Sinai Akiba wins basketball championship


Stacked at the corner of Wilshire and Beverly Glen boulevards is a five-story structure that houses a championship tradition not well known to the outside world. It is here that Sinai Akiba Academy has taken its athletics program, which was once almost kicked out of its league, to 28 league championship wins in the last 13 years.

Most of the Westside Conservative day school’s success has come in girls basketball, including its latest title. On Nov. 21, the varsity basketball team comprising six eighth-graders and three seventh-graders beat Holy Martyrs of Encino 41-39 to win the San Fernando Valley Private School League. Audrey Mokhtarzadeh scored the game-winning basket and was named the final’s MVP, according to coach Allen Foster.

In addition to eighth-grader Shaya Rosen, the team’s MVP, Sinai Akiba had height in the middle with 5-foot-9 Lauren Halimi, a fellow eighth-grader. She blocked shots, grabbed rebounds and started fast breaks. Seventh-grader Leeor Abutbul cracked the starting lineup because there wasn’t much she couldn’t do along the baseline, Foster said. It was her 15 third-quarter points in the semifinals against Faith Baptist of Canoga Park that got Sinai Akiba to the final.

“She’s like Larry Bird,” Foster said. “You need shots at the end of the game, she’s the one.”

Championships are common among this group. Halimi, Mokhtarzadeh, Rosen, Kiana Dadbin and Kaylen Mahboubian won as fifth- and sixth-graders, too. Foster credited their familiarity and their will to win as critical to this title.

Also on the latest title-winning team were eighth-grader Lauren Soroudi, plus seventh-graders Karin Harel and Brittany Moalemzadeh.

The story of the school’s success traces to the arrival of James Taylor as athletic director 13 years ago. Taylor, who is not Jewish, arrived after a successful stint at the former Hillcrest Christian in Granada Hills. He coached against Sinai Akiba teams, so he knew how the school handled sports: not so well. The gymnasiums weren’t padded, which was a liability. The school didn’t send a representative to league meetings, league fees weren’t getting paid, and the teams were noncompetitive. 

Taylor said that because league officials knew he was heading to Sinai Akiba, they put the program on probation. 

He met with administrators and asked what they wanted to accomplish with the school’s physical education and athletics programs. Officials told him they wanted to improve the facilities and maintain the sports program. Doing that, Taylor said, meant paying to pad the gyms. He also set out to change the mentality from one of entitlement (eighth-graders made the varsity team regardless) to one of merit (he instituted tryouts).

The school, which has 180 students at its middle school, deserves an assist, too, Taylor said. Because Sinai Akiba has no grassy areas and three different gyms — including one funded by comedian Don Rickles — basketball became the most readily available sport for kids to play. (The school also offers flag football, soccer and volleyball; the outdoor sports teams play home games at Balboa Park in Encino.) 

Within one year, the school was off probation. In 2001, a sixth-grade girls basketball team won the league title. Now, the walls are filled with championship banners.

Foster said most of these girls will continue playing for Milken Community High School, though some may end up at The Buckley School in Sherman Oaks. Regardless, he expects the kids to be successful wherever they go.

While Taylor predicts a down year next year — “We’re not the most dominant school in the league,” he said — he’s happy about where things stand.

“Sports is not [our] No. 1 [priority], but it’s a nice addition.”

The North Korea Dennis Rodman will never see


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has a problem.
 
Seems he’s been taking a lot of heat lately for having Jang Song Thaek, his uncle and mentor, arrested, publicly humiliated in front of the country’s ruling elite, called out as a traitor, put on trial and executed – all with the lightening speed of an NBA All-Star fast-break. Suddenly, Kim’s carefully cultivated image of a youthful, vibrant Swiss-educated 21st leader took a beating. To make matters worse, Kim’s birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks. 
 
How could the young tyrant rebound from the bad PR?
 
Enter friend Dennis Rodman, an ex-NBA defensive specialist, who these days specializes in helping to whitewash the brutal reality of the world’s most repressive regime.
 
When he landed at Pyongyang International Airport on December 21st, Rodman wasted no time in redirecting the media’s narrative. He confirmed that he was going to train North Korean basketball players for next month’s exhibition game with 12 as-of-yet unnamed former NBA players. The game will be played on Kim Jong Un’s birthday, January 8.  Rodman said to the Associated Press that if after the 12 former NBA players go home they say,  “some really, really nice things, some really cool things about this country,” then he has done his job.
 
“North Korea has given me the opportunity to bring these players and their families over here, so people can actually see, so these players can actually see, that this country is actually not as bad as people project it to be in the media,” Rodman added.
 
So here is a quick primer on the North Korea that Dennis Rodman and company will never see:
 
For decades, North Korea has been the world's most controlled society and its regime among the most repressive. Taking a page from Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, Pyongyang maintains a Gulag — a series of punitive forced labor camps. There,  as many as 200,000 “enemies of the state”  languish, accused of criminal activity or merely of having the wrong neighbor or parent. Inmates have virtually no rights, no knowledge of the outside world, and little hope of getting out. Nuclear families are difficult to maintain and some of the few escapees describe a system where the jailers choose which inmates can co-habitate and when or if they can have children who then also live in captivity.

There are also chilling parallels to Nazi Germany. As associate dean of an institution bearing the name of Simon Wiesenthal, an NGO devoted to imparting the lessons of the Holocaust, I was so shocked by reports that innocent people were being murdered in gas chambers anywhere in the world, on our watch, that I traveled to Seoul to personally debrief three North Korean defectors who reportedly admitted involvement in such activities.

The oldest of the three was more interested in touting his skills in forging nearly undetectable $100 U.S. bills. When I pressed him on the human guinea pigs killed in gas chambers, he showed zero remorse, and shrugged, matter-of-factly “…those (political) prisoners were as good as dead anyway.”
 
I will never forget the anguish of a second defector who years after the fact broke down describing how he supervised the slow killing of parents and their child in a glass-encased chamber. Shocking details of how long the agony went on and the efforts of the doomed parents to breathe air into the lungs of their dying child were duly written down and forwarded for analysis to those in charge of the production and upgrade of North Korean poison gasses. (Some of these gasses constituted Bashar Assad's arsenal which originally threatened Israel, but were ultimately deployed against his own civilian population). The youngest defector carefully described his team’s involvement in experiments carried out on live specimens – animal and human.
 
Against this background of hidden horrors and public executions, it is no surprise that Kim Jong Un, like his tyrannical father and grandfather before him, takes great pains to shape and control the image projected at home and abroad.
 
It is interesting to note the many photos of Kim Jong-un in the company of children that have appeared in the tightly controlled State media. They are eerily reminiscent of Hitler's carefully nurtured public image in the 1930s.
 
And North Korea’s old guard, including now deceased Uncle Jang, may have missed an ominous hint of things to come, when the official newspaper, Rodong Shinmun, published photos of Kim scolding senior officials, all of them old.

On his last birthday, Kim Jong Un reportedly gave out copies of Hitler’s Mein Kampf . Other  sources asserted that Kim was heard saying that North Korea's Ministry of Public Security should be a force even stronger than the Korean People's Army, “similar to the Gestapo.”

Whether he uttered those exact words or not, no one should be fooled by the contrived Kodak moments Dennis Rodman provides for his friend Kim Jong Un. The missile-rattling, nuclear-armed novice in Pyongyang– with friends in high places in Tehran and Syria– should make any rational person in South Korea, Japan, China, the U.S., and Israel, very, very worried.

And Dennis Rodman must open his eyes.


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Vice Chair of the North Korean Freedom Coalition and member of the US Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.

Stern stepping down as NBA chief in ‘14, Silver tapped as successor


David Stern, the commissioner of the National Basketball Association, said he will be retiring in 2014 after 30 years in the position.

Stern, 70, announced Thursday that he will retire on Feb. 1, 2014 — 30 years to the day since he was appointed to his post. Stern began working for the NBA in 1966 as outside counsel.

The league's Board of Governors on Thursday approved Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver as Stern's successor. Both Stern and Silver are Jewish.

Silver, who began working for the NBA in 1993 and has served as deputy commissioner since 2006, served with Stern as lead negotiator during the 2011 NBA lockout.

Jewish glory, frustration mark London Games


The London Olympics may have “lit up the world,” as organizing committee head Sebastian Coe put it, but for Jews the 2 1/2 weeks offered healthy doses of frustration and glory.

On the plus side, new medalists such as America’s Aly Raisman gained the spotlight with her grace, which included a floor routine to “Hava Nagila” en route to a U.S. women’s team gold in gymnastics. She followed that with an individual gold for floor exercise and a bronze on the balance beam.

Meanwhile, New Zealand’s Jo Aleh brought home a gold for Kiwi fans in the women’s 470 regatta and Australian kayaker Jessica Fox won a silver medal in the slalom K1. They joined in their glory with previous medalists such as U.S. swimmer Jason Lezak, who helped his relay team win a silver in the 4×100-meter freestyle in what was likely the last of his four Olympics.

Yet the game’s opening ceremony ended hopes that the International Olympic Committee would officially recognize with a moment of silence the 11 Israeli athletes murdered 40 years ago at the Munich Games by Palestinian terrorists. An international campaign for a moment of silence had the support of President Obama and numerous other world leaders.

