American participants in this year’s Maccabiah Games include rhythmic gymnast Madeline Aibel, left.

Embodying the ‘Spirit of the Jewish Athlete’ at Maccabiah Games


Samuel Telanoff is only 14 years old, but he already knows what it means to represent his country in international swimming competitions.

On July 6, he and his teammates marched behind the American flag at the opening ceremonies of the 20th Maccabiah Games in Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem.

The Maccabiah Games, an Olympic-style event held every four years during the year after the Summer Olympics, have connected Jewish communities from around the world since 1932, with athletes competing in four divisions: junior, open, masters and paralympics. Since the first gathering, more than 62,000 athletes have competed. This year’s events continue through July 18.

“There is no way to describe just how awe-inspiring it was to walk out with Team USA in front of thousands of cheering people,” said Telanoff, a sophomore at Santa Monica High School. “It was overwhelming, and I was grinning the whole time.”

Telanoff is one of 1,100 American athletes competing at the games, also known as the Jewish Olympics.

Nearly 10,000 athletes from 80 countries are participating in 47 events in such sports as basketball, fencing, archery and wheelchair tennis. 

Among the American athletes is Emily Surloff, a Los Angeles native who plays basketball for Columbia University. On July 9, Surloff helped her team, which competes in the open women’s basketball division, defeat Russia, 101-71. 

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and opportunity to represent my country,” the 20-year-old said. “I am extremely excited to be connected to my faith and religion and meet other athletes like myself. We came here to win gold and that is our ultimate goal.”

Israel defeated the American team the next day, 68-62. The final game of the preliminary round was scheduled for July 12 against Australia.

Justin Greenberg, 49, the assistant coach and co-chair of the youth men’s soccer team, said he views participating in the games as a way to support Israel.   

“Many of our players had not been to Israel, and to witness their absorption and understanding of this country’s need for survival is compelling,” said Greenberg, who attends Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

Greenberg grew up in Jerusalem and lived there during the Yom Kippur War. In 1972, his father was on a plane from Vienna to Tel Aviv when it was hijacked by a Palestinian terrorist group.

“Sharing some of my own story with them has been a treat,” said Greenberg, who moved to the United States in 1977. “Witnessing our young group of 20 men come together as a unit has been an absolute highlight. As a young boy knowing little English, soccer was my main form of communication. I run a soccer business now, and appreciate the connection between sport and spirit of the Jewish athlete.”

Chess player Iris Kokish spent nine months preparing for the games, which she said she finds meaningful in many ways.

“Chess is an important part of my identity, but so is my being Jewish,” the 27-year-old Angeleno said. “So when I learned that Maccabiah USA was seeking chess players, I knew I wanted to be a part.”

Kokish said the games gave her a chance to visit Israel for the first time and helped her “better understand my Jewish identity, my people and my role within my Jewish community.”   

On July 9, Telanoff won the bronze medal in the 200-meter breaststroke.

“I hoped for a medal, but did not expect one,” Telanoff said. “I swam faster than I ever swam before. I was so thrilled to have moved up to third place and win a medal.”

Telanoff said he enjoyed the games because they gave him an opportunity to compete against the best athletes in his category.

“I am a very competitive swimmer, and this represents an opportunity to compete at a high international level,” he said. “There is also something special about being able to learn more about my Jewish identity while pursuing my passion for competitive swimming.” 

For another Angeleno, Noah Rothstein, 34, who plays futsal, a variation of football, competing in the games means honoring his father’s memory. 

“Beyond how much I love these trips and being able to compete as a representative of the United States, the one thing my dad loved more than anything was watching me play,” he said. “I feel very much that going to the Maccabiah Games honors his memory.”

The experience enabled Rothstein to compete in the sport he admires and explore “the amazing country of Israel, and make friends and memories for the rest of my life.”

Many participants agree that, while winning medals is important, building friendship with fellow athletes is invaluable.

“The first goal has been achieved, with our group coming together as one,” said Greenberg, the soccer coach. “My hope is that the relationships created within our group and beyond, while here at the games, last a lifetime.” 

Episode 32 – Forever pure: Between sports and racism in Jerusalem’s soccer team with Maya Zinshtein


The year is 2012 and Beitar Jerusalem, the favored soccer team of Israel’s right wing, is on its way to its first national title in years. Quickly climbing the rankings from week to week, the team can almost taste the sweet flavor of victory and national pride. However, Beitar’s owner, Arkady Gaydamak, has other plans for the team – plans that will shock the players, the fans, the entire Israeli soccer community and the nation as a whole.

Stretched to its limits along racial lines, the story of Beitar Jerusalem is a sort of microcosm of Israeli society. The team prides itself on its racially pure past and present roster and its right-wing Zionist political alignment.

Maya Zinshtein, director of the film “Forever Pure” which follows the team through its most dramatic crisis, joins 2NJB to talk Israeli soccer, politics and filmmaking.

Plus great music by Quarter to Africa!

Direct Download

US TV premiere – May 15 on PBS

Forever Pure – Official Film Website

Screenings in Israel

Sam Fuld of the Israeli World Baseball Classic team reacting after striking out in a game against the Netherlands at the Tokyo Dome, March 13. Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images.

Team Israel suffers first loss in World Baseball Classic


Israel’s surprising squad in the World Baseball Classic lost its first game in the tournament, dropping a rematch with the Netherlands, 12-2.

Israel is now 1-1 in the second round of the 16-team quadrennial tournament and 4-1 overall. Israel likely must defeat powerhouse Japan on Wednesday to advance to the semifinals.

Didi Gregorius, the New York Yankees’ shortstop, homered and drove in five runs to power the Netherlands. The game was called after eight innings due to the mercy rule stopping a contest with a team trailing by 10 runs after seven innings or 15 runs when at least five innings have been played.

Israel was the lowest-ranked team to qualify for the showcase tournament, coming in at 41st in the world. But last week in the first round, the Israelis squeaked past third-ranked South Korea, 2-1, in extra innings, outscored fourth-ranked Taiwan, 15-7, and defeated ninth-ranked the Netherlands, 4-2, to finish first in Pool A with a 3-0 record.

This is the first year that Israel has qualified for the tournament. In 2012, its inaugural WBC squad narrowly missed advancing past the qualifiers.

Most of the players are American Jews, among them several former major leaguers. WBC rules state that players who are eligible for citizenship of a country may play on its team. Jews and their grandchildren, and the grandchildren’s spouses, have the right to become Israeli citizens.

Swimming for Israel in Rio: More than just fun and games


Olympic swimmer and Los Angeles native Andrea “Andi” Murez swims to win, but winning is not the only thing she cares about. 

During qualifying races for the Summer Games in Israel — where she made aliyah in 2014 and became a citizen — her times were good enough for her to represent the country in four events. But she nearly relinquished one of those to a fellow athlete, according to her father, Jim Murez.

“At one point, it was a question of whether or not one of the other girls can be on the swim team … [Andi] was ready to give up her position on the team in that particular event so that the other girl could be able to go, even though Andrea had a much faster time,” he said.

In the end, the other swimmer qualified for a different event, so there was no need to step aside. That means Murez, 24, will begin her Olympic schedule in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 6 with the 4-by-100-meter freestyle relay, followed by the 200-meter freestyle, 100-meter freestyle and the 50-meter freestyle. 

The swimmer said she has managed so far not to be overwhelmed by the arduous preparation required for the world stage on which she will be competing. 

“My motivation comes from the fun of racing, my previous success, and from the inspiring people around me,” Murez told the Journal via email while training in Sao Paulo a week before the Olympics’ opening ceremony. “It’s hard swimming so many hours, so you have to keep it fun. Being able to laugh at the rough practices and struggles with teammates is really important for me.”

Swimming runs in Murez’s family. Her father, the manager of the Venice Farmers Market, swam competitively until the end of his first year in college. And her grandfather Joe Murez, who taught her how to swim, competed for Hakoah Vienna sports club in Vienna before World War II. 

As for Murez’s only sibling, older brother Zachary, 27, he swam throughout high school and college — and pushed his sister to the limit, too.

“She was always competing with Zak,” Jim Murez said. “She was always trying to keep up with him, and being 2 1/2 years younger at that age is a huge difference, so she was always one step behind him.”

Swimming did not always come naturally for Murez. Initially, she was afraid of swimming pools and until the age of 4 she would not let anyone play with her in the water. Eventually, she felt more comfortable to the point where swimming instructors suggested she swim for a junior team, her parents told the Journal. 

“When she was 12, it went from ‘Do we have to go swimming today?’ to ‘Come on, Mom, I don’t want to be late,’ ” her mother, Melanie, said.

Murez attended Venice High School, swam during her four years at Stanford University and made it to the U.S. Olympic trials in 2008 and 2012. In 2009 and 2013, she competed at the Maccabiah Games, Israel’s version of the Olympics and one of the largest sporting events in the world.

