct.

“The ITF made a mistake,” Sela told JTA. “We were looking forward to playing in front of 11,000 people cheering for Israel.”

Asi Touchmair, the chair of the Israel Tennis Association, noted in a statement that Israel has hosted the Davis Cup during times of war and military operations without having to move the matches.

Despite the distance and the logistics difficulties involved, Touchmair said, “we decided to play the Davis Cup in South Florida due to the warm and welcoming relationship that Israel receives from the United States, and where an atmosphere of a ‘home away from home’ will be experienced by our Israel Davis Cup team.”

Among those who made the trek to Sunrise was Andrea Eidman, an Argentine sports journalist who came from Buenos Aires.

“People asked me, who do you cheer for? And honestly, I didn’t care!” she said.

Eidman added, “For me, being present at that tennis court … with the Hebrew music going on and on, with the Israeli flags, the ‘Hatikvah,’ the shofar — it was a party from beginning to end!”

Ram, sitting in the stands on Friday with Erlich, 37, and cheering on his teammates during singles’ matches, told JTA he had no problem looking toward the future.

“I try to put it behind me, like in the past,” he said. “I am the kind of guy who is always thinking, ‘What’s next?’

“It was fun. It was a good time. Next is to focus on my kids [aged 5 and 7]. To see them growing, to be great athletes. To find myself, my way.”

Ram and Erlich – natives of Uruguay and Argentina, respectively — reached as high as No. 5 in the world doubles rankings. They advanced to 36 finals and won 20 of them, including the 2008 Australian Open. Ram also won the Wimbledon mixed doubles in 2006 and the French Open mixed doubles in 2007.

Ram is particularly proud of his Davis Cup record of 19-5 following the one final victory – achieved despite pulling muscle in his left leg late in the fifth set.

“I sent Jonathan on a suicide mission,” Ram joked. “He said, ‘Just get the serves in. I will do the rest.’ ”

Erlich’s particularly strong volleys powered the duo in the final set in 91-degree heat.

Ram spoke of his partnership with Ehrlich.

“When we go on court together, magic happens. We communicate. We know what the other one will do,” Ram said.

Erlich offered, “We had motivation, energy and a lot of belief.”

Eidman summed up what much of the crowd was likely feeling on seeing Ram’s finale.

“I felt like crying when Andy Ram said goodbye to tennis,” she said, noting that the Argentina team’s Jewish captain, Martin Jaite, was playing in his final match, too.

Eidman also said, “I would have loved to travel to eretz Israel instead of America. … It hurt my heart not to go to Israel because of the war.”

But, Ram said, “11,000 people screaming Andyoni is amazing!”

Ethiopian immigrant is top Jewish finisher in this year’s Jerusalem Marathon

Ashrat “Assaf” Mamo is such a common sight when he pounds the pavement in Jerusalem that he’s on a first-name basis with city bus drivers who, he said, always “ask me about the marathon and encourage me.”

On Friday, Mamo, a 27-year-old immigrant from Ethiopia, became the first Israeli to cross the finish line in this year’s Jerusalem Marathon, coming in 11th with a time of 2:33:12. David Cherono Toniok, of Kenya, won the race in 2:19:52, breaking the course record. Ethiopian Mihiret Anamo Antonios was the female winner, with a time of 2:48:38, and Moran Shabtai, with 3:38:35, was the first Israeli female finisher.

In an interview at the finish line in Sacher Park, Mamo told JTA he had expected to do better after completing a personal best time two months ago, with 2:22:32, in the Tiberias Marathon in northern Israel. But Mamo, wrapped in warming foil, appeared happy to have been Israel’s top finisher even though the country’s best marathoners did not participate.

“Jerusalem is the holy city,” Mamo said. “It is my home court.”

More than 14,000 runners from 52 countries competed in the event, which was launched just last year. The route takes runners through the walled Old City, past the president’s residence and up to the Hebrew University campus on Mount Scopus. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and a 77-year-old Holocaust survivor, Hanoch Shahar, participated in shorter versions of the race’s 26-mile course.

In the lead-up to the race, runners had spoken about the capital’s notorious hills as the most likely impediment to posting good times. But weather conditions for the race—rain and hail fell through the morning and the the sun only periodically poked through thick clouds—heaped on additional challenges.