And Israel’s athletes—for the first time in 24 years—went home without a single medal, which has prompted conversation about the country’s lack of commitment to Olympics excellence. Israel’s rhythmic gymnastics team made it to the finals, but on Sunday it finished last among the eight teams in the all-around group competition.

Two Israeli citizens, however, are coming home with some Olympic glory. David Blatt, an American-Israeli, coached Russia’s bronze-winning men’s basketball team and Aleh will soon make a family visit to the Jewish state.

Blatt, the coach of Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv team, has helped rebuild the Russian national squad since being brought in as head coach in 2006, Sports Illustrated reported. He took the team to a 2007 European Championship.

He played for Princeton University from 1977 to 1981 and on the gold medal-winning U.S. team in the 1981 Maccabiah Games. Following the Maccabiah Games, Blatt played for several Israeli teams until he was injured in 1993 and took up coaching.

The disappointment in Israel over the lack of a national delegation medal may be behind what Yuli Edelstein, minister of Diaspora affairs, told Raisman last week as she accepted his invitation for the Raisman family to be his guests in Israel.

“Making your first visit to Israel is not only important because it is the homeland of the Jewish people, but also because you can contribute from your experience to the young generation of Israeli athletes,” Edelstein said, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Beating her to the Jewish state, however, will be Aleh. After a parade back home to celebrate New Zealand’s success at the London Games, she reportedly is heading to Israel for the bat mitzvah of her half-sister.

The greatest disappointment of the Games for many Jews, however, was the failure of the international campaign to have the Munich 11 remembered. It included a petition launched by the Rockland JCC in suburban New York that garnered nearly 111,000 names, a private meeting with two Munich 11 widows and IOC President Jacques Rogge, and the backing of President Obama and political leaders from Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy and elsewhere.

One widow of the Munich 11 had biting words for Rogge when he attended the London Jewish community’s memorial for the murdered athletes and coaches.

“Shame on you, IOC,” said Ankie Spitzer, widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer, who died in the attack. “You have forsaken the 11 members of your Olympic family. You discriminate against them only because they are Israelis and Jews.”

Meanwhile, the Arab-Israeli conflict was felt when the Lebanese judo team refused to even practice in a gymnasium next to the Israelis. The Lebanese even erected a makeshift barrier to split their gym into two halves, according to the Times of Israel.

Also, Iranian judoka Javad Mahjoob withdrew from the Games, citing “critical digestive system infection,” according to the Washington Post. The report speculated that Iran was maintaining a longstanding policy of not allowing its athletes to compete against Israelis.

Russian basketball team, coached by Israeli-American David Blatt, reaches Olympic semis


The Russian Olympic men’s basketball team, coached by Israeli-American David Blatt, has advanced to the semifinals.

The Russians will play Spain in Friday’s semifinals after defeating Lithuania, 83-74, on Wednesday in London. Russia has not won an Olympic medal in basketball since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Blatt has helped rebuild the Russian national team since being brought on as head coach in 2006, Sports Illustrated reported. Under Blatt, the Russian national team won the 2007 European Championship.

He played for Princeton University from 1977 to 1981 and on the gold medal-winning U.S. team in the 1981 Maccabiah Games. Following the Maccabiah Games, Blatt joined an Israeli Super League team. He played for several Israeli teams until he was injured in 1993 and took up coaching.He is currently the coach of the Maccabi Tel Aviv team.

TAPPS head: Beren Academy should never have been accepted to association


The Beren Academy Orthodox Jewish day school should never have been accepted to the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, the association’s director told a Texas newspaper.

“We shouldn’t have accepted them in the first place,”  Edd Burleson, director of the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, or TAPPS, told the The Dallas Morning News in an interview published on Sunday.

The Robert M. Beren Academy of Houston made international headlines early last month after requesting that a semifinal championship basketball game be rescheduled so that it did not conflict with the Jewish Sabbath.

The game was rescheduled after a group of parents of students sued the association in court. The team won the semifinal game, but went on to lose the final, also rescheduled to a later time on Saturday after the Sabbath was over.

Burleson told the newspaper that he believes that the association would have won the case if it had gone to court. “If we had fought it, we would have won,” Burleson told the newspaper. “But that would have taken weeks. We didn’t have the time.”

“What else would you want me to say?” Burleson said in the interview. “Want me to come up with some politically correct gobbledygook? I can’t. I’m telling you that’s how I feel.”

TAPPS had said in a statement posted on its website following its decision not to change the semifinal that when the Beren Academy first met with the association’s board in 2009 to discuss membership, it was told that tournament games are scheduled on Friday and Saturday, and that the school’s athletic director said he “understood” and “did not see a problem.”

The Texas Catholic Conference Education Department, representing 43 Texas Catholic high schools told the Houston Chronicle that Burleson’s comments came as a surprise, and that the group is committed to reforms that will make TAPPS more welcoming to a diverse membership.

The group said in a statement that if Burleson’s position remains the same that Catholic schools “will reconsider their future affiliation with TAPPS.” It also said that in a meeting last week with TAPPS member schools, Burleson committed to working to resolve diversity issues.

The association in 2010 rejected a Muslim school from Houston for membership.

Aaron Liberman: Finding balance between faith, basketball [VIDEO]


“There is God in everything. Even basketball.”

When Aaron Liberman said that, endless legs splayed out in front of him on a Sunday morning in late December, he didn’t know how true his words would be.

Just days later, the Valley Torah senior center was sent sprawling four times in a basketball game against league opponent New Community Jewish High School on Jan. 8. He sustained a punctured lung.

There was God in his rapid recovery.

Three weeks later, Liberman, a lanky 6-foot-9, returned to lead the Wolfpack, reeling from consecutive losses, to recapture the Westside League title and clinch the top seed in the California Interscholastic Federation Division 6AA basketball championship tournament.

Now Liberman and 22-4 Valley Torah, the No. 2 team in the national Jewish basketball team rankings, are playing for the title.

Averaging 18 points, 11.3 rebounds and 8.8 blocks per game — and a 3.4 grade point average across his Judaic and secular studies — Liberman has earned interest from Ivy League and basketball schools alike, including Yale and Dartmouth, Boston College and Pepperdine.

Story continues after the video.

However, many collegiate basketball games would conflict with Liberman’s Shabbat observance.

“My religion is important to me, and so is basketball,” he said.

“He’ll have a decision to make,” said Lenard Liberman, Aaron’s father. “A lot happens between now and when he’ll start college. I think it’s about getting into the right program with the right coach.”

Lenard Liberman, a Stanford alumnus, would like his son to consider the Cardinal.

“They said, ‘Gain 50 pounds and we’ll talk to you,’ ” Lenard Liberman said of his own attempt to walk on to Stanford’s basketball team some two decades ago. “So Aaron’s living my dream in a lot of ways. He’s much better than I was as a basketball player, and he’s a great student. He can do great things with that.”

Knicks’ Stoudemire says he is practicing Jew


Amare Stoudemire of the New York Knicks reportedly said he is a practicing Jew “spiritually and culturally.”

Stoudemire, who last month visited Israel on a spiritual journey to explore his Jewish roots, made the comments in an interview with Page Six of The New York Post. He also said that he is keeping kosher.

The NBA All-Star joined the Knicks this summer as a free agent. He formerly played for the Phoenix Suns. Stoudemire reportedly decided to visit Israel after learning that his mother was Jewish.

Stoudemire told the newspaper that he is continuing his Jewish studies. “I figure, what the scriptures speak about, that’s what I celebrate,” he said. He has reportedly been studying the Bible since he was young.

Some have suggested that Stoudemire is exploring Judaism as a way to help the Knicks sell more tickets, a charge that the star player denies.

Stoudemire told Page Six that he will celebrate the High Holidays, but will not miss any games for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. “Playing the games are my livelihood,” he said. “But I’m still going to celebrate the holidays.”

‘The First Basket’ depicts journey from Ellis Island to shooting hoops


It’s true that major league baseball has seen a renaissance of Jewish players during the past few years, but the historic American Jewish sport is surely basketball.

It makes sense if you think about it: Easy to play on the concrete surfaces that are ubiquitous in urban areas, basketball was the sport most accessible to the sons of the immigrants who had flocked to the United States between 1880 and 1920.

As David Vyorst makes clear in his comprehensive and entertaining documentary, “The First Basket,” those sons took to the game with fervor. Interview after interview with former players and coaches makes clear that basketball, not religious observance, was what mattered to this Americanizing generation.

“My father was busy trying to make a living. My mother was busy taking care of the household. And we were busy in the streets, and in the schoolyard, playing basketball and growing up,” Ralph Kaplowitz says in the film. Kaplowitz lived in the Bronx and later played two years for the New York Knicks.

Kaplowitz wasn’t alone in making a religion out of basketball: The Jewish kids who learned the game in the rough-and-tumble New York City neighborhoods of Brooklyn’s Brownsville and Williamsburg, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and the Bronx’s Grand Concourse, later stocked the top collegiate teams and the early professional ranks.

The trailer

Indeed, the film’s name stems from the fact that in 1946, a Jewish player, Ossie Schectman, scored the first basket in the Basketball Association of America, the precursor to today’s National Basketball Association.

