From left: The Hoops4Hope winning team’s Isaac Aftalion, Idan Eythan and Isaac Gabai with Lakers players Julius Randle, Metta World Peace and Jordan Clarkson. Photo by Jonah Light photography

Moving & Shaking: Lakers hoop for hope; Mayim Bialik book tour

Los Angeles Lakers Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and Metta World Peace delighted fans, many sporting purple and gold, at this year’s Hoops4Hope charity basketball tournament at the Westside Jewish Community Center.

The May 7 event benefited the Jewish medical organization Ateres Avigail, whose more than 200 volunteers provide services to people in need, including preparing kosher meals, transportation to medical appointments, affordable medical equipment and access to the consulting services of physicians from all over the country.

Steve Rechnitz, president of Ateres Avigail, took the reins of the organization 3 1/2 years ago after his wife, Avigail, the former president, died of cancer. The organization, formerly called Ladies Bikur Cholim, was renamed for Avigail after her death.

About 115 players paid the $100 entry fee to take part in the three-on-three tournament, vying for prizes such as courtside Lakers tickets and vacation packages. Players of varying skill sets and backgrounds participated, with many local Jewish high school players and alumni represented.

High-fliers from the Venice Basketball League — a Venice Beach-based, invitation-only summer league with top amateur talent — wowed the 300 spectators with a jaw-dropping dunk contest.

Per tradition, the winning team — Malachei 26, comprising Isaac Aftalion, Isaac Gabai and Idan Eythan — got to play the Lakers trio in a largely ceremonial, half-speed game. The contest included a nasty crossover from Clarkson that sent a Malachei 26 defender tumbling to the ground.

Ateres Avigail’s director and lone employee, Rabbi Avraham Hirschman, said fundraising totals were still being tallied, but he deemed the day a slam-dunk success.

“I think people really want to come out and support our work helping Jewish families facing medical crises,” Hirschman said. “It’s a high-energy environment and people like tapping into that energy, doing what they love to do — playing basketball and benefiting an organization like ours.”

— Oren Peleg, Contributing Writer

Mayim Bialik discusses her book, “Girling Up: How to Be Strong, Smart and Spectacular,” at The Grove. Photo by Tess Cutler

“Oh, I see her!” said a mother, pointing forward to a mass of people. “Oh, yeah!” a girl squealed, “I see her arm, I think!” Actress Mayim Bialik was the center of that attention on May 16, when she appeared at The Grove’s Barnes & Noble store.

Bialik, an actress known for her supporting role on “The Big Bang Theory,” was unveiling her new book, “Girling Up: How to Be Strong, Smart and Spectacular,” intended as a guide for girls ages 10 to 18. More than 100 people showed up, filling a cordoned-off area.

“This book is as eternal as the Torah,” Bialik joked.

Comedian Iliza Shlesinger, Bialik’s good friend — the two met years ago at a comedy event — moderated the gathering. While being introduced to the audience, an emcee butchered Shlesinger’s last name.

“If I had a dollar every time an emcee brought me onstage and messed up my last name, I would have, like, $50,” Shlesinger said to a laughing crowd. “Fifty anti-Semitic dollars.”

“Girling Up,” published May 9 by Philomel Books, is Bialik’s third book, following her vegan cookbook, “Mayim’s Vegan Table,” and her parenting handbook, “Beyond the Sling.”

The book covers topics including mental health, bullying and the birds and the bees. Bialik, who has a doctorate in neuroscience, incorporated some biological and chromosomal lingo into the book, as well.

During lighthearted banter between Bialik and Shlesinger, an audience member asked Bialik, “How do you balance your religion with your science?”

Bialik was quick to quip, “The snarky answer is: I just do.”

— Tess Cutler, Contributing Writer

The UCLA Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies hosted a May 4 panel on “Six Days/Five Decades: 1967 and Its Significance for Israeli Security,” ahead of the 50th anniversary of Israel’s June 10, 1967, victory in the Six-Day War.

The panelists, representing a range of policy expertise on challenges facing Israeli society, were Gilead Sher, former chief of staff to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak; Motti Inbari, a University of North Carolina at Pembroke professor of religion, focusing on Jewish fundamentalism; Elie Rekhess, a visiting professor at Northwestern University and an expert on the Arab minority in Israel; and Paul Rivlin, a senior fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center, specializing in Middle East economics. Nazarian Center Director Yoram Cohen introduced the speakers.

“The Six-Day War resulted in a profound, overwhelming identity crisis,” Rekhess said, pointing to the solidification of Palestinian identity that followed.

Sher emphasized how Israeli control of the Palestinian territories threatens its long-term stability. Inbari talked about how Jewish messianism evolved in response to Israeli conquests in 1967 and 1973.

Rivlin spoke about the economic miracle after the war that transformed Israel’s economy, with 14 percent growth in 1968.

“Confidence is the key factor in investment, and this is what the war resulted in,” Rivlin said.

The event drew students, faculty and UCLA community members, including Hillel at UCLA emeritus director Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, UCLA computer scientist Judea Pearl and UCLA student body President Danny Siegel.