Mamo, for whom this marathon was his eighth, said he blocked out the distractions of familiar neighborhoods and the kaleidoscopic lures of the Old City during the course’s brief foray there, staying focused on his running and continually checking the pace on his running wrist watch.

Mamo left the northern Ethiopian city of Tigry for Israel in late 2000 along with his father, who has since passed away. He lives in the Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood and is unmarried.

The slight Israeli with silver braces and a winning smile works as a contractor repairing car windshields. He described himself as a traditional Jew who attends synagogue only on High Holy Days.

Toniok said he was thrilled that, as a religious Catholic, his first ever marathon win came in Jerusalem. He expressed mild disappointment that the event did not start in the Old City, but said that he hoped to visit the following day before returning to Kenya on Saturday night. He lives in Eldoret, which is where the country’s legendary long-distance runners also reside and with whom he trains.

“I’m very happy because most Christian people [back home] learn about Israel but don’t have the chance to visit,” Toniok said. “I know about King David. I am King David of Israel because I won the Jerusalem Marathon.”

Biking adventure takes Israeli around the world

Even during the darkest moments of his four-year cycling odyssey, traversing 42 countries on six continents, Roei “Jinji” Sadan knew he’d never stop.

After all, Sadan had a bike he called Emunah — Hebrew for “faith.”

In Melbourne recently on the eve of the last leg of his 39,000-mile trek, the 29-year-old Israeli recalled cycling through the Mexican desert on New Year’s Day 2008. Suddenly a car pulled up.

“I didn’t know Spanish; I thought they wanted to help me,” Sadan recalls. “Then one of them showed me a gun and I started to understand what’s going on.”

The bandits stole clothes, money, credit cards and supplies, as well as a tent and sleeping bag — but not his 27-gear, custom-built, blue-and-white Thorn Nomad bicycle.

“From then on, I called it Emunah,” he said.

Within an hour, his faith was rewarded. Two American surfers passed by and drove Sadan to San Diego, where he restocked with supplies. Another American, having heard a TV interview, drove him back to Mexico so he could continue his adventure.

The incident served as a microcosm for his arduous journey of self-discovery: nightmarish episodes and seeing humanity at its glorious best.

Now that he’s within striking distance of the finish — Sydney’s Opera House — Sadan said he intends to use his experience by becoming a motivational speaker and transforming his diaries into a book that he hopes will inspire people to follow their dreams. And there is perhaps his biggest challenge — settling down.

His journey started with a simple question. “I thought, what’s the biggest adventure?” said Sadan, who lives in Oranit, a West Bank settlement of 6,000 near Kfar Saba.

He aimed to cycle around the world — not for any records but to discover himself. Sadan would prepare a year and a half for the trek, including walking the length of Israel and training several months in India in the Himalayas.

On the adventure, Sadan could have quit during any number of nightmares. In Alaska, he lost more than 30 pounds traveling on a dirt track in subarctic conditions while passing just one roadhouse in 10 days. In Peru, he was bitten by a wild dog. In Mozambique, he contracted malaria.

The journey has cost about $60,000 — part of it covered by his sponsor, the Israeli water company Eden Water — but it almost cost him his life in Bolivia.

“I was hit by a car in La Paz,” he recalls. “It was a hit and run. Nobody helped me. It was a dark moment.

“I told myself these nightmares are necessary for me to fulfill my dream. If a nightmare is part of a dream, it’s OK.”

And then there was the isolation.

“In the middle of the desert in China, it’s minus 20, you can’t sleep, there’s no one to say goodnight to,” said Sadan, dubbed Jinji (Hebrew for redhead) because of his ginger beard. “But I never thought of quitting, not once, never.”

And the good?

“People who have nothing want to give you everything,” he said.

Sadan recalls a tribal leader in Lesotho who invited him to share food — a meal of cat. With the language barrier a problem, Sadan pointed to the pot.

“Moo, moo?” he asked.

His host shook his head and responded, “Meow, meow.”

In Outback Western Australia, a Palestinian offered him refuge — a poignant encounter, as Sadan spent some of his army service in the Gaza Strip, where his host was born.

“He’s my first Palestinian friend,” Sadan said. “It was an emotional moment.”

The Gaza Strip is also where Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit has been held captive for five years.