Considering the paucity of Jewish players in today’s NBA (there’s currently one, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Jordan Farmar), it’s astonishing to remember that several members of Schechtman’s 1946-1947 Knicks team were Jewish, as were players on other teams. Some still affectionately refer to the game that they and top coaches such as Red Sarachek and Red Auerbach developed — emphasizing teamwork, crisp passing and defense — as “Jew ball.”

This style of play originated earlier in the 20th century, when Jewish players competed on both the amateur and semiprofessional levels. Teams were sponsored by settlement houses that wanted to Americanize immigrants, and by labor unions and Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring branches.

Players on the most famous of these teams, the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association, or SPHAs, wore Hebrew letters and Stars of David on their uniforms. What’s more, after many SPHAs games, the court was turned into a dance floor where young Jews could socialize and look for husbands and wives. Some of the figures mentioned in “The First Basket” — Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes and current NBA Commissioner David Stern, both of whom were interviewed in the film — are well known.

Others are less familiar to casual fans. Barney Sedran, for instance, was an early 20th-century player who, at 5 feet 4 inches, is believed to be the shortest player in the Basketball Hall of Fame. During his heyday in the 1910s and ’20s, Sedran played in as many as three games a day, often for different teams.

The Jewish connection to basketball isn’t entirely rosy. “The First Basket” points out that the roots of the 1950s-era college basketball scandals rest in the Catskills summer resorts. The cooks apparently were the first to fix the games with college players, who were there for summer jobs and a bit of basketball.

In the Catskills, gamblers first made the connections that would eventually rock the college basketball world and lead to the suspensions of several City College of New York players, as well as players from other schools in New York City and around the United States. No longer would such New York City teams as CCNY, New York University and Long Island University dominate college hoops, as they did between 1935 and 1951. In a devastating archival clip that is part of the documentary, Nat Holman, the legendary CCNY coach, admits that he never got over his players’ participation in gambling.

The Catskills gambling story could be a nice segue into some of the pitfalls of Americanization: Do any of the players interviewed for the documentary have regrets about their rebellion against their parents’ religiosity? Did they maintain their Jewishness, and did they pass it on to their children and grandchildren? An exploration of these questions would have added another layer of complexity to the film.

Also, the final section of “The First Basket” feels a bit disjointed. Sure, Holman helped bring the game to Israel, contributing to basketball’s globalization. But the link between Maccabi Tel Aviv’s stirring victory in the 1977 European Cup semifinals against a Soviet team and the acculturation of American Jews through basketball, which is the film’s focus, feels tenuous.

To its credit, however, “The First Basket” is a rare documentary that not only provides context (thanks to interviews with scholars of Jewish history), but also is fun to watch. The film’s story, while covered in such works as Peter Levine’s 1992 book “Ellis Island to Ebbets Field” (Oxford University Press), has not been put on celluloid in such detail.

Vyorst’s interviews allow for a glimpse into a generation of Jews who shaped basketball – and who are proud of their accomplishments and their toughness. As Jack “Dutch” Garfinkel, who played for the Boston Celtics from 1946 to 1949, remembers with a smile: “I’m the first man who used the look-away pass in basketball. My passes were very tough. I broke a lot of fingers.”

“The First Basket” opens in Los Angeles on November 14. For more information, visit www.thefirstbasket.com.

Performers Go It Alone and Like It That Way


Michael Raynor moves with the balletic grace and cocksure athleticism of a former pickup basketball player and street fighter. He simulates dribbling a ball between his legs with the adeptness of the highly recruited hoops star he once was, then he assumes his grandfather’s boxer’s crouch, takes on the gravelly voice of the onetime Louis Lepke associate and throws the jab. Effortlessly, Raynor switches time periods and voices, at one moment playing his sassy mother with her elbow against her rib, her wrist bent, and then his grandmother, with her stooped posture and her Old World idiosyncrasies.

In “Who Is Floyd Stearn?” playing at the Sidewalk Studio Theater in Toluca Lake, Raynor goes on a Rashomon-like search for the essence of his father, who left the family when the actor was a little boy. Was his father a deadbeat dad? A mentally ill genius? A con man?

The rugged-looking actor’s only props are a chair and a black-and-white photograph of his father with his arm around him as Raynor, the little boy, plays a guitar. Raynor speaks with the sing-song patter of the New York City streets. He is a Jewish man who hails from an older tradition — the Jews of the first half of the last century: tough Jews, who dominated sports like boxing and basketball and served disproportionately in the first two World Wars and in the ranks of gangsters. But he also has a vulnerability mixed in with that toughness, like John Garfield, to whom he has been compared.

Despite courageous performances by actors like Raynor, solo-show performers have been lampooned often by the likes of Martin Short and mocked by many as self-absorbed narcissists, bent on exploring their own navels rather than advancing the art form of the theater. Nonetheless, one-person shows continue to proliferate and provide performers with a unique outlet for meta-theatrical expression.

Stacie Chaiken, who runs a solo workshop in Santa Monica, says the medium is “a way for actors to take control of their destiny,” but she also admits, these shows are “cheap to produce. It’s very easy for a one-person show to travel around.”

There are some big-name Jewish performers like Billy Crystal, who recently toured with his Tony-winning homage to his father, “700 Sundays,” and Eve Ensler, creator of the “Vagina Monologues.” But in recent months, many L.A. theaters have produced one-person shows featuring lesser-known Jewish talent, such as Judi Lee Brandwein, star of “Fornicationally Challenged,” which played at the Hudson Guild and is moving to New York; Linda Lichtman, whose one-person show, “The Bride Can’t Stop Coughing” is playing at the Actors Playpen; and Carla Zilbersmith, a singer and actress who revisits her days on the wedding circuit in “Wedding Singer Blues.”

While each show follows its own trajectory, Chaiken points out that many Jewish-themed plays explore the issue of legacy. These performers describe conflicted feelings about their parents and the aspirations held out for them. As clichéd as such scenarios may seem, they speak to the pain and humor of family, a commonality that usually resonates with audiences.

Zilbersmith, who has a music degree from the New England Conservatory of Music and a theater degree from NYU, cites the lineage of the art form: “The ancient conversation we call theater has always contained some form of solo performance, and I would argue that the most successful solo pieces acknowledge these theatrical roots.”

Those roots surely include King David, who soothed Saul by singing and playing the harp or lyre, troubadours during the Middle Ages who wandered from town to town and entertained crowds, and, in the past century, Lord Buckley, the now-forgotten, Beat-era monologist who started out in vaudeville and later told tales in a bebop idiom that centered on historical and biblical characters like “the Nazz,” a jive take on Jesus. Buckley’s influence could be seen in the work of Lenny Bruce and Bob Dylan, the latter a modern-day Jewish troubadour, who cites Buckley in his recent “Chronicles, Vol. 1.”

Notable works in the field include, of course, Hal Holbrook’s Mark Twain in “Mark Twain Tonight!” and Julie Harris’ Emily Dickinson in “The Belle of Amherst,” formal one-person shows about external subjects. In the past 15 years or so, as memoirs, particularly those of addiction and recovery, have staked out a dominant place on the bookshelf, solo shows too have become much more personal, including the work of performance artists and monologists.

Chaiken, who teaches acting and solo performance at USC and who studied with Spalding Gray at the Performance Group in New York, credits Gray with formulating “a me that was very close to the me that was him,” and ushering in a new sensibility for monologists.

Fred Johntz has partnered with Mark Travis for seven years in writing and directing numerous one-person shows, including “Fornicationally Challenged.” Johntz says that performance art by L.A. performance artists such as John Fleck (whose work was denied NEA grants due to its provocative subject matter) and Sandra Tsing Loh are “pretty much in the same vein” as the one-person shows he directs.

The trend in self-involved storytelling, which may have reached its apotheosis in the blog phenomenon, has also led to the dissemination of many factual errors and even hoaxes. Likewise, one-person shows and their variants often could benefit from editing. Many suffer from poor storytelling if not outright posing.

Not surprisingly, there have been parodies even in one-person shows. In “Wedding Singer Blues,” Zilbersmith at one point portrays a performance artist as a brain-dead, pot-headed character who spins naked on a rotating East Village stage.

Women have been among the pioneers in this avant-garde art form. Anna Deveare Smith used journalistic techniques for her solo gigs. In the aftermath of the 1991 Crown Heights riots in Brooklyn and the 1992 Rodney King riots here in Los Angeles, she took to the streets with a tape recorder in hand and captured the colloquialisms that would later inform her award-winning performances in “Fires in the Mirror” and “Twilight: Los Angeles 1992,” respectively.

Most one-woman shows, however, favor sexual politics over political or racial issues.

Lichtman regales us with stories of her liaisons with younger men in “The Bride Can’t Stop Coughing” — a brave performance, not least because she is in her 60s. She invokes Jewish icons like the Dodgers of the 1950s, intersperses her act with Yiddish expressions and speaks in characteristically Jewish syntax when she utters lines like, “Lucky, I didn’t set myself on fire.”

Are Jews particularly well-suited to one-person shows?