“I had an amazing time … and felt connected to Israel enough to decide to join the [national] team in the fall of 2014,” she said. “When I was done competing for Stanford, professional swimming seemed like the best next step because I still loved competing.”

Murez, who studied human biology in college and intends to eventually pursue a career in biology, moved to the Israeli coastal city of Netanya and stayed at the Wingate Institute, a sports training facility, with the rest of the Israeli swimmers. That helped her quickly develop relationships with her teammates and coaches, she said.

“It seemed like the best opportunity for me to swim post-college,” she said. “Before moving, I had only briefly met a few people, but once I moved, everyone was very nice and helped me get settled.”

Olympic swimmer Andrea Murez

As an Olympic hopeful, her training regimen has been intense. On Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, she swims for four hours each day and goes to the gym for an hour. Wednesdays consist of Pilates and almost 2 1/2 hours of swimming. On Fridays, she just swims for two hours in the morning. 

When the rest of the swimmers returned to their families for Shabbat, Murez always was invited to one of their houses. (The team supplied her with a private Hebrew tutor to expedite her grasp of the language, which she could not speak previously.) 

In December, Israel hosted the European Short Course Swimming Championships, and Murez represented the country in competition for the first time. She made it to the finals in the 100-meter and 200-meter freestyle races and became the Israeli national record holder in both. This past May, she competed in the European Aquatics Championships in London, placing fifth in the 100-meter freestyle. 

As much as Murez enjoys swimming, the fact that the sport has exposed her to new and different people has been an added perk.

“One of the best parts of swimming is traveling for training camps and competitions and meeting new people,” she said. “During my time with the Israeli national team, I’ve been to so many countries and seen so many cultures. It’s been very eye-opening and has made me realize how much I love traveling and want to continue to explore the world.”

With the Olympics rapidly approaching, Murez said she is only mildly concerned about the Zika virus and has taken precautions by wearing long clothing and using spray repellants. She looks forward to staying at the Olympic Village, meeting new people and catching up with old teammates who are also participating.

Aside from her own races, Murez said, she also is excited about attending other Olympic events and watching her teammates. 

“I hope to watch a lot of other events, but I know space fills up in the athlete stands,” she said. “I want to watch my Israeli teammates compete and also see beach volleyball and gymnastics.”

In advance of the Games, she said she was feeling calm — for now.

“[I’m] mostly excited,” she said. “It’s really fun being in the village. I think the nerves will come right before the race.”

And overall, Murez said, she is particularly proud to embrace an Israeli swim cap as she prepares to race for gold. 

“It’s such an honor to be representing Israel at the Olympics,” she said. “It’s a small country but a very special place and I feel so much support.” 

For ex-baseball players, Israel a place to learn and teach


Out of baseball after four years playing in the minor leagues, Brent Powers, a Christian from Texas, took a tour of Israel last year with his wife. He was smitten with the country and considered how to return.

The Masa Israel Journey will provide his path.

Powers and about a dozen American college players will be part of the group’s five-month, baseball-themed program launching in January. Israel’s baseball czar figures their expertise will do wonders for a sport that is growing in popularity, but remains a niche sport in a country where soccer and basketball reign.

Masa provides an internship-like framework that encourages young Jewish professionals from the Diaspora to experience Israel from the inside. Masa now encompasses some 250 professions.

Along with Hebrew-language classes and trips, the baseball players, like Masa participants generally, will work in their professions and interact in depth with their Israeli counterparts: coaching at Israel’s new baseball academy, playing in an adult league and teaching the sport to elementary-school children.

Israel Association of Baseball director Nate Fish believes his organization’s partnership with Masa “can really revolutionize” the level of play in Israel. Now, he says, coaching in Israeli youth and adult leagues is handled by parents and other untrained volunteers.

“If you have 10-20 college players coming in, and put two to three on each team, the level of play goes up,” Fish said of the adult league. “And when we send them to the communities to coach once a week, it gives the little kids some real baseball role models. You’ll get better practices. There’s no substitute for that.”

The visitors will gain, too, because “it gives them an opportunity to start their coaching careers,” he said.

The program is spreading by word of mouth, and Fish says he plans to more actively recruit future cohorts by appealing to their sense of sports adventure and career aspirations.

That’s what reeled in Powers, who had pitched in the minors from 2011 to 2014 for the Oakland Athletics and Toronto Blue Jays. Three teammates from the Athletics’ team in Burlington, Vermont, in 2012 played for Israel in that autumn’s World Baseball Classic qualifiers and connected him to Fish, a coach on the club.

When Fish tweeted early this year about the Masa launch, Powers said, “Whoa – that’s exactly what I want to do.”

In Israel, “I really look forward to working with the kids,” said Powers, who coaches youth in a Houston program.

Joshua Scharff, an outfielder and pitcher for Yale University before graduating in 2013, has been in Israel working with the program since September and awaits the arrival of his American colleagues. He had enjoyed the pro-Israel advocacy work he did in Boston, but left for the baseball calling.

“My heart is here, so when I found something that combined the two things I love the most – baseball and Israel – I jumped at the opportunity,” Scharrf said from his apartment in Tel Aviv.

To add heft to the program, Masa recruited former major league outfielders Art Shamsky and Shawn Green, both of them Jewish, as spokesmen and might bring them to Israel to lead clinics.

Masa officials see their initiatives in lacrosse – which launched a year ago – and baseball as providing Israel with a stream of talented athletes from overseas who will inject their experience locally. Accomplished players in such sports as soccer, American football, basketball, swimming and the triathlon could soon find opportunities to ply their trade in Israel. Scholarships and grants scaled to each athlete’s experience and ability help reduce the $9,400 per person fee.

The organization also aspires to take the athletic program beyond the field of play to include those working in coaching and sports management – even sports writing.

“We always aim to have a large number of opportunities for professionals to come to Israel and enhance their careers,” said Freda Surki, Masa’s director of development and organizer relations. “We realized that sports portfolios didn’t really exist, and thought that this would be a great opportunity.”

The new baseball track comes as the Israel Association of Baseball is forming a team to compete next September in the WBC’s qualifying round in Brooklyn, New York.

“The timing couldn’t be better,” Green said. “The better the [Israeli] team does in the qualifiers, the more that momentum kicks in … to help grow baseball in a country with a contingent of fans. It’s the right way to do it.”

Much of the seed money is coming from Andy Bloch, a Northern California resident who says he plans to persuade Jewish owners of Major League Baseball clubs to become involved and contribute financially, too.

While the program might “take awhile” to become entrenched and to draw ever-more accomplished players to Israel to play and to coach, Bloch says, the effort will bear fruit as a greater mass of talented homegrown ballplayers develops.

“It’s a great opportunity for Israel and for the players,” he said.

That’s just how Powers sees it.

Like in many Jewish families, Powers had a parental influence pushing him to visit Israel – his father, also a Christian, had been to the country several times for work.

By program’s end, Powers said, “I’ll have a phone book full of friends.”

Israel’s football team playing Spain in first international game


Israel’s national football team will compete in Spain in its first official international game.

The Israelis will play the Spanish national team on Sunday in a bid to qualify for the International Federation of American Football’s B-Group International Tournament in 2016.

All the players on the Israeli club compete in the nine-team Israel Football League.

A notable newcomer on the national team is former University of Michigan quarterback Alex Swieca, who played in the IFL while attending the Young Judaea year course in 2011-12.

“These are football players. It’s a pretty tough bunch,” IFL Commissioner Betzalel Friedman said in a statement. “They’re not fearful, just proud.”

Security for the team, which is traveling to Europe as an official state delegation, will be provided by the Shin Bet security service.

With the help of New England Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft, there has been a big push in recent years to develop American football  in Israel.

The International Federation of American Football is made up of teams from more than 70 countries worldwide, including Middle Eastern lands such as Egypt, Turkey and Kuwait.

In first, Israeli team competes in America’s top bike race


As Israeli bicyclist Yoav Bear sped through the end of Stage 2 of the U.S.A. Pro Challenge race at nearly 11,000 feet of elevation in the Colorado Rockies, he thrust his water bottle into the hand of a young spectator clutching an Israeli flag.

Bear’s gesture made the day, if not the vacation, of the 13-year-old bystander, Ilai Engelhardt, a resident of the northern Israeli town of Avtalion who loves competitive biking. On Tuesday, his American uncle and aunt had brought Ilai to the race, which aims to be America’s version of the Tour de France and runs for a week every summer.

Bear said that seeing an Israeli flag along the route warmed his heart.

“The encouragement spurs you to ride faster,” he said.

In the fifth year of the U.S.A. Pro Challenge, an Israeli team is making its debut among the 16 teams competing.