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer

Entertainment attorney Martin Singer and Sherry Lansing, the former studio head of Paramount Pictures, attend the Jewish National Fund’s Women for Israel luncheon. Photo courtesy of Jewish National Fund

Sherry Lansing, the former head of Paramount Pictures and the first woman to helm a major Hollywood studio, was honored May 4 at the Jewish National Fund’s Women for Israel luncheon.

About 250 people attended the event at the Beverly Wilshire hotel, where Lansing treated guests to an intimate interview conducted by entertainment attorney Martin Singer.

“I am busier than I’ve ever been, and I’m so happy with what I’ve been doing because it all comes from my heart,” Lansing, 72, told the Journal before the event.

Since retiring from Hollywood, Lansing has devoted herself to supporting philanthropic projects in medical research and education through her Sherry Lansing Foundation. She serves on the University of California Board of Regents and co-founded the nonprofit Stand Up to Cancer, which has distributed about $500 million to cancer research.

Lansing also is the subject of a new, authorized biography, “Leading Lady,” by Stephen Galloway. The book details her career in Hollywood, from actress to studio executive. Over her 30-year career, Lansing had a hand in developing an estimated 200 films, including “Forrest Gump,” “Braveheart” and “Titanic,” each of which reaped huge profits and numerous awards.

Today, Lansing is a mentor to young women. Although she lamented Hillary Clinton’s loss in the presidential election, she said she was heartened by the resurgent feminism that has since been ignited.

“Ten years ago, when I would talk to career women, there was a feeling that the word ‘feminist’ was a dirty word, and there was a lack of respect for people like Gloria Steinem, who was my idol, without whom I would not be here today,” Lansing said. “Women believed that none of these rights could be taken away and that they were there forever. When I would talk to college kids about Roe v. Wade, they would look at me like I was a hysterical old lady. Now, that has changed because these very rights are now being threatened, and that has turned people [toward] the same activism that I [engaged] in during my 30s.”

Lansing said she is aware of both the gifts and deficits of aging. “The losses are more,” she said. “But there is also more gratitude, more determination not to let the small stuff bother you. You learn to only do what’s important and meaningful. The only thing that matters at the end of the day is love and human connections.”

— Danielle Berrin, Senior Writer

Moving & Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email 

Israeli-American coach David Blatt reportedly on potential list for Lakers post

David Blatt, the Israeli American who was fired this season as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, reportedly is under consideration for the same post with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Blatt was listed this week in an ESPN report, citing unnamed league sources, as one of 10 potential candidates on the NBA team’s “long list” to replace Byron Scott, who the Lakers announced Sunday will not be returning next season. Scott, a former Lakers’ player, coached the squad to its two worst seasons ever.

Blatt has been rumored as in the running for head coach of the New York Knicks, though reports circulating this week say his candidacy for the position is a smokescreen to hide the team’s intention to hire interim coach Kurt Rambis. Blatt played basketball at Princeton University with the Knicks’ general manager, Steve Mills, in the late 1970s and early ’80s.

At the time of his firing in January, Blatt said he wanted to remain in the NBA, as opposed to returning to coaching in Israel and the European leagues, where he led Maccabi Tel Aviv to five national titles and the 2014 Euroleague championship. He also guided the Russian national team to a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics.

At the time of his dismissal, the Cavaliers had the best record in the Eastern Conference. Some claimed the team’s superstar, LeBron James, undermined the coach. Blatt had led the Cavs to the 2015 NBA Finals, where they lost to the Golden State Warriors in six games.

Bryant out for nine months after shoulder surgery

Kobe Bryant's NBA season effectively ended on Wednesday after he had surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder that will sideline him for nine months, the Los Angeles Lakers said.

The five-time National Basketball Association champion, who injured his shoulder last week in a loss to the Pelicans in New Orleans, underwent a procedure lasting two hours, the team said in a statement.

“I expect Kobe to make a full recovery and if all goes as expected, he should be ready for the start of the season,” Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who performed the surgery, said.

Bryant was averaging 22.3 points in 35 games this season for a struggling Lakers team that is last in the Pacific Division with a 12-34 record.

The 36-year-old guard, who earned his 17th All-Star selection last week, had sat out eight of the Lakers' previous 16 games for “rest” reasons.

Fourth on the NBA's all-time scoring list, he played in only six games last season due to knee and Achilles tendon injuries as Los Angeles posted a 27-55 record.

The former league most valuable player, who joined the Lakers as a first-round pick out of high school as an 18-year-old in 1996, is signed through next season after agreeing to a two-year extension in 2013 for $48.5 million.

Lakers’ Kobe Bryant to have shoulder surgery, season in jeopardy

Kobe Bryant's NBA season could be over after the guard agreed to have surgery on a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder, the Los Angeles Lakers said on Monday.

The five-time National Basketball Association champion will have surgery on Wednesday and a timeline for his return will be issued following the procedure, the team said in a statement.