Zilbersmith, starring in “Wedding Singer Blues,” now playing at the Coronet Theater, says that while she has a variety of students at the College of Marin in the Bay Area, where she teaches solo performance, those who tend to focus on writing and storytelling are Jewish. But she also notes the strong oral traditions of African Americans and the Irish; she says that most of her friends who are solo performers are African American.

One of Chaiken’s students, Frankie Colmane, wrote and acted in “Body and Soul,” a one-person show about her experience as a French Algerian Jew living in America. With immigration a searing topic both in this country and in France, Colmane’s show, which moved on to the Edge of the World Theater Festival in downtown Los Angeles, transcends Jewishness and speaks to all audiences. Of course, it also speaks to her.

As Chaiken says, “We’re all very interested in ourselves.”

“The Bride Can’t Stop Coughing” plays Mondays, 8 p.m., through July 31 at the Actors Playpen, 1514 N. Gardner St., Hollywood, (310) 560-6063 or (310) 582-0025.

“Cheerios in My Underwear” plays July 30, 3 p.m. and on selected Sundays, once a month, at the Empty Stage Theater, 2372 Veteran Ave., West Los Angeles, (310) 308-0947.

“Wedding Singer Blues” plays Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m., through July 16, at the Coronet Theater, 366 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 657-7377.

“What’s the Story?” a series of new works-in-progress, plays July 10 and on selected Mondays, once a month, at the Powerhouse Theater, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica, (310) 450-1312.

“Who Is Floyd Stearn?” plays Thursdays, 8 p.m., at the Sidewalk Studio Theater, 4150 Riverside Dr., Toluca Lake, (323) 960-1052, (818) 558-5702.

“Zero Hour” opens July 7, plays Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., through Aug. 13, at the Egyptian Arena Theater, 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., Hollywood, (323) 860-6620. Special gala dinner and performance on Sunday, July 9, honoring West Coast Jewish Theater founder Naomi Jacobs.

The Circuit


Hoop Dreams
For 16-year-old former Encino resident Marisa Gobuty it’s all about basketball.

Throughout the summer, Gobuty, a 5-foot-7 high school junior point guard, who now lives in Israel and plays for Israel’s National Basketball Team, will be playing for the Southern California-based Finest Basketball Club (FBC), and compete in tournaments across the United States.

Six years ago, she and her family moved to Israel for a short two-year stint. They have lived there ever since. But like in Encino, Gobuty’s love and passion for basketball led her back on to the courts around Tel Aviv, eventually landing a spot on the Israel National team at age 15. She is now one of only 12 team members on Israel’s Segel Zahav, which means Gold Team. It is comprised of the top players in the 16-24 age bracket.

“Living in Israel has been a great learning experience culturally and emotionally,” Gobuty said. “By playing basketball there I’ve also gotten to compete against some of the best in the world playing in European FIBA Championships, as well as having the opportunity to learn about different cultures. But some of my most rewarding moments have been talking to other high school-age teenagers about what it’s like to grow up in a country that is constantly on alert in a war time like state and being able to share my experiences.”

Support Your Students
The West Coast Supporters of Yeshiva University (YU) recently held a dinner at the L.A. home of Esthi and Walter Feinblum. Forty YU supporters attended the event and raised $100,000 for the West Coast Scholarship Drive to ensure that all qualified undergraduate students who wish to attend YU can do so regardless of their financial circumstances.

Love ‘Triangle’
Take one part Jewish mother, one part Italian mama, add a dash of hot-blooded lethario and you have an evening of laughs with Renee Taylor, Lainie Kazan and Joe Bologna at the Brentwood Theatre production of “The Bermuda Avenue Triangle.”

The star-studded opening night featured such icons as Carl Reiner and wife Estelle, Larry Gelbart, Dom DeLuise and Norm Crosby who showed up to support the cast. The farce, written by Taylor and Bologna, addresses the plight of two mothers in their golden years and the daughters who love and endure them.

Lucky Night for JFS
The Regent Beverly Wilshire was filled May 23 as guests mingled and munched on healthy appetizers. The occasion was the Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS) 13th annual gala fundraising dinner. Husband and wife Deborah Barak and her Dr. Etan Milgrom received the Spirit of Humanity Award, and Connie Mandles was honored with the Anita and Stanley Hirsh Award.

The annual gala brought in $700,000 to help JFS provide vital services to people of all ages, ethnicities and religions. JFS’ nationally recognized programs counsel troubled families and individuals, support the elderly, house the homeless and abused and feed the hungry.

Rob Morrow and David Krumholtz, the stars of the hit CBS series “Numb3rs” were a standout as masters of ceremonies, bringing to the job the sharp and funny relationship they share as the Eppes brothers in their show.

Renee Olstead, 16, a star of the CBS sitcom “Still Standing,” wowed the crowd with sultry jazz standards and an original tune from her upcoming second CD, accompanied by Grammy Award-winning producer David Foster. Foster also coaxed Krumholtz into crooning a respectable version of the Frank Sinatra hit “That’s Life,” to the delight of the crowd.

Founded in 1854, JFS is the oldest and largest social service agency in Los Angeles. JFS is a beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation and United Way.

A Call to Action
Noted author and journalist Frank Gaffney Jr. spoke to an overflowing crowd May 30 at Valley Beth Shalom when more than 500 people attended the Republican Jewish Coalition Los Angeles chapter event.

His new book “War Footing and President of the Center for Security Policy America & Israel: How We Can Prevail In The War On Terror” speaks to America’s role in supporting the war on terror. The crowd listened — and noshed — as Gaffney addressed the issue of Iran and its potential threat to Israel and the United States, urging Americans to play a more aggressive role in stopping terror.

Gaffney said threats to Israel are designed to demean the American spirit.

“We need to support our troops by doing more than putting a bumper sticker on our cars,” he said. “We need to ensure they have the resources they need to fight the war. To mobilize the resources of this country’s resources, energies and talents to prevail.”

 

Women Get Assist in Drive for Basketball


Betty Laham played basketball throughout her four years at YULA High School. When she returned to Los Angeles after graduating from NYU, she was eager to find an organized women’s basketball league and hoped to recapture the challenges and excitement of regular play.

She searched for three years, but failed to find anything.

So Laham and four other women started to play pick-up games every Thursday at one of their homes. Laham also began to collect names and e-mails of any other women who were interested in the sport. When she’d gathered enough names to fill four team rosters, Laham approached Jewish Sports League (JSL) organizer Sam Samson and asked to create a women’s league. In exchange for a small fee, JSL would organize gym time, referees, shot clock and score keepers.

The Jewish women’s basketball league started by Laham is now in its inaugural year.

“I didn’t set out looking to start this whole unique experience for Jewish women. I just wanted to play basketball in an organized way,” said Laham, 26, a member Mogen David of Beverly Hills.

The league has four teams, games every Sunday, optional practices on Wednesday, and a playoff series. The games are played in two 20-minute halves, and are refereed according to collegiate women’s rules.

“The league is fantastic. I didn’t know many people in L.A., and now I’ve met so many,” said Carly Mann, 23, who has played basketball since she was 8.

League play is competitive, but fun, and is open to women of all skill levels and abilities. Some women are completing no-look, behind-the-back passes, while others are scoring for the first time ever. “If you haven’t played in your life or if you’ve played your whole life, there’s a place for you,” said Laham, who plays forward.

Participants don’t have to be good; they just have to be interested. At Wednesday night practices, players develop an understanding of the game and work on their fundamentals. There are no coaches, so the more experienced women often share their knowledge of the game with less experienced players — even with their opponents.

“Everyone’s so great and so excited to be playing. Women on other teams will even explain why something is a foul or go over a rule with you,” said Shira Heby, 23, an employee at Emek Hebrew Academy.

While the league is open to women who are not Jewish, it was created by Jewish women with Jewish women of all denominations. Many observant women, like Heby, even play in skirts. There are no games or practices on Shabbat or holidays; Sunday games were cancelled when they fell on Tisha B’Av, the fast day.

“Some girls play in long shirts and skirts, others in shorts and T-shirts, some women cover there hair, others don’t,” said Devorah Becker, a member of B’nai David-Judea. “The women in the league are all different, but we all want to play. It’s great.”

For many of the women, it’s about more than just the game — it’s about camaraderie, community and it provides a competitive outlet. “Plus, it’s a great way to lose weight,” Becker said. ” Playing a sport makes exercise go much quicker than running on a treadmill.”

The games draw a crowd. Children, friends, spouses and boyfriends show up to cheer the women on. The players are happy to have a cheering squad, but what they really want are more participants.

Laham’s goal is to expand the league, adding players and teams with every season. “We’d love to see lots of new women out here playing,” she said.

For more information about the league, e-mail Betty Laham at bl253@hotmail.com or Shira Heby at morahshira613@hotmail.com.

Â

Stanford’s Grunfeld Flies High


It’s March Madness and all eyes are on the Stanford Cardinals. Ranked No. 1 in the nation, the near-perfect team enters this weekend’s Pac 10 Tournament as the Pac 10 regular season champions and will enter next week’s NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed. Key to the Cardinal’s success is reserve guard/forward Dan Grunfeld. Grunfeld, who averages 11.7 minutes a game, heads into the tournament with a levelheaded perspective on his team’s near-perfect season.