“For four years, I’ve enjoyed my choices and my freedom, and on the other scale, you have Gilad, so sometimes you need to think about the lowest value when you are at the top of Everest,” Sadan said.

Upon arriving in Melbourne, Sadan joined an event marking the fifth anniversary of Shalit’s capture and spoke to the Parliament of Victoria Friends of Israel group.

Sadan never expected to become an ambassador for Israel, but he quickly realized that his presence — especially in countries where there are neither Jews nor Israelis — was debunking the myth that all Israelis wield M-16 rifles.

“I’m coming with a bicycle and a smile,” he said. “Most people really welcome [Israelis]. I didn’t feel hatred.”

During a brief stop home to Oranit in 2009, Minister for Diaspora Affairs Yuli Edelstein gave him the government’s blessing to spread his goodwill message. Since then, he has visited numerous Israeli embassies and given lectures to more than 1,500 children, as well as interviews to scores of media outlets about the “real” Israel.

Of all his challenges, the last may have been the most difficult: cycling the Great Ocean Road from Adelaide to Melbourne. Sadan rode tandem with Orly Tal, a blind Israeli who had contacted him via his Web site to ask if she could join him for part of his Australian adventure.

“She saw more than many people I know who have two working eyes,” Sadan said. “But it was more challenging than any desert I crossed.”

As the finish line beckons, Sadan said he is “excited,” adding that “it’s also a weird feeling because this is the end.”

He has no plans to fly into Ben-Gurion International Airport — too conventional.

“I will fly to Jordan and cycle to Jerusalem, to the Kotel,” he said. Sadan expects many dignitaries, perhaps even Israeli President Shimon Peres, to attend the “big event.”

So, in a journey of self-discovery, what has he learned about himself?

“That my heart is the best compass. That I have a different lens,” Sadan said. “And I learned I’m soft but unbreakable, like most Israelis.”

Now, however, having sacrificed two relationships on the road, Sadan said he is ready for a different challenge: “I’m ready to see if I’m capable of the biggest journey of life — family life.”

Police bike tour seeks funds for Israeli cyclists

“We ride for those who died” — that’s the motto of the national Police Unity Tour (PUT), a grueling, three-day bicycle ride in which teams of police officers from across the United States pedal to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. The annual spring event is held to honor the memory of officers killed each year in the line of duty.

This year, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officer Lisa Herman wants to extend the tour’s motto to include a Jewish scope. Herman is gathering support to bring over two officers from Israel’s Northern Command to ride with the Southern California team in honor of Deputy Cmdr. Ahuva Tomer, who died last December after sustaining critical burns in the Carmel Mountains wildfire.

Tomer, then chief of the Haifa Police Department, was driving behind a bus of prison guard cadets that was surrounded by flames en route to evacuating a local jail. Tomer, 53, had been the highest-ranked policewoman in Israel.

“The way she died was so tragic and heroic. I felt it would be meaningful to ride for her on the tour,” said Herman, a field course coordinator for the LAPD Training Division.

As the Carmel fire blazed out of control in early December, Herman watched the news in horror as more than 40 people lost their lives in Israel’s worst natural disaster in recent decades. She contacted the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles about inviting a couple of Haifa law enforcement officers to ride in the PUT, and the Israeli government responded with enthusiasm. Karen Ofer, an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) medic, and Mor Shlomo, a combat fitness trainer, were selected from among their peers to travel to the United States for the tour.

Herman, a member of the Happy Minyan, is now looking to raise $8,000 from the local Jewish community for the pair to participate. The funds would cover airfare, food and lodging, entry to the tour and bicycling equipment. So far she has raised about $7,000 from congregations including Young Israel of Century City, Beth Jacob, B’nai David-Judea and Sinai Temple, and also from the Israeli Leadership Council. The tour’s entry fees go toward the construction of a new law enforcement museum in Washington, D.C.

Herman says she would also like to raise a few thousand dollars extra to send back to Israel to help replant the charred Carmel Mountains, rebuild homes gutted in the blaze, and aid victims of burns and trauma from the area. The fire burned about 12,000 acres of land and consumed 5 million trees.

Commemorating Tomer during the 2011 tour would be especially significant because this year marks the 100th anniversary of women being able to serve in the LAPD, Herman said.