Bryant injured his shoulder last week in a loss to the Pelicans in New Orleans and it could lead to the 16-time NBA All-Star being shut down for the Lakers' final 37 games of the 2014-15 regular season.

The 36-year-old guard was averaging 22.3 points from 35 games this season for a struggling Lakers team that is last in the Pacific Division with a 12-33 record.

Bryant had sat out eight of the Lakers' previous 16 games for “rest” reasons.

The former league most valuable player, who stands fourth on the NBA's all-time scoring list, played in only six games last season due to knee and Achilles tendon injuries as Los Angeles posted a 27-55 record.

Bryant, who joined the Lakers as a first-round pick out of high school as an 18-year-old in 1996, is signed through next season after inking a two-year extension in 2013 for $48.5 million.

Watch some of Kobe Bryant's best career plays:

Kobe Bryant has torn rotator cuff, likely out for season

Five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant has a torn rotator cuff, according to preliminary results of an MRI exam, the Los Angeles Lakers said on Thursday.

Bryant, who hurt his right shoulder on a dunk in the second half of Wednesday's game against the New Orleans Pelicans, will return to Los Angeles later on Thursday and be examined by team doctors on Friday, the team said in a statement.

The high-scoring guard will miss Thursday's game against the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs and the rest of his season could be in jeopardy depending on the severity of the tear.

Bryant, a former league most valuable player, twice an NBA scoring leader and a two-time MVP of the NBA Finals, had sat out eight of the previous 16 games for “rest” reasons and had complained about an achy shoulder.

Asked Thursday before results of the MRI were known if an injury might encourage the team to shut Bryant down for the rest of the season, coach Byron Scott said a lot depended on how Bryant felt.

“He knows his body pretty well,” Scott told the Orange County Register. “He's probably one of the toughest guys in this league as far as playing through injury and through pain.”

The 36-year-old, a 16-time All-Star, is averaging 22.3 points from 35 games this season and is signed through next season after inking a two-year extension in 2013 for $48.5 million.

Bryant, who is fourth on the NBA's all-time scoring list, played in only six games last season due to knee and Achilles tendon injuries as the Lakers struggled to a 27-55 record.

This season, after losing Pau Gasol to free agency and another season to injury for veteran point guard Steve Nash, the Lakers are 12-31, second from last in the Western Conference.

Lakers welcome back Jordan Farmar

The Lakers brought back a familiar face in (Jewish) veteran guard Jordan Farmar on Wednesday. Farmar had a bench role with the Lakers from 2006-2010 where he averaged 6.7 points and 2.1 assists per game. From the Lakers' press release:

EL SEGUNDO – The Los Angeles Lakers have signed free agent guard Jordan Farmar, it was announced today by General Manager Mitch Kupchak. Per team policy, terms of the agreement were not released.

“Jordan was a fan favorite and a key contributor to our championship teams in 2009 and 2010,” said Kupchak. “We're pleased to have him back with the Lakers and look forward to him once again making a positive impact on our team.”

Farmar, originally selected by the Lakers with the 26th overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft, spent his first four NBA seasons with Los Angeles and helped the team to three consecutive NBA Finals appearances (2008-10) and back-to-back NBA Championships in 2009 and 2010. A participant in the Rookie-Sophomore Challenge at NBA All-Star Weekend in both 2007 and 2008, Farmar averaged 6.9 points and 2.1 assists in 18.1 minutes over a span of 301 career games during his first stint with the Lakers.

Signed by New Jersey (now Brooklyn) in July of 2010, Farmar spent two seasons with the Nets, averaging 9.6 points and a career-high 5.0 assists in 2010-11 and a career-best 10.4 points during a 2011-12 season in which he ranked eighth league-wide in three-point field goal percentage (.440).

After briefly playing abroad with Israeli champions Maccabi Tel Aviv during the NBA lockout in 2011 before rejoining the Nets, Farmar signed with Anadolu Efes Istanbul in Turkey for the entire 2012-13 season. In 29 Euroleague games with Anadolu Efes, he averaged 13.8 points on .397 shooting from behind the arc, 3.6 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 29.4 minutes. In 22 Turkish league games, Farmar posted similar averages of 13.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 26.1 minutes.

A Los Angeles native, Farmar, named to the 2003-04 McDonald's High School All-American team after leading Taft High School to its first ever Los Angeles City title, played two seasons at UCLA where he was named Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, helped lead the Bruins to the 2006 NCAA championship game as a sophomore and concluded his two-year collegiate career averaging 13.5 points and 5.2 assists in 66 games.

The Lakers, who were swept in the first round of the playoffs this past season, intend to have him play behind current guards Steve Nash and Steve Blake. Given the 91 combined missed games of the current contingent — he should see plenty of playing time.

Los Angeles lost free agent center Dwight Howard to the Houston Rockets this offseason which has thrust them deep into a “rebuilding” year. The team has focused on thrift shopping — signing players to one-year, low salary contracts in an attempt to keep their books clear for next year's talent-laden free agent class.