“We’ve had success this year, but it’s because of our hard work. We don’t lose sight of what’s gotten us to this point. We’re still focused and we still have a lot more to achieve,” Grunfeld said. Finishing the season with an outstanding 26-1 record, the Cardinals hope to continue their winning streak in the weeks of tournament play ahead.

Grunfeld, who scored a career-high 21 points against Southern Utah in December, has come into his own in his second year of play.

“This year I’m more comfortable with the offense and I’ve got a better feel for all of the guys,” said the 6-foot-6, 210-pound sophomore. “I feel like I’m more a part of it.”

Grunfeld comes from a basketball family. His paternal grandfather spent the Holocaust in a Romanian work camp; his paternal grandmother hid in a basement with false papers. They immigrated to the United States in the 1960s, where their son, Ernie, learned to play basketball. Ernie earned a basketball scholarship to Tennessee and, after college, played for the Milwaukee Bucks, the Kansas City Kings and the New York Knicks. He later became the general manager of the Knicks, then the Bucks, and today is the president of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards.

“People talk about my dad and his career a lot,” said Grunfeld, 20. “But it’s just who I am and where I come from. It’s no added pressure.”

Grunfeld is also unfazed by the added pressure of being a Stanford student-athlete. With a great deal of time dedicated to practice, weight training and traveling, Grunfeld’s learned to juggle athletics and academics.

“Going to college at any school in the country you’ve got to do your work. As an athlete, you’ve got to do your work and you’ve got to go to practice. It’s not an impossible thing to do, you just have to find the balance that works best for you.”

Grunfeld learned to balance his basketball and his Judaism early on. He gets a smile on his face as he recalls his after-school regiment.

“My attendance at Hebrew school probably wasn’t as perfect as some other kids’,” said Grunfeld, who was bar mitzvahed. “I remember going to Hebrew school in my uniform and going straight to basketball games. I only get asked about my Judaism occasionally, but I don’t forget those times in Hebrew school, or who I am.”

Stanford plays No. 8 Washington State University in the first round of the 2004 Pac-10 Men’s Tournament on March 11 at 12:20 p.m.

Sports a Family Affair for Israeli
Bruin

Ortal Oren hopes to be the first Israeli to play in the WNBA, but for now she’s happy being the only Israeli on the UCLA women’s basketball team.

“I love being a Bruin,” said the sophomore guard.

Oren lead Kiriat-Sharet High School to back-to-back Israeli championship titles her junior and senior years and was named MVP of both title games. The heavily recruited Oren chose UCLA for its strong basketball program, challenging academics, sunny weather and proximity to her uncle in Orange County.

“I also enjoy being around such diverse people. I thought coming from a different country would make me different, but everyone at UCLA has a different background and ethnicity,” said Oren, who picked jersey number 00 because it’s also spells out her initials.

Oren was a key force off the Bruin bench this season, averaging 9.2 minutes per game.

“I have more confidence this year and have a bigger role on the team,” said Oren, who played for the Israeli Junior National Team this summer. “I’m having a better year overall. Last year I had to adjust to the language, classes and different basketball play, but this year it’s much easier. I’m doing well in school, and I’m more comfortable with the team,” said Oren who rooms in the dorms with teammates Nikki Blue and Emma Tautolo.

Oren’s parents are both well-known Israeli athletes. Her father, Ronen, was the director of the Maccabi Tel Aviv Basketball Academy and her mother, Ronit Gazit, was a competitive high jumper.

“I miss my family and friends, but I don’t miss being in Israel because I’m having so much fun here,” said Oren who left four younger brothers and a sister back in Rishon-Lezion. “The girls on the team are like sisters to me.”

Oren and the UCLA Bruins finished the regular season 16-11 overall and 11-7 in conference. They lost to Stanford in the semifinals of the Pac-10 Tournament on March 7 in San Jose.

YULA Takes Pride in Its Panthers

YULA Panthers head coach Edward Gelb has led his team to roaring success over the past 13 years. Under his guidance, the team has won seven Liberty League Championships in 10 years, advanced to the quarterfinals several times and recently clocked in its 200th victory.

“I first started coaching at YULA because I wanted kids who were committed to getting a Jewish education to have the option to play basketball at the same competitive level as kids who were attending other schools,” said Gelb. “I didn’t want them to feel they’re missing out just because they’re Jewish.”

With the JV and varsity teams having 12-13 players each, just getting on the YULA team has become competitive. Every year 40-50 freshmen try out in hopes of filling the few spots left open by exiting seniors.

“Boys basketball is our most popular sport, it’s the one the students follow most closely,” said YULA Athletic Director Joel Fisher.

While other high school teams practice daily, YULA practices three times a week. The students attend school from 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. — many take advanced Talmud classes from 7:30-9:30 p.m. twice a week — and attend Sunday school.

“The key to our success is concentration,” Gelb said. “We don’t practice as much as other teams, so the kids really have to focus and concentrate when we do. Then they bring that concentration to the game. But still, practice time is our biggest challenge.”

Fisher would say Gelb and his team face an even greater challenge.

“The most impressive thing about Ed’s coaching at YULA is that he’s had all this success without a gym,” Fisher said. With no on-site gymnasium, the YULA Panthers practice at the Westside JCC or outside on playground courts.

This year, the Panthers beat Calvary Chapel Murietta 58-43 in the first round of playoffs. They went on to lose a tough game (58-53) to Santa Clara in the round of 16.

“Our basketball team has been extremely successful over the years, and that’s greatly due to Ed’s tremendous time, effort and dedication to the program,” Fisher said.

Coming of Age on a Basketball Court


Eight years ago, public relations guru Dan Klores received a distressing telephone call from Steve Satin, his childhood friend from Brooklyn’s 2nd Street Park. In high school, Satin had been popular, co-captain of the basketball team and, presumably, bound for medical school.

But his life had unraveled during years of addiction to cocaine and heroin, Satin told Klores. Although he eventually got sober, his 5-year-old son died of leukemia, his second marriage failed and he found himself homeless and wandering the streets with a suitcase in 1995. Finally he took refuge in the Port Authority bus terminal, where he spent nights moving from bench to bench so as not to draw police attention. Three months later, he did draw their attention, for writing bad checks; he was about to be arrested, he told his old friend.

"So he came to see me and it was pretty shocking," said Klores, whose tender documentary, "The Boys of 2nd Street Park," revolves around Satin and their Jewish basketball-playing gang. "He hardly had any teeth in his mouth, his nose was bashed in, he wore a suit that looked like he hadn’t worn it in 20 years … he just looked like a beaten-down man."

Klores got Satin an attorney, a dentist, an apartment and a job driving a taxi, but he, too, felt beaten down. Around 1980, he had given up his first love, writing, for public relations, eventually landing clients such as Jennifer Lopez and Donald Trump.

"But I never really liked it," he said from his Long Island beach home. "In spite of my success, PR never gave me the feeling of satisfaction I’d had writing a book or a magazine piece."

For 20 years, he hadn’t used his creativity to express himself, and he felt "trapped" and "frustrated."

As Klores pondered how to solve his dilemma, his thoughts turned to Satin and the other boys with whom he had shot hoops in Brighton Beach. He decided to make a film not about his rich and powerful clients, but about the friends of his youth.

"I knew this could be a good story because so many different things had happened to people," said the soft-spoken Klores, sounding more like an introvert than a schmoozer. "You have a group of guys, and one is homeless, one wins a $45 million lottery, two lose their children and one lives without electricity or running water in Woodstock, N.Y."

According to Satin, now a chemical engineer, the film works because Klores did the interviews.

"We opened up to him because we trusted him," he said. "Dan may not physically be in the movie, but it’s really his story, too. He has the same background and he was there with us, part of it."

Like the other "boys," 53-year-old Klores grew up in a one-bedroom apartment, 30 yards from the "L," sharing a bedroom with his brother while his parents slept on a convertible couch in the living room. The 2nd Street Park provided a refuge from the cramped quarters and from the tedium of religious school: "Even on the High Holidays we’d sneak away and shoot hoops in our sports jackets," he said.

Klores’ working-class parents, meanwhile, had ambitious plans for their eldest son. "The mantra was, ‘All we want for you is to do better than us,’ which is one of the things I reacted against," he said. The perceived Jewish pressure to excel did just the opposite; by the 10th grade Klores had become fiercely rebellious.

"I was the perfect candidate for the counterculture," he said. "I was alienated and angry and all of a sudden everyone was alienated and angry."

Klores said he failed classes, cut school and began using drugs at age 17. With Satin and some of the other "boys," he grew his hair long, spent weekends at an upstate New York farm and took road trips in a VW van.

The change came in 1973: "I woke up one day and I said, ‘Whoa, wait a second,’" he recalled. Klores quit drugs, finished school and landed his first real job, at 29, writing political ads for $100 a week plus a bottle of Scotch. He went on to write a book on the popular culture of college basketball and to freelance for publications such as New York magazine; he switched to PR for a more steady paycheck around 1980.

Since founding Dan Klores Associates in 1991, his assignments have included representing Sean "Puffy" Combs after his infamous arrest and Rudolph Giuliani during his prickly divorce. Eventually, his past caught up with him.