The mere existence of the Israeli team, called Cycling Academy, is remarkable. The idea of forming an Israeli club to compete on the international circuit developed serendipitously in late 2013, when Ran Margaliot, a former Israeli national cycling champion, went for a ride in the Nes Harim foothills outside Jerusalem and met Ron Baron, a recreational biker and fan of the sport.

Baron, a finance industry professional who lives near Tel Aviv, agreed to put up almost all the money required (about $1 million this year, with $100,000 going to cover the Colorado costs alone), and the pair got Peter Sagan, a successful Slovak cyclist, to lend his name to the venture.

Margaliot, 27, calls the team a typical Israeli start-up — albeit in a realm where until now Israel has been virtually absent. Margaliot long had dreamt of becoming the first Israeli to qualify for the Tour de France, presumably on some other country’s team, but after falling short he turned his attention to improving opportunities for other Israelis.

The team aims to project a positive image of Israel at races and events – to show that it “is a normal country, and that this is part of the development of a young country,” Margaliot said.

The Cycling Academy’s 13 riders, all men, include five Israeli Jews and eight non-Jewish Europeans: four Poles, two Slovaks, a Czech and a Spaniard. Its diversity is by design, according to Baron, who owns the team. He wants to attract fans from the riders’ homelands, many of which, like Israel, lack a professional cycling culture.

The Israeli team has received inquiries from competitive cyclists throughout the world – including riders from Morocco, Algeria and even Iran, according to Baron. The Israeli rock star Ivri Lider, a biker, was enlisted to design the team’s green and black uniforms.

Among the highlights of the team’s first year are winning stages of the Tour d’Azerbaidjan, the Tour de Berlin and the four-country Visegrad 4 Bicycle Race.

The spectacle of the Israeli club’s rider — Daniel Turek of the Czech Republic — leading in Azerbaijan, with spectators in the Muslim-majority country lining the course, “was a proud moment,” said Tsadok Yecheskeli, an Israeli journalist who is handling the team’s media relations.

The cyclists train in Slovakia and Israel, but Colorado is being considered as an additional training site, Yecheskeli said. That’s because the altitude there offers ideal training opportunities — and because, Margaliot said, the team has received a warmer welcome this week in the state “than anywhere else in the world.”

As at other races, the Israeli team has built support this week distributing Israeli flags to bystanders at each stage of the Colorado competition. The race started Monday in Steamboat Springs and winds between several ski resorts before ending Sunday with a final leg stretching from the city of Golden to Civic Center Park in Denver.

One non-Jewish spectator, Gary Burge, waved the Israeli flag at Tuesday’s stage in the mountains outside Steamboat Springs. A veterinarian, Burge was there with his wife, Lori, and another couple because they are all cyclists who admire the world-class athletes competing.

“I don’t think it changed anything about how we look at Israel and the plight of Israel because we know it very well. But it’s one more thing to be inspired by,” Burge said. Noting the appeal of rooting for an upstart on the circuit with talented young riders at its core, he added, “You don’t have to be Jewish to be aligned with them.”

Burge said the couples were drawn to the team when their Jewish friends, Michael and Michelle Osterman, hosted a reception Sunday for the riders. The Ostermans had learned of the Israeli team’s existence just four days earlier.

Last Friday, the team’s director, Slovakia native Jan Valach, asked Michael Osterman to take the cyclists on a training ride. Osterman went the request one better, bringing them to the course of Stage 1, which they’d cycle three days later.

“It never dawned on me that Israel would have a pro bike team,” said Osterman, a retired marketing professional. “They’re planting the seeds to create something for the future — although for this event, it’s a pretty big deal that they made it this far, this fast.”

Osterman’s son, Matthew, runs a family business in Denver, the Sleeping Giant Brewery Company, which will host the Israeli squad for a mellow evening of drinking craft beer next Monday, after the race is over.

There’ll be chairs there, of course. But after sitting all week, the cyclists might very well opt to stand on their own two feet.

Global lacrosse community welcomes a formidable new member–Israel


Israel made a smashing debut at the 2014 World Lacrosse Championship in Denver this month, finishing seventh out of 38 teams, just three years after the first game was ever played in the country. 

Facing much more experienced teams, the Israelis came away with a 6-2 record, outscoring opponents by a cumulative score of 120-47. Both losses were by a single goal. (Canada upset the United States 8-5 to win the championship final.)

Lacrosse came to Israel only three years ago, following a young New Yorker’s 2010 Birthright experience. At the poignant moment of reflection, when the trip leader asked, “What are you going to do for the Israel you have just encountered?” Scott Neiss responded, “I’ll bring lacrosse to Israel.” 

Then a young executive who had worked for several professional lacrosse leagues in the United States, Neiss is now a Tel Aviv resident and Israeli citizen. He recruited coaches with world championship experience, established lacrosse training centers in Israel, combed the country for aliyah-niks who had played the sport in North America and raised more than $700,000 to help players compete at the highest levels.

A year after Neiss’ Birthright experience, I went to Jerusalem to referee the first lacrosse game played there. Larry Turkheimer, a Los Angeles businessman and one-time lacrosse All-American at the University of North Carolina, enlisted Jeff Alpert, then a UCLA student, and me as a l’dor v’dor referee duo. (I was 63, Alpert was 21.) Maybe “draft” is closer to Turkheimer’s approach than “enlist”: 

“Israel has just been admitted to the Federation of International Lacrosse, even though there’s never been a game played there. The first game is next month and they need a ref. You’re a teacher, you’ve got the summer off — use some frequent flier miles and do the game.” 

Fast-forward to this summer. Alpert and I got the same offer, only this time it was to officiate Israel’s pre-tournament games at the world championships. Whereas the 2011 game in Jerusalem had been ragged at its best moments, the 2014 Israel contingent in Denver comprised two teams — championship and development — with coaches, managers, trainers, photographers and an entourage of parents, siblings and other supporters. 

And there was definite promise. As it turns out, the number of accomplished Jewish lacrosse players is disproportionately high, and those veterans rallied to the Israel team. Head coach Bill Beroza was captain of the U.S. team that won the 1982 world championships, and defensive coach Mark Greenberg was his teammate. 

Players Ari Sussman and Casey Cittadino are veterans of Major League Lacrosse, the 14-year-old professional league started by Angeleno Jake Steinfeld. Ben Smith is assistant coach at Harvard, where he played as an undergraduate. Back-up goalie Reuven Dressler is a 41-year-old Tel Aviv physician who starred in an NCAA tournament while at Yale. 

Israel’s first pre-tournament game in Denver pitted the team against the Iroquois Nationals, ESPN’s darlings of the tournament because of their invention of the sport millennia ago and its renaissance due to record-setting accomplishments in the 2014 college season by brothers Lyle and Miles Thompson at the University of Albany. Although the two teams didn’t meet during the tournament — the Iroquois finished third and Israel was seventh — that first scrimmage showed Israel could compete against the teams in the tournament’s power pool.

That first scrimmage was our introduction to the 2014 team. Usually when the refs walk up to the playing field, we get pretty cold looks from the players on both sides. We think we’re there to make certain the game is safe, fair, fun and fast. Most players think we’re there to put them in the penalty box and generally mess up everything. For our work in Denver, Alpert and I wore striped shirts with an Israeli flag patch above the left pocket, instead of the Stars and Stripes patches we usually wear working in the U.S. The Israeli players saw our patches and actually smiled at us, many saying, “Hey, ref, cool.” 

In lacrosse, defenders need to communicate when their opponents create an advantage requiring a defensive response. In the argot of American lacrosse, the player who is ready with that response shouts, “I’m hot!” to his colleagues. The logic of the words is: If there is a breakdown, I’m the individual who will solve it. 

Israeli lacrosse players communicate differently, both in language and logic. On the playing field, they speak Hebrew to each other, even though most of the players learned the sport in the U.S. But instead of shouting, “I’m hot,” they say, “Ani rishon,” literally, “I’m first.” The logic of these words is: If there is a problem, I will be the first to go solve it, and I know others will be coming to support me. Perhaps this linguistic variation arises from the culture learned in Israel Defense Forces (IDF) service, where leaders say “Follow me as we go in!” not “Charge!” Whatever its origins, the Israeli defensive system worked.

The players concentrated on their sport responsibilities during the games, but the tumult at home was never far from their thoughts. Neiss set the tone with a message to his team and supporters on the eve of the tournament, saying in part: “We press forward, and continue onward with our mission to bring joy to the communities of Israel through sport during this difficult time. Our youth camp has continued this week despite threats in Tel Aviv. We’ve scholarshipped children from the south of Israel who have been relocated to the center, away from the border with Gaza. We will continue with our lacrosse camp in Ramla next week unless the [IDF] Home Front Command Unit instructs otherwise. It’s with this attitude that we press forward, and make our debut in the World Games. … We will not be deterred.”