[Related: Jordan Farmar and the Jewish (hoops) future]

Lakers star Kobe Bryant chimed in on the Farmar signing on his increasingly famous Twitter account: 

With a one-year contract, Farmar will earn $1,106,941 with the Lakers next season. The signing required a $500k contract buyout from his Euroleague team Anadolu Efes Istanbul.

Obama, Romney and the Lakers

One of the reasons I love sports is that I can indulge my primal instinct for combat without feeling any guilt. I’m a huge Lakers fan, and I can easily spend hours poring through analyses of how the team will clobber the competition this year with the addition of two fearless warriors.

This thrill of competition will last all season — it is intense, strategic, unpredictable and utterly mindless.

Which is why I feel no guilt: Mindless means there are no stakes to speak of.

The Lakers can lose a big game, and it’ll make no difference to the conflict in the Middle East or to whether my kids get into a good school. Sure, if we win this year, I’ll celebrate like a wild man with my son, but little else will change.

Now, here’s the problem: What happens when this mindless thrill of competition starts to color how we view presidential campaigns, when the stakes are deadly serious?

This is precisely what I saw last week in the media’s reaction to the Obama-Romney debate. Instead of enlightened analyses about the candidates’ different visions for the country, we got “combat reports” that looked like they came right out of the sports pages:

Obama let him off the hook! He didn’t bring his A game! Romney was on fire! Romney won because he fought dirty! Obama didn’t fight back! He better wake up and take the gloves off next time! 

It could have been an NBA championship series with the underdog stealing the first game. Once the debate was over, everybody took their fighting positions: Romney fans started gloating and smelling blood; Obama fans started moaning and calling for blood.

Squeezed between these rabid fans are the tiny sliver of “undecided” voters who represent about 5 percent of the total and who will presumably determine the future of America.

How sad, if you ask me.

How sad that 95 percent of American voters had already made up their minds about which candidate to support without ever seeing the candidates face one another in real time.

How sad that most media and political pundits reacted to the debate the way rabid sports fans do on talk radio — with an obsession for winning and losing.

Take a look at Chris Mathews of MSNBC in the hours after the debate and tell me if he was any less apoplectic than any diehard Lakers fan would be after a big loss.

The “losing” side whined incessantly that Romney won because he misrepresented himself as a moderate — never mind the inconvenient fact that as governor of Massachusetts, he really was a moderate. No, as they saw it, he won because he lied and had swagger. Obama lost because he looked weak and didn’t fight back.  Case closed. Indicated action: Fight harder.

No wonder the battle cries went out for more “fact checking,” just like when coaches ask the referees to review a play. The man cheated! Don’t let him get away with it! He’s not really a moderate! He’s only promising the world so he can win more votes! How shocking!

As if candidate Obama never “promised the world” four years ago when he won. 

As Yuval Levin put it: “A Republican candidate stands before 60 million voters and commits to an agenda and his opponent responds that this isn’t really his agenda, and that voters should instead look to Democratic attack ads and liberal think-tank papers to learn what the Republican is proposing. That’s the strategy?” 

The point is, beyond all the attack ads and campaign strategies and partisan accusations, there’s a more important drama going on that we don’t hear enough about.

It’s the drama of two competing visions for the country.

Both candidates care about America’s future, but they have serious philosophical differences about how to address the nation’s chronic problems. 

Those philosophical differences are real — they’re not lies.

Of course, even visions can be described in partisan terms. To cite one example, Washington Post right-wing blogger Jennifer Rubin writes, “The Republicans call it a dependency society vs. an opportunity society. But it is really a face-off between modern conservatism and unrepentant liberalism.”

Romney himself describes the two visions as “Trickle down government vs. prosperity through freedom.”

President Obama has contrasted “the top-down economic policies that helped to get us into this mess” with “a new economic patriotism” that champions the middle class and ensures that everyone gets a “fair shot” at the American dream.

Partisan slogans aside, there are genuine and honest differences between the two visions on virtually every issue. It’s tempting to assume we understand them all — but do we?

As crazy as it may sound to some, there are compelling arguments to make for both sides.

In this national sport, when the stakes are so high, the definition of victory is when we all try to find out what those arguments are.

Kobe practices at the JCC

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant reportedly held a private training session at a Jewish Community Center in Irvine, Ca.

Bryant, according to the TMZ website, brought a trainer to the J to work on shooting drills and cardio training as spectators looked on.

Last month, the Miami Heat’s LeBron James played a pickup game at the JCC in Cleveland, his hometown.

Meanwhile, the New York Knick’s Amar’re Stoudemire, who visited Israel last year to discover more about his Jewish heritage on his mother’s side, is interested in opening a Hebrew school, according to the New York Daily News.

An unnamed source told the newspaper that Stoudemire has discussed opening a school that would focus on teaching the Hebrew language and Jewish history, though no school is actually in the works.

Nets’ Jordan Farmar to play with Maccabi Tel Aviv

Jordan Farmar of the New Jersey Nets has signed to play for Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Farmar, a 6-foot-2 guard who is Jewish, will play for the Israeli champions as long as the NBA lockout continues, according to reports. He will be eligible to play as an Israeli, not counting against the limit of four foreign players per team in the Israeli league.