Around the time Satin phoned in 1995, Klores was diagnosed with hepatitis C, contracted as a result of his youthful drug use, he said. He began an excruciating, year-long regimen of drug therapy that at the end, left him bedridden with pneumonia. It was that brush with mortality — plus Satin’s haunting story — that helped push the now-healthy Klores to pursue more fulfilling work.

To make "Boys," he turned to another park friend, Ron Berger, a prominent advertising executive with ample production experience. The co-directors put up their own money for the summer 2001 shoot, when Klores traveled to nine states to interview 25 subjects, ultimately narrowing the major characters down to six.

"While we were editing the film, Dan would be dealing with his high-profile clients and taking calls from Giuliani," Berger said. "Meanwhile, I would be dealing with my high-profile corporate clients. But then at the end of the day we’d be in this small editing room, working on stories from our childhood and making them come to life, which was so fulfilling."

Satin said telling his story on camera was "cathartic and healing."

For Klores, who’s now working on his second documentary, the process was also transforming.

"What’s amazing for me is how the movie has resonated with people all over the country," he said of his film festival experience. "At the outset, the movie appears to be about Brooklyn and basketball but then it becomes something much more universal. A lot of people of our generation have taken a parallel kind of journey…. The film is about a particular generation as told through the lives of six boys turning to men."

"Boys" airs on Showtime Sept. 28.

West Valley JCC Open and Synagogue Basketball League


Shomrei Torah pulled a three-peat, defeating Valley Beth Shalom in the West Valley JCC Synagogue League Championship. Former collegiate and Israeli hoop star, Mark Turnenshine, earned MVP honors for his 37 tournament points.

The Doorjammers defeated the John’s Jocks for the West Valley JCC Open League Championship. Leading the Doorjammers to victory was tournament MVP Richard Roth and All-City great and Israeli National Team star Jerry Simon.

Milken Community High School Wildcats

The MCHS girls and boys basketball teams both finished third in the Westside League and earned CIF Playoff berths. Ashley Finkel, Matt Gurvitz and Jon Milgrom earned first-team all-Westside League basketball nods.

The girls and boys soccer teams both placed second in the Liberty League and nabbed CIF playoff berths. Romy Barber, Adam Berger, Evan Greenburg, Rachel Gross, Brian Lacher, Jenna Pfeifer, Aaron Mendelovitz, David Vickter and Sean Wachtel received first-team all Liberty League soccer honors.

Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School Hawkeyes

Girls soccer finished 7 and 1. Goalies, Emily Siegel and Sarah Weiss led the defense, while Ali Baron and Lauren Rakow topped the offense.

Boys soccer boasts Ari Tuvia, with two long-distance goals. Remy Kouffman was the lone Heschel scorer against a Viewpoint team that took the win 2 to 1.

Seventh-grade boys white basketball team defeated Milken, with Matt Goren scoring 17 points. Jeremy Ely was the three-point marksman; John Janisch, Ori Ofir and Yaniv Raymond controlled the rebounding, and Matt Gertler contributed to both offense and defense.

Seventh-grade boys blue basketball team spotlights Gavin Winner’s game-high 28 points against Chatsworth Hills Academy. David Snyder, Aaron Horn and Ryan Weiss proved a force to be reckoned with in the paint, and Brian Grossman contributed at point-guard.

Recent Synagogue Softball play proves the 2002 season is in full swing.

Ramat Zion (White) vs. Shomrei Torah: RZ II picked up two quick runs only to watch ST score a 10 spot in their half of the first. ST posted another eight in the third. For ST, Doug Frank, Steve Sax and Howard Smuckler each went 4 for 4 for a combined 14 RBIs. Final: ST-24, RZ II-7.

Hey Jude A vs. Valley Beth Shalom II: Judea’s Hey Jude A had HRs from Gavin Ballas and Howard Pelta to take a 5-0 lead and had a 6-2 lead into the third. Then VBS II struck for seven to take a 9-6 lead. With HR’s from Ross Fischman and Steve Garfinkel and three RBI’s from Scott Katz, VBS II went on to beat Hey Jude A 16-5.

Temple Judea vs. Ahavat Shalom: The early innings were all Ahavat Shalom and their gloves. Two defensive gems turned into two DPs in innings one and two, and another leaping catch in the third enabled AS to hold a 3-0 lead against the undefeated Judea into the fourth. But a 12-run fourth opened the door and — thanks to Norm Tamkin pitching — Judea went on to beat AS 17-5.

Ahavat Shalom II vs. Kol Tikvah Gold: With the score 11-5 in the fourth, Kol Tikvah Gold scored eight runs to take a 13-11 lead. Dave Newman’s squad wasn’t done. With HR’s from Alan Scherr, Art Hirsch and Glen Schechter, AS II scored 12 in the sixth to take a 25-13 win.

Leo Baeck vs. Adat Ari El: Adat Ari El beat a young Leo Baeck club, 15-4, with a 22-hit attack led by Eric Gazin. With Mark Walberg, Tom Geiser and team captain Lee Wald, Ari El got excellent defense and wonderful pitching for their second straight win.

Please send local sports news to sports@jewishjournal.com  

The Basketball Diaries


Two standout Jewish hoop stars headlining the Pac-10 basketball tournament? It’s all part of March Madness. David Bluthenthal, USC’s 22-year-old small forward, and Amit Tamir, UC Berkeley’s 22-year-old forward/center, each look to lead their team to the conference title at the March 7-9 tournament at Staples Center.

Tamir, a 6-foot-10, 250-pound freshman, is thrilled about the tournament, the first held since 1990. "I’m excited to compete in L.A. I’m going to have fun and enjoy my first college tournament," said Tamir, whose team entered the Pac-10 tournament ranked second.

The Jerusalem native earned Pac-10 Player of the Week and ESPN National Player of the Week honors (Feb. 11) for his performance against the University of Oregon. He posted a Cal freshman record 39 points, shooting 14-of-19 from the floor, including 5-of-6 from three-point range and 6-of-8 from the line. Tamir clinched Cal’s first five double-overtime points, leading the Golden Bears to their eventual 107-103 victory. He also snagged five boards.

Tamir recognizes that his exceptional play means more than just a phenomenal night on the court. "I got a lot of attention after Oregon and I know that made Jews, especially Israelis, proud. There’s something nice about being an Israeli ambassador of college ball," Tamir said.

Tamir almost missed his NCAA opportunity. While serving three years in the Israeli army, he earned a spot on the Israeli League’s Hapoel Jerusalem. Tamir said he wasn’t paid by Hapoel, but he did play with a professional on his team. This NCAA amateurism rule violation jeopardized Tamir’s eligibility. But Cal coach Ben Braun successfully fought to reduce Tamir’s potential seasonlong suspension to eight games.

Braun, who is also Jewish, discovered Tamir while coaching a youth team in Israel. The coach and player attended High Holy Day services together at Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland. "It was important to me to celebrate the holidays, and meant a lot to share them with Coach Braun," Tamir said. "It’s great playing under a Jewish coach because there’s so much he can relate to. We share a heritage, traditions and holidays."

Braun is not the only Golden Bear who puts this Israeli import at ease. Berkeley coeds make an extra effort to embrace Tamir.

"Students on campus come up and talk in Hebrew or just let me know they share Judaism with me. It’s made me feel at home," said Tamir, who played for the Israeli National under-18 and under-22 teams and led his 1997 ORT High School team to the Jerusalem city title.

Tamir’s teammates also contributed to his smooth continental transition. "Whenever there’s violence in Israel, the guys on the team want to know if it’s near my home, if my family is OK. It’s really nice, and I feel like I can help them understand what’s going on over there," Tamir said.

Tamir left more than heated conflict behind. His father, Asher, an electrician; his mother, Shula, a homemaker; older sisters, Rozit and Gal, and 11-year-old brother, Daniel, all remain in Jerusalem. "I miss my family and friends. And the food: the hummus, mmm, and, oh, the bourekes. My mom’s cooking especially," said Tamir, who does not keep kosher. "She’s a great cook," added the dutiful son, who claims he was overweight until age 15.

Tamir, who grew up watching televised Israeli League and NBA games with his father, aspires to be the first Israeli to play in the NBA. "It’s always been a dream of mine, and I think it would bring a lot of pride to Israel and the Jewish people," Tamir said.

Bluthenthal has similar NBA dreams. "I’ve wanted the NBA since I was 5, and am excited to have been invited to draft camps. After the season, all my efforts will go toward it. But now, I’m focused on the team and our tournament success," said Bluthenthal, a senior whose Trojans entered this weekend’s tournament ranked third. "We’ve got a great team and a shot at winning the title," added the 6-foot-7, 220-pound Los Angeles native.

The lifelong Lakers fan will enjoy his hometown advantage. "We don’t have to travel, and our L.A. fans will be there to support us," said Bluthenthal, who attended both Venice and Westchester highs.

A talented three-point shooter and aggressive rebounder, Bluthenthal got his career third Pac-10 Conference Player of the Week nod (Feb. 18) for his Arizona series performance. He came off the bench against Arizona State and earned his third double-double of the season, posting 21 points and 10 rebounds. In an upset victory over the Arizona Wildcats, he seized nine rebounds and collected a career high 31 points, making 7-of-12 from three-point range.