Four candidates for the team did not travel to the U.S. because of their IDF commitments. Matthew Cherry, one of the team’s leading scorers, will begin his IDF training next month. In four years, with those commitments hopefully completed, Cherry and his mates hope to compete at the world championships in Manchester, England.

The challenges faced by the Israeli team in Denver were trivial by any comparison to current events in the Middle East. Once, while playing against the Netherlands at Colorado University in Boulder, Colo., a dozen or so geriatric Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions supporters showed up with anti-Israel signs and a bit of chanting. 

Getting no response from the athletes or the rest of the crowd, they left before halftime. 

Neil Kramer is dean of faculty emeritus at New Community Jewish High School in West Hills. He has played, coached and officiated lacrosse for more than 40 years

Israel falls in world lacrosse quarterfinals


Israel’s debut in the World Lacrosse Championships ended in the quarterfinals with a 9-8 loss to Australia.

In Wednesday night’s game near Denver, Israel nearly tied the score with five seconds remaining and a one-man advantage, but a shot by Matthew Cherry was turned away.

Ari Sussman tallied three goals and Cody Levine had two for the Israelis.

Israel, which formed its lacrosse team just four years ago, will still play a meaningful game Friday against England. An Israeli victory would clinch a top-six finish in the tournament and placement in the elite Blue Pool for the 2018 world tournament in England.

In Thursday’s semifinals, third-ranked Australia will face the top-ranked United States, with Canada opposing the Iroquois Nation. The championship game is scheduled for Saturday.

Against Australia, Israel jumped to a 4-1 lead in the opening quarter and held a 5-4 edge late in the third period. Australia gained the lead to stay in fourth quarter.

Israel, with a roster about evenly divided between American immigrants to Israel and U.S. residents, had outscored its first five opponents by a combined 88-18.

 

2013 SoCal Maccabiah medalists


About 150 Southern California athletes competed in the Maccabiah Games in Israel last month. The games kicked off with the opening ceremonies on July 18 and ran through July 30, offering participants from all over the world opportunities to connect to Judaism and Israel through sportsmanship.

Local athletes who won medals — totaling 51 gold, 29 silver and 24 bronze — are listed below:

BASEBALL

Leo Kaplan, of Santa Monica, boys’ juniors baseball, gold
Ian McKinnon, of Burbank, boys’ juniors baseball, gold
Samuel McKinnon, of Burbank, boys’ juniors baseball, gold
Jason Schoen, of Los Angeles, boys’ juniors baseball, gold

BASKETBALL

Sorelle Cohen, of Beverly Hills, girls’ juniors basketball, gold
Joseph Fallas, of Beverly Hills, men’s youth basketball, gold
Spencer Freedman, of Pacific Palisades, boys’ juniors basketball, silver
Joseph Leavitt, of Santa Monica, men’s masters basketball, gold
Sean Mann, of Tarzana, men’s masters basketball, gold
Mark Small, of Encino, men’s masters basketball, gold

CYCLING

Daniel Ross, of Beverly Hills, open cycling, silver

FENCING

Charles Horowitz, of Los Angeles, juniors fencing, two gold, silver
Jennifer Horowitz, of Los Angeles, open fencing, silver

GOLF

Nathan Rice, of Los Angeles, open golf, silver

GYMNASTICS

Jacob Feldman, of Los Angeles, boys’ juniors gymnastics, silver

ICE HOCKEY

Chad Goldberg, of Agoura Hills, open ice hockey, silver
Todd Lewis, of Manhattan Beach, masters ice hockey, gold

MARATHON

Denise Winner, of Manhattan Beach, masters half marathon, gold

RUGBY

Aaron Davis, of Venice, men’s open rugby, bronze
Alan Roniss, of Long Beach, men’s open rugby, gold, bronze
Ross Silverman, of Santa Barbara, men’s open rugby, bronze
Dallen Stanford, of Santa Monica, men’s open rugby, gold, bronze

SOCCER

Alexander Arsht, of Oak Park, men’s open soccer, gold
Ashley Aviram, of Beverly Hills, girls’ juniors soccer, gold
David Bannick, of Beverly Hills, men’s masters soccer (age 45 and over), bronze
Gary Bernstein, of Sherman Oaks, men’s masters soccer (age 45 and over), bronze
Chester Castellaw, of Hidden Hills, men’s youth soccer, silver
Gina Eide, of Chatsworth, girls’ juniors soccer, gold
Jacob Gooden, of Malibu, men’s youth soccer, silver
Jonah Gooden, of Malibu, men’s youth soccer, silver
Justin Greenberg, of Los Angeles, men’s masters soccer (over age 45), bronze
Spencer Held, of Agoura Hills, men’s youth soccer, silver
Marc Lebowitz, of Los Angeles, men’s masters soccer (over age 45), bronze
David Kohen, of Beverly Hills, men’s open soccer, gold
Kovi Konowiecki, of Long Beach, men’s open soccer, gold
Anna Manevich, of Encino, girls juniors soccer, gold
Charles Paris, of Venice, men’s open soccer, gold
Sean Pleskow, of Culver City, men’s youth soccer, silver
Willliam Pleskow, of Culver City, men’s open soccer, gold
Alex Simon, of Agoura Hills, men’s youth soccer, silver

SOFTBALL

Corey Angel, of Los Angeles, men’s masters softball, silver
Emily Bliss, of Northridge, women’s open softball, gold
Mitchel Brim, of Encino, men’s open softball, gold
Daniel Cosgrove, of Los Angeles, men’s masters softball, silver
Jeffrey Eisfelder, of Los Angeles, men’s masters softball, silver
Matthew Glotzer, of Encino, men’s masters softball, silver
Jason Gluckman, of Van Nuys, men’s open softball, gold
Madeline Kaplan, of Santa Monica, women’s open softball, gold
Michael Marble, of North Hollywood, men’s open softball, gold
Nathan Schoenbrun, of Calabasas, men’s open softball, gold
Kenneth Schwartz, of Manhattan Beach, men’s masters softball, silver
David Shpiro, of Northridge, men’s open softball, gold
Lawrence Silfen, of Marina del Rey, men’s masters softball, silver
Spencer Silverstein, of Calabasas, men’s open softball, gold
Martin Weiner, of Sherman Oaks, men’s open softball, gold
Daniel Winters, of Burbank, men’s open softball (coach), gold
Danielle Yudin, of Los Angeles, women’s open softball, gold

SWIMMING

Hayley Hacker, of Pacific Palisades, open swimming, silver
Helene Hirsch, of North Hills, masters swimming, two gold, two silver, two bronze
Andrea Murez, of Venice, open swimming, five gold, two silver
Eyal Zuker, of Van Nuys, masters swimming, bronze

TABLE TENNIS

Oliver Friedman, of Los Angeles, juniors table tennis, bronze

TENNIS

Joshua Albert, of Manhattan Beach, open tennis, bronze
Gary Berner, of Oak Park, masters tennis, bronze
Hally Cohen, of Santa Monica, masters tennis, two bronze
Steven Davis, of Beverly Hills, masters tennis, bronze
Sivan Krems, of Thousand Oaks, juniors tennis, three bronze
Jeffrey Krieger, of Los Angeles, masters tennis, bronze
Amira Massi, of Los Angeles, open tennis, bronze
Dana Smith, of Los Angeles, masters tennis, two bronze
Scott Zimmerman, of Woodland Hills, masters tennis, bronze

TRACK AND FIELD

Maya Aviezer, of Agoura Hills, open track and field, silver
Jessica Goodkin, of Los Angeles, open track and field, silver
Adam Markun, of Topanga, juniors track and field, bronze

TRIATHALON

Heather Shenkman, of Sherman Oaks, masters triathlon, bronze

VOLLEYBALL

Michelle Adams, of Beverly Hills, girls’ juniors volleyball, silver
Avia Cohen, of Beverly Hills, girls’ juniors volleyball, silver
Liat Hackman, of Los Angeles, girls’ juniors volleyball, silver

WATER POLO

Derek Borisoff, of La Canada, open water polo (coach), gold
Devon Borisoff, of La Canada, open water polo, gold
Spencer Borisoff, of La Canada, open water polo, gold
Scott Churchman, of Los Angeles, open water polo, gold
Connor Levoff, of Santa Barbara, open water polo (coach), gold
William Klein, of Pasadena, open water polo, gold
Hannah Koper, of Santa Barbara, women’s open water polo, gold
James McNamara, of Encino, open water polo, gold
Natasha Schulman, of Los Angeles, open water polo, gold
Jeffrey Schwimer, of Beverly Hills, open water polo, gold

Maccabiah Games close in Jerusalem with Israel topping medal count


Israel handily won the most medals at the 19th Maccabiah Games, which came to a close in Jerusalem.