The Los Angeles native averaged 7.4 points and 2.7 assists last season, mostly coming off the bench for the Nets. Farmar had played four seasons for the L.A. Lakers before coming to New Jersey.

‘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

Jordan Farmar shoots for Middle East coexistence

Jordan Farmar was in his familiar place in the backcourt on Aug. 5, scoring an easy shot.

Only this time his teammates were not named Kobe and Pau but Daniel and Ibrahim, and instead of shooting to win, he was shooting for coexistence in the Middle East.

Farmar came to Israel for a week to volunteer teaching basketball skills to Jewish and Arab children and to visit his Israeli-born stepfather’s family. The Peres Peace Center, Jewish National Fund and Peace Players International, an organization that aims to use basketball to unite and educate children in conflict areas, organized the trip.

Even though he was not at the Staples Center, the NBA’s only Jewish player during the 2007-08 season looked like he was on his home court in Jerusalem, where he led 25 Jewish and Arab children, ages 10 to 14, in shooting, passing and ball-handling drills. The kids were enamored with the Lakers backup point guard and thrilled that he took time off to spend with them.

“I play for the Los Angeles Lakers together with Kobe Bryant,” Farmar said when he introduced himself to the young athletes. “I thought it would be good to come here and reach out to you guys, so let’s do some drills and have some fun.”

A voice in the crowd immediately questioned him: “Why aren’t you at the Olympics in China?” He answered politely: “Because I wanted to be here in Jerusalem with you guys.”

The basketball camp at Jerusalem’s Hand in Hand Jewish-Arab school was one of several Farmar conducted across the country. In between basketball clinics, Farmar was a tourist, visiting the Western Wall, Dead Sea, Masada and wounded children at a hospital.

Throughout the Jerusalem clinic, Farmar gave the children basketball tips like “keep the ball real low and your head up.”

When it was over, he tried to teach them lessons for life.

“The most important thing is that you’re all together,” Farmar told the kids in English before his words were translated into Arabic and Hebrew. “It doesn’t matter who you are and where you’re from. We can all work together and have fun. Just like you have to practice basketball, you have to practice working together and communicating, and if you do, that will make things better around here.”

Asked whether basketball could bring Israeli and Palestinian children closer to peace, Farmar told The Jewish Journal: “I don’t know if basketball alone can do it, but you have to start somewhere. Sports are a good way to bring people of all different backgrounds together to have a good time. It breaks down barriers.”

Farmar, whose mother is Jewish and father African American, said that he was in a unique position to reach out to Israeli and Arab children because of his own diverse background. He said it enables him to transcend cultural barriers, both in Los Angeles and Jerusalem.

“I have roots here like I do in other places, so coming here was important to me,” Farmar said. “I’ve been fortunate to become a professional basketball player. I wanted to come here and tell kids from all different backgrounds that they can come play together, have a good time and not think about the conflict.”

Farmar, 21, was accompanied on the trip by his personal trainer and by his stepfather, Yehuda Kolani, who married his mother, Melinda, when Farmar was 3 and raised him with an appreciation for his Judaism and a love for Israel. Kolani took Farmar to Israel when he was 7 and 11 to visit his family in Tel Aviv and learn about his background.

Kolani said his stepson was proud to be Jewish, African American and all the other parts of his identity. He said Farmar visited his agent Arn Tellem’s Seeds of Peace camp in Maine for three years and that working with Jewish and Arab children in Israel was the next step.

“I’m honored that Jordan is having this experience using his profession to get kids together and show them a different perspective,” Kolani said. “This is a big step toward living together for these kids. His message is that they don’t have to be enemies or best friends. They just have to communicate with each other and live in peace.”

Basketball is a good way of sending that message in Israel, which has, surprisingly, become an international basketball powerhouse. Israeli teams have reached the Euroleague Final Four in eight out of the last nine seasons, and Israel is the only country other than the United States that is featured in an exhibit at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

Peace Players International came to Israel and the West Bank in 2005 after successful initiatives in South Africa and Northern Ireland. The organization has started programs since then in Cyprus and New Orleans. Altogether it has served 45,000 children in conflict areas around the world.

At Peace Players’ initiative, the Jerusalem municipality started a “Peace League” last year, with three teams integrated from nearby Jewish and Arab communities, three Jewish and two Arab teams from Jerusalem and an Arab team from Bethlehem.

Karen Doubilet, Peace Players’ Middle East managing director, said she has seen a significant change in the children who have come through the program. She said the kids are able to overcome a language barrier and psychological and cultural barriers to play together and even become friends.

“Like in basketball, it takes time to get warmed up, but then we see the kids playing together,” Doubilet said. “Sports give people from all sectors of the population a common passion. When they are together on a team, it doesn’t matter whether their teammates are Jewish or Arab. They pass to them, because they want to win.”