After an up-and-down season, the history major credits his success against Arizona, ASU and Stanford (22 points) on his strong mental attitude and work ethic. "I haven’t had the best season, but I stay positive and practice a lot," said Bluthenthal, who hits the gym by 7 a.m. daily and takes 500-700 shots before class. "I love shooting, so practice comes easily to me. And I think it’s paid off," added Bluthenthal, who recently became the 26th USC player to earn 1,000 career points.

Bluthenthal admits it’s difficult to fit Judaism into his current schedule. "I’ve gone to services a few times, but there’s not really time between school and basketball. But I’ve been thinking about going more after the season’s over," he said.

He is, however, a proud Maccabiah Games participant. He played at the 1996 New Jersey games, earned bronze at the 1997 Israeli games and gold at the Pan-American Maccabiah Games in Mexico City. "My Israel trip was an amazing experience. I played with great older players, saw incredible sites and learned about the heritage and history," said Bluthenthal, who withdrew from the 2001 games due to an injury.

This preseason Wooden Award candidate, who holds the Trojan record for most game rebounds (28), has become a Jewish phenomenon. "I receive a lot of attention for being a Jewish basketball player. I was fortunate to be born with my height and a love for the game. If my success — getting to play college ball — inspires other Jewish athletes, then that’s great," Bluthenthal said. "I’m happy to be some sort of role model to young Jewish players," he added, blushing almost as much as he does when asked about a girlfriend.

Raised in Marina del Rey, Bluthenthal wanted to stay in Los Angeles for college, the weather and his family. His father Ralph, a retired L.A. County Sheriff’s Department officer; younger sister, Evelyn, who plays volleyball for Venice High School and the 2001 Maccabiah Team, and two older siblings live in Los Angeles.

Though Bluthenthal’s great-great-great-grandfather, Wilshire Boulevard Temple past president Isaias Hellman, was one of three original USC land donors, Bluthenthal once dreamed of playing for UCLA. "The Bruins have a great basketball tradition. But now I’m glad I went to ‘SC, where we started a new tradition," he said proudly. Last year, USC went to the NCAA Elite Eight for the first time since 1954. Bluthenthal earned East Region All-NCAA Tournament Team honors.

"Because this is my senior year, I want us to win the Pac-10 Tournament and go even further than last year in the NCAA Tournament," Bluthenthal said.

Jewish basketball fans everywhere hope to see both Bluthenthal and Tamir achieve their hoop dreams.

When Jews Had Game


The red-hot Philly basketball team has a pint-sized but flashy star shooter and an old-school coach who’s more teacher than tough disciplinarian. The media constantly compares the teams to the biblical David. Sound like America’s new favorite team, the Philadelphia 76ers, who took on the LA Lakers in this year’s NBA finals?

Nope. It’s the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association team the SPHAs (pronounced “spas”), which dominated the sport in the 1920s and ’30s. The flashy shooter is set-shot expert Inky Lautman and the savvy coach is Eddie Gottlieb, who was also the owner of one of the most successful teams in basketball history.

And David is the six-pointed star on the team’s jerseys.

Today, the only thing Jewish about the current Sixer team is coach Larry Brown, who starred on the U.S. gold-medal team at the Maccabiah Games in Israel in 1961 before launching his pro career. Brown was born in Brooklyn, that “other” Jewish basketball town. But there are plenty of parallels between the Hebrews, as the SPHAs were nicknamed, and today’s Sixers.

Both were subject to sometimes egregious racial stereotyping.

The two newest showmen of modern basketball, Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant, are praised for their “athleticism” and “natural talents.” Is that a stereotype that downplays their other abilities?

Such stereotypes reflect a long tradition that goes back more than 70 years, when the game emerged from the ghettos of Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore. Back then sportswriters used to wax about the gaudy skills of “natural athletes.” Then the stars had names like Dutch Garfinkel and Doc Lou Sugerman, and the top teams were the Philadelphia “Hebrews,” the New York Whirlwinds and the Cleveland Rosenblums.

“The reason, I suspect, that basketball appeals to the Hebrew with his Oriental background,” wrote Paul Gallico, sports editor of the New York Daily News in the 1930s, “is that the game places a premium on an alert, scheming mind, flashy trickiness, artful dodging and general smart aleckness.”

At the turn of the century, European Jews flooded off immigrant ships into the ghettos of the booming Eastern metropolises. New York and Philadelphia were the epicenters of the basketball world, with the dominant team, the Hebrews, ensconced in South Philly.

“Basketball is a city game,” says Sonny Hill, an executive adviser with the Sixers who has run a high-school summer league for more than 35 years. “If you trace basketball back to the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, that’s when the Jewish people were very dominant in the inner city. And they dominated basketball.”

Although New York turned out more Jewish stars in pure numbers, the SPHAs were basketball’s best known and most successful all-Jewish team. From 1918 onward, the Hebrews barnstormed across the East and Midwest, playing in a variety of semipro leagues that were precursors to the NBA. In an incredible 22-season stretch, they played in 18 championship series, losing only five. In the early years of the Depression, the SPHAs were more popular than both of Philadelphia’s baseball teams, the Athletics and the Phillies.

“Every Jewish boy was playing basketball,” Harry Litwack told me a few years ago, before he passed away in 1999. Litwack starred for the SPHAs in the 1930s before moving on to coach Temple University in Philadelphia for 21 years. “Every phone pole had a peach basket on it. And every one of those Jewish kids dreamed of playing for the SPHAs.”

“It was absolutely a way out of the ghetto,” said Dave Dabrow, a guard with the original Hebrews.

The first intercollegiate game in the East, a 6-4 shellacking of Temple by Haverford College, took place at the Temple gymnasium in March 1894. Basketball had a notorious reputation back then. The rules provided for few fouls, making the game a barely controlled melee. Players paraded on and off the court with bandaged legs and bleeding heads. This offended the Victorian sensibilities of the Protestant ruling class in many cities, leading to a temporary ban on the game at local YMCAs, which were fearful that their Christian boys would be corrupted.

Not so the Jewish, Irish, Polish and Italian communities, filled with the sons of immigrants. Basketball bridged the highly segregated Jewish and Gentile communities.

The best high-school graduates went on to play for one of the church teams, until anti-Semitism heated up. In 1918, Gottlieb and some of his former high school buddies convinced the Young Men’s Hebrew Association to buy them uniforms, which featured as team symbols the Magen David and the Hebrew letters samech, pey, hey and aleph to spell “SPHA.”

The SPHAs’ success attracted up-and-coming stars from Jewish ghettos along the East Coast. But with the emergence of National Socialism in Germany and an escalation of anti-Semitism in the United States, basketball was sometimes a brutal experience. In the small towns in which they played, Jewish players faced incessant racial slurs and biased officials.

“The toughest place was Prospect Hall, the home of the Brooklyn Visitation,” Gottlieb said. “Half the fans would come to see the Jews get killed, and the other half were Jews coming to see our boys win. They used to have a balcony that hung over the court, and they’d serve the fans bottle beer and sandwiches. Whenever something would happen down on the court that those Brooklyn fans didn’t like, they’d send those bottles down at us.”

At the height of their success, the SPHAs were one of the best teams in the country, sweeping their league games and challenging teams in other cities. By this time, the game had spread westward to Cleveland and Chicago. However, with travel costly, the chief rivals were in New York: the Holman-coached Hakoahs; the Celtics, a powerful Jewish-Irish team; the Knights of St. Anthony’s, which represented the mixed Italian and Jewish Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint; and the New York Renaissance, the premier black team.

The black players were not allowed to play in the all-white semipro leagues that started up and failed numerous times during this era. The encounters between the “Yids” and the “Niggers” were legendary. According to William “Pop” Gates, the star of the Renaissance, in 1989 the SPHAs were renowned as a “thinking” team, while the Rens were famous for their “quickness” — stereotypes about Jews and blacks that endure today.

By the late 1940s, dominion over the urban basketball courts had begun to pass to the fastest-growing group of urban dwellers, blacks who were migrating north from dying Southern farms in search of opportunity. The new generation of Jews began moving on to other pursuits — not to mention out to the suburbs. The depleted SPHAs eventually morphed into the Philadelphia Warriors, owned by the same Eddie Gottlieb (“The Mogul”), who coached the first champions of what became the National Basketball Association. Gottlieb, who died in 1979, eventually sold the team to San Francisco interests in 1962 and became the NBA’s official schedule-maker.

The remnants of Philadelphia’s basketball tradition rest on the shoulders of coach Brown, an adopted favorite son. Much to the delight of the celebrity-starved NBA, Brown and Iverson have emerged as the Batman and Robin of modern basketball, an unlikely blend of old-world tradition and hip-hop yet hardscrabble dedication. No matter how this NBA series ends, the Sixers, cast as David against Goliath, do their history proud.

Jon Entine (www.jonentine.com), a native Philadelphian based in Los Angeles, is author of “Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We’re Afraid To Talk About It” (PublicAffairs, $14), which was just released in paperback.