The games closing ceremony on Tuesday at Teddy Stadium featured some of Israel’s most popular pop music groups, such as Balkan Beat Box and Infected Mushroom.  Speakers urged the athletes to consider making Israel their permanent home.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Omri Casspi, the first Israeli to play in the National Basketball Association, presented the Most Outstanding Athlete award to American swimmers Andrea Murez, who won five gold medals and two silver, and Garrett Weber-Gale, a former Olympian who earned two gold medals.

Israel finished with 411 medals, including 150 gold, 135 silver and 123 bronze. The host country had 3,000 participating athletes.

The U.S., which had delegation of about 1,200, came in second with 196 medals, including 77 gold, 60 silver and 59 bronze. Canada, Australia and South Africa rounded out the top five countries with the highest medal counts.

Athletes from a record 78 countries participated in 42 sports, as well as Paralympic events over 10 days. Some 150 athletes who participated in the recent Olympic Games competed in the Maccabiah, the quadrennial event known as the Jewish Olympics.

At the Maccabiah, making mom, grandma and great-grandma proud


For a week before they started competing, many of the 1,100 U.S. athletes in this year’s Maccabiah Games toured Israel and learned about their Jewish heritage.

But when Yale Goldberg steps onto the tennis court this week, he’ll have another tradition to draw on. He’ll be representing the fourth generation of his family to compete in the games.

His parents played tennis and swam for the U.S. in 1997, the year a bridge collapsed during the games leading to the deaths of four athletes. His grandmother swam for Israel in 1953, the second games after Israel became a state. And his great-grandmother and great-grandfather played volleyball and sprinted, respectively, a generation earlier.

“They always wanted me to play in the Maccabiah Games,” Goldberg said of his parents. “I’m really excited to be here, to keep the tradition going. It feels like I should be here.”

His grandmother, Anita Deutsch, was the youngest athlete in the 1953 games, but being 12 years old didn’t stop her from taking silver in the 100m swim. She has memories of contestants from other countries taking out trinkets and kissing them for good luck before springing into the pool.

“At that stage in my life it was the high point of my life,” said Deutsch, who now lives in Manhattan. “There was camaraderie among the other kids who participated.”

Goldberg isn’t the only member of the American delegation with family history at the games. Maccabi USA General Chairman Jeffrey Bukantz, who’s leading this year’s delegation, spent his career chasing his father’s fencing achievements at the Maccabiah.

Bukantz’s father, Danny Bukantz, won fencing gold at the 1950 Maccabiah. In 1981, Jeffrey finished fourth. He cried, and resolved to do better next time. In 1985, he took bronze, cried again, and set his eyes on 1989.

During Jeffrey’s third Maccabiah, in 1989, he finally won gold.

“When I got the gold medal I flipped my mask in the air and jumped uncontrollably three times,” he said. “I was crying like a faucet.”

This time, they were tears of joy.

Aly Raisman, Amar’e Stoudemire to participate in upcoming Maccabiah Games


The 19th Maccabiah Games begin this week. Of the 8,000 athletes from around the world descending on Israel for what some call the “Jewish Olympics,” 1,100 will hail from America.

At the head of the pack is none other than American Jewish gymnast extraordinnaire, Aly Raisman. Another big-name American to look out for at the games, which run July 18-30, is Amar’e Stoudemire. The New York Knicks star surprised fans the first time he traveled to Israel to explore his Jewish roots.  This time the big surprise is that he isn’t representing the United States, but instead will be coaching the Canadian basketball team.

Want to watch but don’t know how? The lovely folks at Haaretz are here to help with this viewing guide. Thanks guys!

Soccer tourney brings Arabs, Jews together


Despite the summer heat radiating off of the soccer field, dozens of former professional soccer players from all over the world — and of varying faiths — gathered to play a friendly “Soccer Peace Tournament” on June 2 at Calabasas High School.

As athletes sprinted and fans cheered, one voice could be heard above all else. It was the biting commentary of Zouheir Bahloul, who good-naturedly teased each player during the four matches of the day.

One of the most recognizable stars of the Israeli soccer community, Bahloul is a former player who now is famous for his colorful commentary and sports journalism. As an Israeli Palestinian, he is passionate about using soccer to promote peace and coexistence between Arabs, Israelis and Americans — a triumvirate that’s had its fair share of conflict throughout the years.

So he was thrilled to be part of an event that matched up former members of the Israeli national soccer team with teams made up of local players — a U.S. team as well as teams made up of American Afghanis and American Iranians (winners of the tournament). All of the participants once played professionally.

“I think there is a lot of value within this [Israeli] team and this tournament,” Bahloul said. “Our team is a mix of Arabs and Jews playing together, coexisting together, cooperating together and living together. I think this is a very noble example of how we can solve our problems with sports, because sports are very pure.” 

The peace tournament was organized by Ben Drillings, a chiropractor who lives in Chatsworth, and sponsored by the Israeli American Council (IAC), formerly the Israeli Leadership Council.

“I was a soccer player on the Israeli national team and played with Rifaat Tourk, the first Arab and Muslim to play on the Israeli national team. … We became friends but haven’t seen each other in 31 years,” Drillings said. “But we got in touch, and we thought this tournament would be the beginning of another peace effort here.”

Tourk, who lives in Jaffa and coached the Israeli team in the tournament, has spent his entire post-soccer career working on building relations between Arabs and Jews in Israel. 

“I have a foundation for kids that has Arab kids working besides Jewish kids in order to make mixed life possible,” Tourk said. “I try my best to move these kids forward, socially, to make them share life — each beside the other.”

Dikla Kadosh, director of community events and volunteering for the IAC, said that is exactly the goal the group set out to accomplish.

“There’s not much at stake, but we wanted to create an environment of peace by playing against local Iranian teams and Afghani teams,” Kadosh said. “And the reason we wanted to be involved is because it’s something different. The whole mission of the IAC is to create programming that connects people to one another, and to the culture in Israel, and soccer is part of the culture.”

Qadir Latifi, one of the veteran Afghani players who participated in the tournament, was excited to take part in something with so many nationalities represented. 

“Our team has played in tournaments before, but it was mostly just Afghans. We’ve never played in a tournament that’s more international,” Latifi said, “so I’m proud to know that we’re going to be able to play for our country, and everyone else is playing for their countries.”

Although the Israeli team was the only one in the tournament that had to travel — the other three teams are based in Los Angeles and play together in adult community leagues — it still meant a lot to everyone involved for these communities to be playing together under the banner of peace. 

“I think it will help build better relationships within the communities out here,” said Shaul Maimon, captain of the Israeli team. “Football [soccer] brings everyone together. Anyone can play, so it makes for good relationships between people, and maybe, I hope, for the countries.”

This tournament also helped to break gender barriers. Diana Redman, the first female member of the Israeli national team, made an appearance as well. 

“I saw something for the event in a magazine and e-mailed Ben [Drillings] and said, ‘What’s going on?’ And he said, ‘Come on and join us!’ ” Redman said.

“It was really wonderful to be playing here as part of the event today,” she continued. “It’s the kind of thing I like to be involved in. I’ve been playing soccer my whole life, and I hope people are reminded that we have a women’s team, and there are a lot of people out there who want to do these kinds of events.”

Bahloul believes the stakes are high — much higher than a single soccer game.

“We are here,” he said, “to prove to ourselves and others that we can make it together and set a good example for the new generation.”

Maccabi Tel Aviv back on top but coach future uncertain


Champions Maccabi Tel Aviv have reasserted their dominance of Israeli soccer but media reports on Tuesday suggested they might have to continue their revival without coach Oscar Garcia.

The country's wealthiest club lost 3-0 to Bnei Yehuda Tel Aviv in the final fixture of the season on Monday, but it mattered little as Maccabi had clinched a record 20th league title a month ago.

They pushed 2011 champions Maccabi Haifa into second place to celebrate their first championship since 2003.

The $30 million annual budget that Canadian owner Mitch Goldhar set for Maccabi paid off after three seasons of disappointment, and his decision to pair manager Garcia and technical manager Jordi Cruyff was vindicated.

A Maccabi source said next season's budget, an unprecedented sum for an Israeli soccer club, would remain similar to this season's, giving the club a strong chance of extending its success.

But speculation about Garcia's future has begun, with Israeli media reporting that the former Barcelona youth team coach might leave.

Reports suggested Garcia told his players following Monday's loss that he might not be back next season, saying he could return to Spain. The club declined to comment.

Cruyff told Maccabi's website that next season — when Maccabi will play in the qualifying rounds of the Champions League — would herald a fresh start.

“Next season we will all start from zero so it is very important that we are well prepared, because we will need to do a lot to stay at the top … We will try to continue to improve in every aspect of our game,” Cruyff said.