The Southern California PUT, slated for the week of May 8, will include about 200 riders from local police departments, sheriff’s departments and other law enforcement agencies. Starting in Somerset, N.J., the group will bike approximately 250 miles to the U.S. capital over three days. Along the way they will attend memorial services in the hometowns of slain officers in Pennsylvania and Delaware. Local residents and police usually come out to wave flags and show their support, Herman, who has ridden in the tour for the past three years, said.

On the third day, riders from all participating states will join ranks, and the group, expected to include about 1,500 cyclists, will ride the last 50 miles to the National Mall together. The event will culminate in a candlelight vigil at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, at which the names of officers slain during the last year will be read. The televised vigil typically attracts up to 20,000 attendees.

Herman served in the IDF as a combat fitness trainer in the early 1990s — an experience that later led her to join the LAPD. She believes inviting Ofer and Shlomo into the PUT would help strengthen U.S.-Israel ties.

“It’s one more way for Israel to be represented in a positive light,” she said. “This is an important time for Israel to come out and talk about security, and the tour would offer a unique opportunity for [the officers] to get to know law enforcement agencies from all over the U.S.”

LAPD special forces have done joint training with Israeli officers in the past. This spring, an LAPD bomb squad will travel to Israel to glean expertise from bomb technicians there.

“Any cause that will shine a better light on our relationship with Israel is important to us,” said Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City, who helped raise funds for Herman’s campaign. “The connection between the U.S. and Israel is a strong one that goes beyond financial support. Interaction between the two countries is beneficial to both.”

Not only would the Israeli officers benefit from riding in the PUT, their presence would also be a boon to members of local law enforcement agencies, said LAPD Sgt. Gil Curtis, president of the PUT’s Southern California chapter.

“I think it would be a great opportunity,” Curtis said. With the officers riding alongside each other, “you gain a sense of camaraderie and sharing a common goal, and also being able to learn about policing issues from a different country. It would be a rewarding experience for everyone involved.”

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Euroleague basketball finals changed to accommodate Israeli team

The start time of the Euroleague championship basketball game has been moved up by several hours to accommodate an Israeli team that does not want to play on its Memorial Day.

On Wednesday, the Euroleague said the May 8 final of its Final Four tournament in Barcelona, Spain, would be played at 5:30 p.m. Israel time, so as not to interfere with Yom Hazikaron, the memorial day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror.

Maccabi Tel Aviv, the most awarded sports team in Israeli history, qualified for the Final Four after beating the Spanish team Caja Laboral Vitoria in four games last week to capture their best-of-5-series.

Maccabi’s general manager, Shimon Mizrachi, the winner of this year’s prestigious Israel Prize, negotiated with the CEO of the Euroleague about changing the tipoff to an earlier hour.

Maccabi, which has won the Euroleague title four times since 1977, must win its semifinal game on May 6 to qualify for the finals.

The idea of an Israeli team playing on one of the most somber days on the Israeli calendar sparked controversy on the Israeli street.

In Maccabi’s case, it wasn’t the first time. Twenty years ago, the club was heavily criticized for playing in the semifinals of the European Final Four in a game that ended after the start of Memorial Day in Israel.

Israeli powers Toledo to landmark women’s hoop title

Naama Shafir, a Sabbath-observing Israeli, scored a career-high 40 points to power the University of Toledo women’s basketball team to the school’s first national postseason championship in any sport.

Shafir hit 13 of 27 shots as the host Rockets defeated the University of Southern California, 76-68, on April 2 for the Women’s NIT title. The victory also marked the first national championship for a Mid-American Conference team in any sport. Shafir, a 5-7 junior guard from the small northern Israeli town of Hoshaya, also sank 13 of 18 free throws in the game.

Following the victory on Saturday afternoon, Shafir walked home and held off interviews until long after the conclusion of Shabbat.

Shafir is believed to be the first female Orthodox Jew to be awarded a Division I athletic scholarship. She led the Rockets this season with averages of 15.3 points and 5 assists per game. She had been courted by Boston University and Seton Hall before enrolling at Toledo.