Hoop Dreams


In a Chicago Tribune interview last October, shortly before pro basketball was shut down by a bruising lockout, players’ union chief Billy Hunter waxed sentimental about his lifelong passion for defending the underdog. By way of illustration, he recalled how, as a teen-ager in 1950s-era Cherry Hill, N.J., he used to trade blows with bigots who harassed his best friend for being Jewish. Hunter himself is black.

It was an intriguing reminder of a bygone era of black-Jewish intimacy. But Hunter wasn’t really discussing social history. He was talking, in code, about basketball today. It was a message to players and team owners: Don’t let this labor dispute turn into an ethnic clash.

There was ample reason to worry. Close to 85 percent of the players in the National Basketball Association are black. Nearly half of the 29 teams’ owners are Jewish — far more than in baseball or football. Most top NBA officials are Jews, beginning with Commissioner David Stern. No other arena in American life, except popular music, brings Jews and blacks together in such an intimate, high-profile engagement.

It’s an engagement with deep roots. In its early days, basketball was dominated by Jewish players, nearly as much as black players dominate today. And for the same reason: It was a poor boy’s ticket out of the ghetto. An urban game, requiring no grassy fields or expensive equipment, basketball is open to anyone with a ball and a hoop. “The early great players and progenitors of the sport were Jewish,” says New York Post sports columnist Phil Mushnick.

Then, Jews moved out and blacks moved in. Today, the game resembles nothing so much as an old downtown neighborhood that turned from Jewish to black, leaving behind a Jewish economic presence as landlords and shopkeepers.

Not that the players are living in poverty. But the undercurrents of resentment are there. Last fall, they reached a peak. It wouldn’t have taken much to ignite an ugly black-Jewish confrontation, given the high stakes and raw feelings of the $2 billion basketball contract dispute — not to mention the famously foul-mouthed crudeness of some players. A few players and their advocates actually began grumbling about the owners’ “plantation mentality.”

In the end, no one crossed the line from black-white race-baiting to singling out Jewish owners. Not publicly, anyway. Across the country, Jewish fans, sportswriters and team owners silently braced for anti-Semitism throughout the six-month lockout. It never materialized.

The credit is partly due to Hunter, the union chief. “Billy stood up and said race was not an issue,” says Chicago Tribune sportswriter Sam Smith.

Hunter took a series of small, symbolic steps to forestall ethnic friction. He named the league’s only Jewish player, Orlando Magic center Danny Schayes, son of the legendary player-coach Dolph Schayes, to the negotiating team. Hunter and Schayes both made a point during the talks of peppering their conversation with Yiddish-flavored jokes. Hunter even boned up on the history of black-Jewish ties; aides say a book on the topic has been sitting prominently on his desk for weeks.

“There was some talk on the margins about this being a race thing,” says the union’s press spokesman, Dan Wasserman. “But the simple fact is that Billy Hunter slam-dunked that notion.”

Part of the peacekeeping credit belongs, too, to Commissioner Stern, if only for making the pot so rich. A lawyer by training, Stern took over the NBA in 1984. Since then, he’s utterly transformed the game. By marketing it as celebrity entertainment, complete with stars and sex appeal, he’s moved it from a distant third place in popularity, after baseball and football, to rough equality. And basketball’s revenues have quadrupled.

Most of the players appreciate that, insiders say. “Some complain,” says the New York Post’s Mushnick. “But who made them millionaires?”

Players aren’t the only ones to benefit from Stern’s economic revolution. Team franchises, once money losers, have become fantastically lucrative. The profits, in turn, have lured a whole new generation of investors. “He’s been the single-most effective executive in the history of the sports business,” says Edward Bleier, president of Warner Bros. and close observer of the game.

One result, some say, is a coarser game. Basketball owners, far more than baseball or football owners, are new to the sport, don’t know the inside of the locker room, don’t understand their teams. That, combined with the increased individualism fostered by Stern’s star system, has led to a decline in team morale.

“There’s very little sport left in sports,” says Mushnick. “It’s about money. It’s about a popular culture in free fall. The team doesn’t count anymore. It’s the individual.”

Another result is that certain basic questions about Jewish life in America are getting harder to ignore. What role should Jews be playing in public life? What role should wealth play in Jewish life? Most of all, who are the Jewish role models for tomorrow’s young Jews?

The challenge was raised publicly last September by the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, in a speech in Chicago. He blasted Jewish team owners for buying sports teams “as toys” instead of donating their money to Jewish education.

Characteristically, Schorsch bungled his facts and asked the wrong questions. In fact, Jewish sports executives as a group are unusually devoted to Jewish causes. Most are major UJA donors. David Stern has been honored by both UJA and Israel Bonds and personally sponsored a Soviet refugee family. New Jersey Nets owner Henry Taub is a former national chairman of the United Israel Appeal. Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin actually changed his team’s name from the Bullets after Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated.

Still, Schorsch was onto something. The growing emergence of Jews as team owners symbolizes a deeper change in Jewish life. It’s an unhealthy change, in the most basic sense.

“Sports was a key medium of Americanization for East European Jews,” says University of Minnesota anthropologist Riv-Ellen Prell, author of a forthcoming book about gender and assimilation. “It was a way of overcoming traditional anxieties about the Jewish male body, and the notion of the Jewish male as a victim unable to defend himself. The powerful male body became a potent issue of acculturation for American Jewish men.”

Today, Prell says, we’re moving backward. “What you’re looking at today,” she says, “is the transformation of sports from something Jews did to something Jews own.”

Is that what we want?


J.J. Goldberg writes a weekly column for The Jewish Journal.

One Girl’s Basketball Diary


I love basketball. Not as in, I love Neil Diamond,I hum along when he’s on the radio. No.

More like, when I know my team is playing and I’mnot watching, I get the agitated look of a kid with chicken pox onHalloween. During basketball season, my life is scheduled aroundgames; people look at me askance when I grab the sports section andleave the rest of the paper.

In high school, my brother was a star athlete,building camaraderie with his peers, figuring out how to losegracefully, how to compete, how to snatch victory from the jaws ofdefeat — and generally manifest all other inspiring sportsclichés. Meanwhile, I took ballet lessons, a one-way ticket tosapped self-esteem and bad feet. The most lasting message from thatritual abuse was: “Hips and breasts sure get in the way! Stand in astraight line and avoid all facial expressions! Mesomorphs to theback, please.”

Now, I’m making up for lost time. With every gameI watch, I’m trying to learn the things I missed out on during mysports-free childhood. What’s most compelling for me is not theathletic prowess I see but the mental fortitude, the lack of fear,the drive to win, the player who never chokes, who always makes freethrows during crunch time, who actually wants to take the lastshot.

When I start to lose in life, I tend to throw inthe proverbial towel. It never dawned on me to fight my way back froma deficit. I don’t like to think of myself as a “loser,” but whenfaced with a challenge, what comes most naturally to me is to take tomy bed with a box of Pop Tarts or just have a good, old fashionedanxiety attack. Basketball is changing that by modeling the oppositebehavior: It’s Michael Jordan dominating a playoff game with the flu;it’s Muggsy Bogues becoming a point guard at 5-foot-3; it’s MahmoudAbdul-Rauf being a sharpshooter despite the fact that he hasTourette’s syndrome.

My fascination with basketball was born when I sawthe documentary “Hoop Dreams.” I wanted to find out how the two highschool players featured in the film were doing in college. A coupleof months later, I was a full-fledged fan, fluent in basketball’sparticular argot and easily tossing off phrases such as “shootingfrom downtown,” “going coast to coast” and the advanced “Come on,that was a ticky-tack foul!”

Men test me. They think I’m faking it, as if I’veread some directive from Cosmo that tells me to learn about sports sothat I can “relate” to them. Loving basketball has nothing to do withwanting to impress men. Still, I can’t help but derive pleasure whenI prove that my sports knowledge is both complete andimpassioned.

As a Jewish woman, it’s even more satisfying. Irelish flying in the face of the prissy Private Benjamin stereotypeby yelling things such as “If you’re gonna foul him, foul him hard,Shaq!” I’ve even purchased my own basketball, which I doggedlyattempt to dribble and shoot for hours on end when the good playershave vacated the local blacktop. Someday, maybe I’ll be good enoughto join a pickup game, or even earn the right to trash talk. (Ballettrash-talking just doesn’t work. “Hey, Mikhail, get those plies outof my kitchen. Your pas de deux is more like a pas de don’t.” Seewhat I mean.)

It may sound absurd, but basketball has given mean opening to converse with legions of people I ordinarily wouldn’t– most notably, my brother. Before, our most richly huedconversation sounded like a scene from “The Ice Storm.” Now, we can’tget off the phone, trying to figure out what has gone so terriblyawry for the Golden State Warriors.

For those who have never really watched a game,especially women, I can’t recommend it enough. Like anything, themore you learn, the more you see. Ask a sports fan to watch a gamewith you, to explain how to decipher a team’s box scores in thepaper, to fill you in on any team scandals or personality conflicts.At the very least, you’ll become versed in another slice of the humanexperience. You haven’t got much to lose.

After all, you always miss the shots you don’ttake.

Teresa Strasser is a twentysomething

contributing writer for The JewishJournal.