Editing by Stephen Wood

Frisbee — the ultimate peace negotiator


Who would have thought that a Frisbee could be used to build bridges between bitter enemies?

Ultimate Peace, an organization founded in 2008 by American Ultimate Frisbee players, tries to do just that. By running a weeklong overnight summer camp in Israel and other activities throughout the year that are open to Jewish-Israeli, Arab-Israeli and Palestinian youth, it aims to improve relations between the groups, one flying disc at a time.

“Summer camp has been our kind of big immersion program over the course of the last couple years,” said David Barkan, CEO and co-founder of Ultimate Peace. “We’ve done it three years in a row now, and it’s been a huge success.”

Now, organizers of Ultimate Peace are trying to strengthen the year-round programs so that the youth will remain engaged with bridge-building initiatives. That means raising funds for ongoing practices and cross-cultural tournaments as well as league games between communities. 

“During the year we have tended to lose the kids because it’s been hard to run programs and actually fund programs. … There’s nothing easy about running a coexistence program in the Middle East right now,” Barkan said. 

In an attempt to remedy that, the organization launched a campaign on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo.com in November to raise $150,000. Money raised will finance the administration of year-round programs as well as equipment, transportation for coaches and youths, site and field rentals, and insurance and permits.

Some funds also go toward hiring staff to lead these programs. Until now, the year-round programs have relied on volunteer coaches who often must drive several hours to the villages where games take place.  

Ultimate Peace would also like to hire staff to lead the organizations’ coaches-in-training program, which engages Middle Eastern youths who have participated in Camp Ultimate Peace in a year-round training that focuses on leadership on and off the field. 

As of Dec. 31, Ultimate Peace’s campaign at indiegogo.com/ultimatepeace had raised more than $31,000, with 12 days left for members of the public to donate. Even if the campaign does not reach its goal, Ultimate Peace will get to keep all but 6 percent of the funds raised. 

It turns out that the noncontact sport — officially called Ultimate because Frisbee is a trademarked line of discs — is an appropriate, if unlikely, vehicle for bringing together Jews and Arabs in the Middle East. A central tenet of Ultimate is “spirit of the game,” which requires that players compete without an official referee. As a result, Ultimate demands that players self-officiate. 

Organizers of Ultimate Peace hope that the participants will take what they learn on the field — to resolve on-field disagreements peacefully and without outside help — and continue practicing those skills off the field.

[ RELATED: The ultimate bridge ]

The summer camp, which was held in Akko, a town in northern Israel, the past two years, was conceived after players from the Matzah Balls — an all-Jewish recreational Ultimate team that includes Barkan as a member and competes in Santa Cruz — visited Israel in 2005 to lead an Ultimate clinic. There, they taught throwing techniques and ran scrimmages and friendly tournaments with Israeli children and adults, who were familiar with the game but wanted to learn more from the U.S. players.

But something was missing from these clinics: Arabs and Palestinians.

So the players began planning a camp with that goal in mind. With the help of Israel’s Culture and Sport Ministry, Ultimate Peace became a reality. The organization held its inaugural summer camp in 2009. To date, Camp Ultimate Peace has reached 14 Arab, Jewish and Palestinian communities. Three hundred Middle Eastern youths — boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 14 — currently are involved.

“I can’t tell you how pleased I am and proud of the progress we made,” said Barkan, a consultant for foundations and nonprofits who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

At the first event in 2009, Israeli and Palestinian kids who had never met before were randomly put on mixed teams for a tournament. Nobody was sure what their reactions would be, but later, when the kids selected their own teams for scrimmages, many opted to play with kids they’d been teamed with earlier; Palestinians and Israelis chose to play together.

On the first day of camp each year, the kids might be nervous and choose to remain close to kids from their own villages. But coaches fix that quickly, asking the campers to create nametags that spell out their names in Hebrew, Arabic and English. For a camper who only speaks Hebrew but not Arabic, he has no choice but to ask an Arabic-speaking camper for help writing his name, and vice versa, said Jeff Landesman, a Matzah Balls team member and Ultimate Peace coach from Altadena.

Campers, who sleep in integrated dorm rooms, spend hours each day working on technique, such as throwing mechanics, but they also enjoy various cultural events such as a talent show, art projects and dancing. The camp brings in staff who speak all three languages — English, Hebrew and Arabic – to help run activities. 

The biggest challenges that Ultimate Peace organizers face are less about ensuring campers get along and more about Israel’s precarious relationship with its neighbors. 

In November, Ultimate Peace campers-in-training — including 30 Arab Israelis, Jewish Israelis and Palestinians — were scheduled to come together for a monthly meeting, in Kfar Saba, in central Israel. But at the same time, Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were engaged in a mini-war. Consequently, the meeting was canceled. 

Internal struggles between campers are infrequent, but they have happened. One or two times, campers were sent home for bad behavior, according to Landesman, who works as a special-education teacher at Madison Elementary School in Pomona. 

For the most part, however, the camp has successfully formed bonds between participants that offer hope for the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations. Contrary to what one might think, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a frequent topic of discussion among campers or staff, Landesman said.

“Sports in general are always a good way to help people from different cultures get along,” he said. “In fact, in Ultimate, there is conflict resolution … so it’s just so natural to help people learn how.”

Art Shamsky to represent Israel baseball at Classic


Former Major Leaguer Art Shamsky will serve as Israel’s ambassador to the World Baseball Classic Qualifier in Jupiter, Fla.

The Israel Association of Baseball appointed Shamsky to encourage support for baseball in Israel. Team Israel will play its first game in the WBC Qualifier in Jupiter, Fla., on Sept. 19.

“Art Shamsky has been a terrific advocate for the growth of baseball in Israel and a wonderful friend to us all,” Haim Katz, president of the Israel Association of Baseball, said in a statement. “His presence is a reminder of the Jewish impact on baseball in America, and the role the U.S. can play in helping us grow the sport here.”

Brad Ausmus, also a former Major League player, will manage the Israeli team, which is composed largely of American minor leaguers and independent league players. It also will feature ex-Major Leaguers Shawn Green and Gabe Kapler, who also will serve as coaches, and members of the Israel National Team.

Shamsky played for “the Miracle Mets,” as the New York club was dubbed in winning the 1969 World Series. As a manager, he guided the Modi’in Miracle to the 2007 Israel Baseball League championship.

Israeli soccer team under ‘severe threat’ in Hungary, coach says


The Israeli national soccer team was warned of a “severe threat” to their safety in Budapest where they played a friendly match against Hungary on Wednesday, Israel’s coach said.

After returning to Tel Aviv on Thursday, coach Eli Guttman said the Israeli delegation had been warned by security officials that they were at risk in Budapest.

“I don’t know how much was known about this in Israel, the players were aware, but there were very severe warnings of a possible attack,” Guttman told reporters at Ben Gurion airport.

No major security incidents were reported during the match at the Ferenc Puskas Stadium in the Hungarian capital which ended in a 1-1 draw.

Guttman gave no give further details. Hungarian police said the Israeli team, which had their own security detail, had not been under threat but did not elaborate.

“There was no terror threat towards the Israeli soccer players,” police spokeswoman Bettina Kovacs said.

Guttman said that after the match, the team’s official bus left the stadium empty, as a decoy, and the players were taken to their hotel in another bus later.

“Our bus was sent out of the stadium after the match with a police escort and sirens sounding so that people would think it was us. We were asked to stay behind and we left later in a bus with the blinds drawn,” Guttman said.

Israelis traveling abroad are regularly told to lower their profile and be aware of potential threats to reduce risks to their safety.

Last month a suicide bomber killed five Israeli tourists when he blew up a bus in a Bulgarian resort city on the Black Sea.

In 1972, 11 Israeli athletes, coaches and judges were killed after being taken hostage by Palestinian gunmen at the Munich Olympics.

Additional reporting by Krisztina Than and Sandor Peto in Budapest, Writing by Ori Lewis, editing by Robert Woodward

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.

Report: Germany was warned a month before ’72 Olympics attack


Germany was warned about a possible terror attack against Israeli athletes one month before the Munich Olympics in 1972, Der Spiegel reported.

The weekly magazine reported Sunday on its website that though solid warnings of an attack plan were received a month before the Games, no action was taken.

The Palestinian terrorists, for example, were able to walk by the apartments of the Israeli athletes without being stopped.

Der Spiegel also reported that German police had prepared possible scenarios for a terror attack at the Games, including one that dealt specifically with a Palestinian attack on the Olympic village, but after the attack the police said there were no written documents of the preparations and German authorities tried to cover up their failures.

The story is based on reports of the post-attack inquiry, minutes from German Cabinet meetings and documents from government bodies obtained by Der Spiegel.