Getting the OK to play in the United States was no easy layup: Shafir obtained permission from an Orthodox rabbi in Israel to play games that coincided with the Jewish Sabbath, but not to practice, according to The Associated Press. Other special measures have been enacted to accommodate Shafir’s Sabbath observance: For road games, she checks into a hotel within walking distance of the host arena with a coaching staff assistant, bringing with her frozen kosher meals from Detroit.

“Every time we need her, when the game’s on the line or it’s a crucial moment in a game, she’s not one of those people who hides behind everyone else,” said Toledo coach Tricia Cullop in a post-game interview. “She steps to the forefront, begs for the ball and carries us. She’s as good as they come.”

ID card of Israeli athlete killed in Munich returned

The national identification card of an athlete murdered during the Munich Olympics was returned to his family.

In a ceremony Wednesday at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the ID card of wrestler Eliezer Halfin was returned to his sister, Rima Goldwasser.

Halfin was one of 11 Israeli athletes killed by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

The card had been hidden for the nearly 40 years by a German police officer whose son, Holzer Tilmann, turned it over to the Israeli embassy in Germany after his father’s death.

“I call on the government of Germany to make every effort to locate other documents that are perhaps being held somewhere, because hundreds of documents are still missing. The return of these documents to the families is more than just a humane gesture; it is of historical importance for perpetuating the event and engraving it on the pages of history,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon during the ceremony.

Shalom, sports fans — it’s time for some respect!

After decades of dealing with war and terrorism, Israel appears to be waking up to a new security threat: sports hooliganism.

Back-to-back incidents of extreme unruliness by soccer and basketball fans have stirred debate here over whether violence somehow has become innate to the Jewish state.

It began on Nov. 3, when hundreds of fans of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team refused to observe a minute of silence during an away game to mark the 12th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination. Instead, many of them whistled and sang songs in praise of the prime minister’s jailed killer, Yigal Amir.

That prompted a rare public rebuke from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a lifelong Beitar Jerusalem supporter.

“This behavior — by a large, loud, influential and raging group, and not by a small group as those who would play it down might put it — was wicked and unconscionable,” Olmert said during a speech that was broadcast live.

Then, on Sunday, Israeli sportsmanship hit a new nadir. In the final minute of a basketball game between Hapoel Holon and Hapoel Jerusalem, a firecracker was thrown on the court. In a bid to spare the players injury, a security guard scooped up the device and tried to throw it aside, but it exploded too soon. The guard lost three fingers.

Pictures of the horrible injury and the stunned courtside crowd were splashed on the front pages of Israel’s newspapers.

“At this rate, someone is going to get killed,” said Mickey Dorsman, the owner of Hapoel Holon.

Dorsman, in an interview with Israel Radio, said Israeli society is descending to an alarming level of casual violence.

The authorities are not doing enough to address the problem, Dorsman charged, saying the police should do more to stop fans smuggling dangerous objects into sporting events.

“There should be the same precautions as are taken at airports, and if that means body searches that take hours, then so be it,” he said.

Though police maintain a presence at major sporting events, their main concern long has been preventing terrorist attacks against fans. Crowd control is secondary for a police force many say is stretched too thin and underfunded.

“This matter is a police responsibility, but not exclusively,” said Avi Dichter, Israel’s internal security minister.

Four Hapoel Holon fans were arrested in the firecracker incident. According to media reports, one confessed to throwing the device, apparently in an attempt to disrupt the game and prevent his team from losing.

Ghaleb Majadle, Israel’s sports minister, called for the culprit to be prosecuted with extraordinary severity.

“This has to bring about a state of emergency, with all that entails,” Majadle said on Army Radio. “We need to tackle it without mercy and immediately.”

Some pundits suggest punishing rowdy fans by denying their team ticket income.

“The explosion at the game in Jerusalem is not just a sporting disaster. It is also an opportunity,” veteran political commentator Nahum Barnea wrote in a column in Israel’s daily Yediot Achronot. “So this is my proposal: The team whose fan it was that blew up the game last night should be excluded from all further scheduled matches.”

League organizers already have taken a stern line by setting a new precedent. Following the anti-Rabin catcalls, Israel’s Soccer Federation ruled that Beitar’s supporters be barred from its next two Premier League games.

Hoop Dreams Do Come True

Rabbi Gabriel Elias vividly remembers his frustration as a teenager not being able to participate in intramural sports because games fell on Shabbat.