Twelve-year-old Daniel Livkin, of Jerusalem’s low-income Jewish Patt neighborhood, and 14-year-old Ibrahim Deeb, of the nearby Arab neighborhood Beit Safafa, said they were glad that the program brought them together and allowed them to meet an NBA player like Farmar.

“If we want peace, we have to play together,” Livkin said.

“We love to play basketball, and we love to do it together,” Deeb added.

When the basketball clinic was over, Farmar signed autographs, but some children apparently had not understood who he was.

“It was great meeting Michael Jordan,” one kid said upon leaving the gym.

Laker Jordan Farmar starts peace ball clinic in Israel; India, and Korea and Israel @ 60

NBA Player Runs Clinic for Jews, Arabs

The NBA’s only Jewish player conducted a clinic in southern Israel for Jewish and Palestinian children.

Jordan Farmar, a guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, was in Israel Tuesday in cooperation with the Peres Center for Peace. Farmar, 21, was scheduled to lead a workshop Thursday for Jewish and Palestinian girls as part of his eight-day visit.

Israeli women’s basketball star Limor Mizrahi, who is related to Farmar, also participated in the workshop.

Farmar, a former standout at UCLA, is in his second season playing in the National Basketball Association.

The Peres Center’s Twinned Peace Sports Schools are open to Jewish and Palestinian children aged 6 to 13 from 35 separate schools. They host joint Israeli-Palestinian sports contests every month.

Triple Celebration of Anniversaries

The Irvine Civic Center was awash in brightly colored saris, ornate Korean hanboks and blue Stars of David in a birthday bash simultaneously honoring the 60th anniversaries of Israeli, Indian and South Korean independence.

More than 1,000 celebrants participated in the Aug. 3 event, which was hosted by the nonprofit Irvine Multicultural Association (IMA).

Israeli folksingers, an Indian children’s dance troupe and a symphony orchestra were among the performers on two stages at Irvine’s City Hall. Merchants sold ethnic wares, while local synagogues, churches and Indian philosophical groups shared information on their activities. Across the plaza, the pungent smell of Korean barbecued beef blended with whiffs of curry and fresh falafel in a bazaar of culinary delights.

“This is a good example of how different cultures can come together in one place,” said Irvine resident and Israeli native Yuri Boiarsky, who came with his wife and three children.

Displays on the history, culture and traditions of the three feted countries filled the atrium of the municipal building. The city of Irvine supported the event.

“It’s wonderful to see the IMA bring together so many people to create this unique celebration,” Irvine Mayor Beth Krom said. “Irvine is a city of great diversity. I think this event really showcases that spirit.”

Krom and Irvine City Council members joined Israeli, South Korean and Indian diplomats in welcoming guests. Several dignitaries stayed for the program and mingled with the participants.

The purpose of the event was to build bridges between the city’s diverse cultural groups, according to Senthamil Selvan, IMA vice president and associate scientific director of Hoag Memorial Hospital’s cancer center.

“The more we understand each other, the more we eliminate barriers and create shared values,” Selvan said.

The program heightened public interest in three cultures and laid the groundwork for future multicultural programming, said Howard Charlop, event coordinator.

“Going forward, I am confident that this important step and shared program will have a long-term impact on activities and understanding, because the message is that programs like this are essential, said Charlop, Orange County director of StandWithUs, which underwrote the event.

— Lisa Armony, Contributing Writer

Two Consulate Officials Returning to Israel

Two mainstays of the Israel Consulate are returning to Jerusalem after completing their three-year assignments, and their successors are on the way.

Deputy Consul General Yaron Gamburg has attended a round of farewell tributes, while Gilad Millo, consul for media and public affairs, sent out a warm goodbye letter.

Both young diplomats will work at the Foreign Ministry, Gamburg as head of the training program for Israeli officials going abroad and Millo on the staff coordinating work among different departments.

The deputy consul general’s slot will be filled by Gil Arzyeli, currently in the ministry’s Central European department, who was stationed previously in Spain, Mexico and Colombia.

Taking over the media and public affairs desk will be Shahar Azani, coming off three years as deputy head of the Israeli mission to Kenya.

The Los Angeles City Council announced that it would honor Gamburg on Friday, Aug. 8, at the initiative of Councilman Dennis Zine, who is of Lebanese descent.

A week earlier, more than 100 friends gathered at Marvin’s Club, and Gamburg left with an armful of plaques and scrolls, which spoke to his numerous activities and relationships during the past three years.

Gamburg kept a low profile during his tenure here, but he worked closely with state and federal homeland security and anti-terrorism officials, three of whom flew down from Sacramento to recognize Gamburg’s contributions.

He also established close ties with faith leaders, especially evangelicals and Mormons; the Latino and American Asian communities, and local and state officials.

Yaron and Delphine Gamburg are returning to Israel with an expanded family, thanks to the birth in Los Angeles of son, Noam, now 1 and a half years old.

Millo worked closely with the media in Southern California, five Southwestern states and Hawaii. He also established warm relations with the Hollywood entertainment industry on behalf of Israel.