Israel’s Olympians heading to London thinking medals, remembering slain countrymen


Israelis and their Summer Olympics athletes are eyeing the upcoming London Games with excitement and disappointment.

The athletes are hoping that for the sixth straight summer Games, at least one of them will come home with a medal. Yet they are well aware that the International Olympics Committee has again spurned the campaign to have a moment of silence for their counterparts slain 40 years ago at the Munich Games.

The London Games, which begin July 27, will have 38 Israeli Olympians participating in 18 events. Their top medal hopefuls are in judo, sailing and gymnastics. This year’s delegation features two bronze medalists—windsurfer Shahar Tzuberi, from Beijing in 2008, and judoka Ariel Ze’evi, from Athens in 2004.

“I’m very calm, but there’s still time” before the Olympics, said Ze’evi, who at 35 is the team’s oldest member. “We don’t prepare for failure.”

The Israeli squad, which is scheduled to arrive at the Olympics complex on July 10, also is preparing for some somber moments in London. Team members will be participating in a public memorial ceremony on Aug. 6 for the 11 Israelis killed at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

The IOC has resisted calls for a minute of silence for the victims despite an online petition with nearly 90,000 signatures and the urging of the U.S. Senate, as well as Australian, Canadian, British and German lawmakers.

Israeli delegation head Efraim Zinger said the IOC is “obligated” to remember the Munich 11 as “athletes and Olympians.”

Other than the day after the murders, the IOC has never held a formal moment of silence for the slain Israelis. IOC officials have participated in Jewish community events surrounding various Olympic Games since the tragedy.

The London Games also mark the 60th year since Israel’s first Olympic appearance, in Helsinki, Finland. It took another 40 years for an Israeli to win a medal, but since 1992 the delegation has taken home at least one medal, including three each in judo and windsurfing, and one in kayaking.

This year, the team hopes to add a fourth sport to the list. Zinger also would like to see an Israeli woman stand on the podium for the first time since the country’s first-ever medal in ‘92, when judoka Yael Arad took the silver. Nearly half of this year’s delegation is female.

“Because of the work we did in the past few years, all of our athletes are better,” Zinger said, noting particularly the gymnastics team as a potential medal winner. He said he was hopeful for at least one more medal in judo or sailing.

Leading the gymnastics efforts will be all-around gymnast Alex Shatilov, who finished eighth in the last Olympics in the floor exercise and won the silver at the 2011 world championships. Also last year, the six-member women’s rhythmic gymnastics team took bronze in the world championships. All of the rhythmic team’s members are under 22.

Another hope for Israel’s first female medalist in 20 years comes in what may be Israel’s best Olympic sport—judo. Alice Schlesinger, 24, did not medal in Beijing but has since won three bronzes—in the 2009 world championships, and in the 2009 and 2012 European championships.

Schlesinger says she hopes to “go home in peace” from London. “Like everyone else I want a medal, but I want to enjoy it,” she said.

Typically, the Israeli team has a strong international flavor. Several of the athletes were born in the Soviet Union, and two were born and raised in the United States—pole vaulter Jillian Schwartz and 400-meter sprinter Donald Sanford. Schwartz connected with Israel after competing here in 2009, while Sanford, who is not Jewish, married an Israeli and lives part of the year on her family’s kibbutz. Both are now Israeli citizens.

For his part, Sanford seems to have settled in well with his new Israeli family.

“Her ima, her abba and her savta live 400 meters from where we live,” said Sanford, using the Hebrew words for his wife’s mother, father and grandmother. “We see them every day.”

The NBA’s next Israeli player? [VIDEO]


National Basketball Association teams, fans and analysts seem to be in a constant search for the “next Michael Jordan,” looking for a player to duplicate the feats of the six-time champion and five-time Most Valuable Player many consider the best ever in his sport.

Lior Eliyahu won’t enter that conversation, but the “next Omri Casspi” seems more realistic.

The Orlando Magic chose Eliyahu in the second round of the 2006 NBA Draft (44th overall) and subsequently dealt his rights to the Houston Rockets, who wouldn’t grant him a roster spot but wouldn’t waive him, either. While the 6-foot-10, 232-pound forward remained in limbo, he saw the Sacramento Kings choose Casspi in the first round of the 2009 draft and beat him to becoming the first Israeli-born NBA player (Casspi now plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers). 

Casspi’s NBA leap was aided by the fact that first-round picks receive guaranteed NBA contracts, while second-round picks like Eliyahu do not. But now, a change of scenery might help Eliyahu’s NBA chances. On June 26, the Rockets traded his NBA rights to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Joseph Gayer—Eliyahu’s agent in Israel—told JNS.org that although it’s “too early to say what affect this [trade] would have on Lior’s chances to make the NBA,” the development was “good for Lior.”

“I think since Lior was drafted at 2006 we always thought once a good situation comes, he would get his chance,” Gayer wrote in an email to JNS.org. “Unfortunately this hasn’t come yet. Hopefully with his rights traded to Minnesota, we hope it can change things in a positive way.”

Minnesota acquired Eliyahu and forward Chase Budinger for the 18th pick in the June 28 draft. Eliyahu averaged 14.0 points and 6.6 rebounds per game during the 2008-09 Euroleague season, won a Spanish League championship in June 2010, and in September 2010 signed a five-year contract with Maccabi Tel Aviv, where he averaged 11.3 points and 4.1 rebounds per game this past season.

If a $500,000 buyout clause in his Maccabi contract is settled, the 26-year-old Eliyahu can officially leave the Israeli team this summer. NBA teams, according to league rules, can pay up to $500,000 of foreign players’ buyouts, meaning Eliyahu might not have to pay anything out of pocket if offered a contract. However, the ball remains in Minnesota’s court.

“On paper if Minnesota wants to sign Lior and pay the buyout, they should have no problem doing it, but of course it is for them to decide,” Gayer wrote. “I can’t say who would be responsible for the buyout. First we have to wait and see whether Minnesota would make an offer to sign him.”

Gayer explained that while American second-round picks can immediately play in both the NBA’s summer league and veterans camp to try to make a team and secure a minimum-salary contract, overseas second-round picks like Eliyahu have duties with their national teams that prevent them from going to summer leagues. Additionally, these players often have guaranteed contract offers overseas that are several times the size of minimum NBA contracts, Gayer noted.

“I think that for any second-round player to realistically make the NBA the team needs to want him enough to offer a guaranteed contract without going to [veterans] camp,” Gayer wrote. “Players can go to summer leagues, but if they are not offered a guaranteed contract after and teams all around Europe are running after them with [better and guaranteed offers], you can understand why it’s difficult [for the players] to reject it. Many players I know would be willing to make less money to play in the NBA maybe, get that chance, but won’t be willing to give up a guaranteed contract for just a veterans camp invitation or a partially guaranteed contract.”

The day Eliyahu was traded to Minnesota, NBA expert Jonathan Givony of the DraftExpress website reported on Twitter that Eliyahu “will join the Timberwolves for [the] Summer League in Las Vegas,” adding that it sounds like he “has a real chance to make their team.” The Timberwolves, however, have not yet confirmed that Eliyahu will play for them in the summer league.

One potential factor working in Eliyahu’s favor is Minnesota General Manager David Kahn’s affinity for overseas players. If he made the team, Eliyahu would join Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio, Montenegrin center Nikola Pekovic, Serbian center Darko Milicic, and Puerto Rican point guard Jose Juan Barea.

“The fact there are a lot of European players on the [Timberwolves] can definitely help Lior make the team if he gets the chance,” Gayer wrote to JNS.org. “The style of play they are used to is more similar [than Houston’s] to what Lior is used to and fits his skills and playing abilities.” Minnesota’s “Euro-style game,” Gayer explained, involves “a lot of running up and down the court.”

On the other hand, Gayer noted that Minnesota “has a lot of players at [Eliyahu’s] position right now,” perhaps working against the forward’s chances of earning a roster spot.

One thing, however, is clear: Six years after being drafted by the NBA, Eliyahu’s goal remains the same.

“Lior wants to prove himself and show he can play in the NBA,” Gayer wrote. “If Minnesota is interested in him and thinks he has a real chance to be signed this year, he’ll be more than happy to go out there and prove himself.”

German foreign minister joins call for Olympics tribute to Munich 11


German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has joined the effort to urge the International Olympic Committee to hold a moment of silence at the London Olympics for the Munich 11.

Westerwelle joins Canada’s House of Commons, 100 Australian lawmakers and the U.S. Senate in the call to remember the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches who were killed at the Munich Games in 1972 by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September.

Westerwelle sent a letter Tuesday to the IOC President Jacques Rogge urging him to reconsider his objection to a minute of silence.

“This tragic terrorist attack in my country was directed not only at the Israeli Olympic team. It was also an attack on the Olympic Games and the Olympic idea of promoting peace and friendship among the nations,” Westerwelle wrote, according to the Times of Israel.