As the spiritual leader of the Hillcrest-area Congregation Mogen David tells The Journal, “I swore to myself that I would give the children the opportunity they never had.”

And for the past 15 years, Elias has. His annual basketball competition, Elias Elitzur Sports, has blossomed into a popular citywide outlet for Jewish youth (elitzur is Hebrew for “My God is a rock” and is the name of an organized Israeli sports program that also honors Shabbat).

“Fifteen years ago, nobody wanted to play in a fledgling team,” says Elias.

That all changed about a decade ago when basketball, in the aftermath of the Lakers’ back-to-back championships, became popular at yeshivas. Elias Elitzur Sports’ numbers started to grow. Now the rabbi has trouble accommodating all the interest, as the number of b-ballers hovers at about 1,000 kids. Elias has only one stipulation for his young male participants: “All boys must wear a kippah.”

A facetious Elias says that he would compare himself to the National Basketball Association’s David Stern, except that “I’ve got more teams than him and I don’t make his kind of money.”

Elias is not kidding about the teams – he and his fellow coaches oversee 70-75 groups, averaging eight kids each. The teams are comprised of second to eighth graders, and the games – an hour each – take place simultaneously in indoor gyms located at Burroughs Junior High School, Bancroft High School and Fairfax High School. Children in the younger grades – second to fourth – play at the Westside Jewish Community Center, since that facility offers height-adjustable baskets. All the action will take place on Sun., Nov. 5, 9 a.m.-9 p.m., with run-off games from 5-8 p.m. on the night of Thurs., Nov. 9. Playoffs will be scheduled for January and February.

Each child participant does pay a nominal $130 fee to play. But given that Elias, who represents a nonprofit institution, has to cover the cost of renting gyms, team jerseys, liability insurance and the cost of trophies (every participating child receives a trophy), the Elias Elitzur Sports program breaks even with the $65,000 raised every year.

Elias has put together a team of his own just to execute these games. In addition to Mogen David staff members Sam Samson and Yancy Carter, Elias also has coaches from various Jewish schools: Maimonides Academy’s Alan Rosen; Yavneh Hebrew Academy’s David Rubin, the school’s president, and Dr. Seymour Stoll; Hillel’s Doug Honig; Sinai Akiba Academy’s Michael Kappell, and on and on.

“Anybody can come watch the games as long as they’re not parents,” says Elias, who is not altogether joking. If there is one downside to the rapid growth of Elias Elitzur Sports over the years, Elias says it is the increasingly competitive attitude of parents attending the games, some of whom have taken to yelling at their kids and fostering some unhealthy competition.

“The parents are the problem because they’re all living vicariously through their kids,” says Elias, who has tried penalizing parents to the best of his ability. But their unruliness has grown worse. Even though the rabbi estimates that only 10 percent of the parents get out of hand, when 2,000 of them show up, that’s 200 overzealous parents.

“Some of the parents are so into winning that they lose sight of what I’m trying to do,” says Elias. “This is about friendly competition and children enjoying themselves, about extracurricular fun.”

The migraines have extended even to team registration and organization, where parents have hectored Elias over team placement arrangements and car pooling issues.

Nightmare parents notwithstanding, Elias is proud of how huge his endeavor has grown. The games have come a long way from being merely an outlet for boys who couldn’t shoot hoops on Shabbat.

“It has evolved into more than that,” says Elias. “We’ve done more than most synagogues have been able to do in terms of bringing people – Reform, Conservative, Orthodox – together. This is probably the only sports program in this city that has crossed the bridge between denominations.”

In addition, girls are playing. Elias says that about 300 of the total 800 players this year will be female.”That’s what this is all about,” says Elias. “We don’t want to turn anyone away.”

Elias will never forget the day four years ago that a boy named Oren, representing Chabad of Long Beach, made the long drive to Los Angeles to participate in the games. Oren’s parents were concerned that their son, who had polio, would be turned away. Elias let him join, and Oren played with the aid of his crutches. The boy’s parents were so grateful, they were moved to tears.

“I turned to my wife,” Elias said, “and I said, ‘This is why I do it.'”

For more information on Elias Elitzur Sports and for information on Congregation Mogen David’s adult basketball league, call Sam Samson at (818) 907-6642.