In his farewell letter, Millo emphasized that “I found here a passion and love for the Jewish homeland, a Zionism the likes of which I had never encountered before.”

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

ADL Accepting Applications for Youth Education Program to Combat Bias

The Anti-Defamation League is accepting applications from high school students in Los Angeles County for Dream Dialogue, an anti-bias youth education program. Participants with diverse social and ethnic backgrounds will meet six times throughout the year to develop strong connections, leadership skills and embark on a group a project.

The program, which has been a success for the past nine years, has developed social action programs to increase awareness and end discrimination, such as “Stop the Hate,” a video for high school students, and “Stop the Cycle,” a T-shirt campaign that included messages condemning bias.

Applications are due by Aug. 29 for the 2008-09 school year. The first meeting will be Sept. 21. For more information, call Marisa Romo at (310) 446-8000.

— Jina Davidovich, Contributing Writer

Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Tisha B’Av guide:

Boys to men

It was by far my hardest speaking gig ever.

Rabbi Stewart Vogel at Temple Aliyah invited me many months ago, to speak to the synagogue men’s group at 7 p.m. on June 12. Of course I said yes — it was one of those gracious invitations with so much advance notice that the day seemed as far off as Saturn and as wide open.

What we couldn’t have guessed was the Los Angeles Lakers would be playing Game 3 of the NBA Championship that night.

The rabbi hosted the event in his backyard. I walked through the gate at 7. The guys were eating barbeque, drinking beers and Cokes, watching a big-screen TV set up on the patio. Fifty pairs of eyes shifted to me like I was the mom, they were 10 and it was time to go to bed.

Rabbi Vogel leaped up and flicked the TV off. He introduced me, and the guys were more than welcoming. I decided to speak about the election. I figured what could possibly compete in excitement with the Lakers vs. Celtics? Obama vs. McCain. By the end, we got into it pretty good. Phil Jackson had his strategy; I had mine.

What I decided not to tell the men’s group was my dark, dirty little secret: I couldn’t care less about the game.

Yep: Lakers, shmaykers. Pro sports bore me.

How’s that for coming out of the closet? I would rather watch a rerun of the “Mad Men” episode when Peggy finds out she’s pregnant than the last pass in the closest Super Bowl ever.

I love tennis, but as many men have reminded me over the years, that doesn’t count. In tennis, nobody checks anybody, no one loses his teeth and girls can beat you.

In general, I’m just not supermacho. And I’ve been wondering lately if that accounts for my deep involvement in Jewish life.

It turns out, see, that I am endangered: I am a non-Orthodox Jewish man engaged in Jewish life.

According to a new Brandeis University study, men are becoming less and less active in every aspect of Jewish life, from the home to the synagogue to communal organizations.

“American Jewish boys and men have fewer connections to Jews and Judaism than girls and women in almost every venue at almost every age,” begins the report, titled, “Matrilineal Ascent, Patrilineal Descent: The Gender Imbalance in American Jewish Life.”

Anecdotally, we all know boys and men in Jewish schools, camps, shuls and organizations. But the study, headed by Sylvia Barack Fishman and Daniel Parmer, used hundreds of interviews Fishman conducted for the American Jewish Committee and for two of her previous books, as well as data from the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Study. What they found is that non-Orthodox Judaism has undergone a long process of feminization.

As Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist seminaries turn out more female rabbis and cantors, fewer boys than girls join non-Orthodox youth groups, attend religious schools or summer camps, and fewer men serve on synagogue or federation committees.

“Over the ages, men felt very involved in Judaism,” Fishman told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “It was their responsibility. This is gone today, except in the Orthodox world. We need to look at how we are raising our Jewish sons.”

Fishman believes the “Boy Crisis” is serious because as Jewish boys and men turn off to Judaism, they tend to marry non-Jewish spouses, and their children are less likely to be raised Jewish.

That women have entered Jewish life en masse is not just good, it’s great. But one theory is that in breaking down the gender barriers of Orthodoxy, the liberal movements have neglected something men need: Time with men.

Outside the liberal Jewish movements, Jewish men have the minyan, where 10 can gather for a shot of prayer and a glass of schnapps. “For all except the old and the rigid, the minyan is gone — an opportunity lost,” Rabbi Steven Leder wrote several years ago in — natch — Playboy. “But in the process men lost the opportunity to create something they need and have always lacked, times and places to talk and to be with each other.”

The advent of men’s groups is a direct response to this phenomenon. Leder pioneered one at Wilshire Boulevard Temple almost a decade ago; I’ve spoken to groups from Encino to Palos Verdes. They don’t just talk politics and watch (yawn) ball games; they also bring in relationship experts, talk over feelings, fatherhood — the big stuff. The idea, as Leder wrote, is “to create something the minyan could have provided if men were better at talking to each other.”

I like the men’s group concept, but I’m not certain it alone will reverse the trend. I have a different theory for the Boy Crisis: The problem isn’t that Jewish life treats men like women, it’s that it treats them like children.

At 13, we’re told we are men. From then on, as boys really do grow into men in the secular world, they get treated more and more like children in synagogue. Rabbis guide them through the service; they’re told the rules and expected to go along, and every life cycle from marriage to their kids’ bar or bat mitzvah is as deep a transaction as an allowance.

I once asked a world-famous doctor why he walked away from Judaism. “Because I couldn’t stand being infantilized,” he said. “I was 40; I was at the top of my field, and they talked to me like I’m an idiot.”

The weakness of Orthodoxy is that it doesn’t (yet) fully include women. Its strength is it pushes men to step up to the plate and become active in meaningful, mature ways in their spiritual life: not just as members of a minyan but as teachers of their own children, as Torah readers, as prayer leaders, as the Jewish leader in their own home.

That’s a long-term strategy for male Jewish involvement.

Though beers and barbeque aren’t a bad start.

VIDEO: Paula Abdul talks about being Jewish

Everyone’s favorite Laker girl, American Idol‘s Paul Abdul, talks about being Jewish

Farmar Trades Bruin Blue for Laker Purple

What could be better? Los Angeles’s own Jewish Jordan — Jordan Farmar — is here to stay.

The Los Angeles Lakers has drafted Farmar, who made headlines as a sophomore point guard at UCLA, in the first round and as the No. 26 overall pick. Thus, though the Bruin bear must wave his paw goodbye to Farmar, L.A. fans can rejoice in the up-and-comer’s continued presence here.

The 19-year-old Farmar is a native Angeleno; he grew up in Van Nuys and graduated from Taft High School, where, as a senior, he averaged 27 points per game and became a Valley superstar by leading the school to its first Los Angeles City title. As a freshman at UCLA, he averaged 13.2 points and 5.3 assists and earned the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honor. In his sophomore year Farmar averaged 13.5 points and 5.1 assists, led the Bruins to their NCAA championship game against the Florida Gators and was named a first-team All Pac-10 performer.

A self-described non-religious Jew, Farmar told The Journal’s Carin Davis in a prior interview that he is proud of his Jewish heritage. His mother and stepfather, Melinda and Yehuda Kolani, raised him in a Jewish home, and his upbringing was complemented by both a bar mitzvah at Temple Judea in Tarzana and trips to Israel. Farmar’s biological father, Damon Farmar, a former minor league baseball player, is not Jewish.

Farmar stands a natural leader at 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds and has been extensively covered in the Daily Bruin since before his entrance into “>Farmar told The Journal in March. “To always have some people behind you is a great thing. It helps you out defensively, with intensity, and gives you that extra edge.”

… And We Wouldn’t Mind $100 Million

Lakers’ basketball star Kobe Bryant “wouldn’t mind being Jewish.”

Bryant, who is Catholic, reportedly told a handful of reporters in Boston last month that, “I wouldn’t mind. Really.”

Well, why not? It’s fine by us.

The topic arose during a good-natured exchange with reporters during the Lakers’ late March appearance for a game in Boston. Of the game, the Los Angeles Times reported that Bryant scored 43 points, including the Lakers’ last 14, on 18-for-39 shooting in a 105-97 victory over the Celtics at TD Banknorth Garden. All this after a fan had foolishly taunted Bryant when seeing him at a local movie theater.

But the Times completely missed the Jewish angle, which was first reported in the Jerusalem Post.

A television reporter had asked on camera about the dearth of professional Jewish athletes.

“Not too many Jews in professional sports? Hmmm,” Bryant said. “That sounds kind of weird to me. Who did your research?”

Reeling from Bryant’s caustic tone, the TV reporter changed the topic to MVP talk.

A Jewish journalist from The Boston Globe, however, returned to the subject.

“We are very good at squash,” she insisted, adding “there were three hockey players at my college who were Jewish.”

“How ’bout that? All on one team,” Bryant said.

“The Red Sox have four Jews including [general manager] Theo Epstein,” another Jewish reporter added.

“What the hell? Who was doing your research?” Bryant asked the TV reporter “semifacetiously,” as the Post put it. “Put the camera back on, man. This guy is false man. This guy is lyin’.”

The inevitable recitation followed as reporters volunteered names: Dolph Schayes (Bryant threw in Dolph’s son Danny) and Jon Scheyer, a top Duke University recruit for next year….

“You’re getting shot down all over the place right now, buddy,” Bryant said. “It ain’t lookin’ too good for you at all.”

Sandy Koufax. Hank Greenberg.

“Oh it ain’t lookin’ too good for you at all,” he continued.

According to (Is there a or a There are no Jews currently in the NBA, but 24 in the National Football League, 18 in Major League Baseball and seven in the National Hockey League.

Bryant could claim the mantle as the highest-profile athlete to convert to Judaism. Baseball great Rod Carew married a Jewish woman and raised his children Jewish, but never actually joined the tribe.

Bryant, however, dispelled the notion of displacing Schayes as the greatest Jewish basketball player. “I don’t know if I’m converting, but if I do, you can definitely add another athlete to the pool,” he said.