A moment of silence for the 11 Israelis, he added, would be “a humanitarian gesture and a fitting way to send the message that violence and terror are incompatible with the Olympic idea.”

While IOC officials have participated in memorial ceremonies hosted by Jewish communities, the body has not commemorated the ‘72 tragedy during the Games other than on the day after the massacre.

Despite the international attention, Rogge has turned down the request. The Summer Olympics begin in London on July 27.

In a May 1 letter this year, Rogge wrote that “the IOC has paid tribute to the athletes on several occasions. Within the Olympic family, the memory of the victims of the terrible massacre in Munich in 1972 will never fade away.

In recent days, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and the widows of the murdered athletes have released a video to help the campaign.

“This video is one minute long, the same amount of time we are asking the International Olympic Committee to stop and remember, contemplate and to send a message that the international sporting community will stand against hatred and violence,” Ayalon says in the video.

Nascent Israeli lacrosse team sticking out, surprisingly, in European tourney


Israel’s national lacrosse team is clinging to a one-goal lead with 20 seconds remaining when the referee blows his whistle—the Wales coach wants a stick check on an Israeli player.

The challenge fails, the stick is legal and the Israelis go on to upset heavily favored Wales, 14-13, on Monday in the European Lacrosse Championships in Amsterdam.

“It was a desperation move but was completely within the rules,” says Scott Neiss, executive director of Israel’s nascent lacrosse program, who studied sports management at St. John’s University in New York. “If we were on the other side, we would have done the same thing.”

Beating Wales, ranked 11th by the Federation of International Lacrosse, is a monumental victory for the 18-month-old Israeli squad in a tournament full of them.

Competing in its first international tournament, unranked Israel is riding a Maccabean 4-0 run into its quarterfinal matchup with host Netherlands on Wednesday. Israel will no finish no lower than eighth in the 17-team field.

“We’ve come to achieve everything we set out to do [at the tournament],” says team captain Mathew Markman. “Everything from here on out is icing on the cake.”

The squad is gaining attention for quickly adapting to the game—and the competition. Its supporters are hoping the surprise tournament showing will help catapult lacrosse onto the Israeli athletic scene.

“We’ve had a program a year and a half; we’ve been together as a [national] team two weeks now,” says head coach Bill Beroza, an inductee into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in the United States and the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

The program is the brainchild of Neiss, a 27-year-old sports management whiz from Oceanside, N.Y., who moved to Tel Aviv earlier this year to build a national program. He began brainstorming the idea for a national lacrosse program as a participant on Birthright Israel’s free 10-day trip to Israel in 2010, sneaking away from Birthright activities to attend meetings with prospective partners.

Less than two years later, the program has gained official recognition from the Culture and Sport Ministry, enabling it to play in the European tournament.

Neiss sees unique advantages—and opportunities—for expanding lacrosse into a national sport. For starters, aside from padding, sticks and a couple of nets, the startup costs are minimal—the game can be played on any field.

“Rather than buy a state-of-the-art facility for a few, I’d rather buy 400,000 lacrosse sticks and put them in people’s hands,” Neiss said.

Can lacrosse be a different athletic import to the Jewish state? Other North American sports that have made aliyah have had mixed results.

The Israel Football League has enjoyed success, but the Israel Baseball League collapsed after a single season in 2007. The baseball league’s stated aim of fielding an Israeli team in the 2013 World Baseball Classic may yet come to fruition.

Of lacrosse, Neiss says, “I think it’s the best-kept secret in sports. Because it’s such a cult sport in the U.S., players feel an obligation to promote it more so than others.”

With Johnny Appleseed-like gusto, the team—comprised mostly of North American olim or their children—have been planting the seeds of the sport in Israel, running a dozen youth clinics in the past year and holding an exhibition game recently in Turkey.

The team also markets itself in Israel by donning gear in public.

”We’ve seen it on the beach; people see our sticks and ask, ‘What is that’?” says New Jersey native Stephanie Tenenbaum, the interim director of the women’s lacrosse program.

One challenge for the national team is the array of experience of its players. Some stopped playing after high school. Others, such as Markman, came with club experience as an undergraduate at Syracuse University.

“We don’t have a lot of depth, but we have a lot of heart,” Beroza says.

“One ‘stereotypical’ guy has peyes and wears tzitzis,” says assistant coach Mark Greenberg, describing Yochanan “Jared” Katz, who made aliyah about eight years ago. Prior to arriving in Israel, Katz played midfield for Colorado State University.

“At first I didn’t know who he was because when he moved to Israel he changed his name,” Neiss says.

Greenberg says of Katz, “He’s smaller and frail, but he goes out there. He will hit a guy and knock him over.”

The European Championships also feature a non-championship tier “festival tournament” for men and women. Like other international sports, the Federation of International Lacrosse places a quota on the number of non-citizen players a team can field in championship play; in lacrosse it’s four. So unlike other nations that reserve their festival teams for B squads, Israel has recruited Jewish talent from the United States hoping they might eventually join the national team.

“This is a small country of 7 million people,” Neiss says of his new country. “There’s no reason we can’t use [the tournament] as a carrot to recruit resources and within 20 years make lacrosse the national sport of Israel.”

Netanyahu injures leg playing soccer with Jewish, Arab youth


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu injured his leg during a soccer match with Jewish and Arab youth.

Netanyahu pulled a tendon in his leg during the Monday afternoon game in Jerusalem, Walla! News reported.  The prime minister slipped on the grass, rose and continued to play and scored a goal, according to Walla!

Netanyahu’s personal physician, Dr. Tzvi Berkowitz, examined the prime minister and diagnosed the pulled tendon, according to the news website. The injury caused the postponement of a Likud Party meeting.

Improving Germany beat Israel in final Euro warm-up


Germany worked hard for a 2-0 win over Israel in a Euro 2012 warm-up match on Thursday with Mario Gomez and Andre Schuerrle on target in their final test before next month’s tournament.

The three-time European champions, among the title favorites, dominated with a performance that was a marked improvement on their 5-3 defeat by Switzerland on Saturday.

However, they wasted close to a dozen clear chances on a rainy evening in Leipzig as they prepare for the finals being co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine.

Germany face Portugal on June 9 in their first match in Group B which also includes Netherlands and Denmark.

“We can say this was a decent final test of our preparation and will give us a bit of a boost,” said coach Joachim Loew, who is leading Germany for a third major tournament.

“Obviously not everything worked well yet. It is clear we could have scored more goals but to go with a win into next week is good for us,” he told reporters.

“We will improve, the tempo at the tournament will be higher, in the second half we squandered six or seven chances… so there is still a bit to work on.”

With Bastian Schweinsteiger ruled out with a nagging thigh injury, Toni Kroos partnered Sami Khedira in a holding midfield role.

POURING RAIN

Captain Philipp Lahm switched from his usual right back position to left back with central defender Jerome Boateng playing on the right where he is less comfortable.

The Germans, as expected, took the initiative in constant pouring rain but had to wait 20 minutes for their first clear chance when Boateng rattled the post with a curled left-foot shot as Israel defended in numbers.

Gomez broke the deadlock five minutes before halftime, picking up a Thomas Mueller pass in the box and firing high into the net for his 22nd international goal in 52 appearances.

Germany keeper Manuel Neuer was called into action twice soon after the break to rescue the hosts before they upped the tempo again, missing several chances with Lukas Podolski and Mueller among the culprits.

Substitute Schuerrle grabbed their deserved second goal eight minutes from time, rifling home from 20 meters as Germany won their first match this year after two defeats.

“We had some good combinations, allowed nothing to happen at the back,” said Lahm. “We (Bayern players) had not played for 12 days, we had only three days of training with the team so not everything can work instantly. That’s normal.”

“We’ll be fully fit when the tournament starts,” added Lahm who along with his club team mates had been given some rest after losing to Chelsea in the Champions League final.

Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Ken Ferris

Israeli football team takes on Americans


Israel’s national American football team took the field this week for the first time against an American opponent—falling 49-6 to the Maranatha Baptist Bible College Crusaders, an NCAA Division III team from Watertown, Wis., reported the Associated Press.

The 10-team league’s first international game comes five years after the Israel Football League began play.

About 500 people—mainly North American olim or relatives of the players—came out for Thursday’s game. The crowd, a mix of secular and religious Israelis, cheered wildly in a mix of Hebrew and English as kosher wings and fries were sold nearby at the Baptist Village sports complex, AP reported.

Uriel Sturm, commissioner of the amateur league who made aliyah from Toronto, noted that last year’s Israel Bowl attracted more than 1,000 fans and was broadcast live on an Israeli sports television channel.

The fledging league is funded in large part by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who has donated $70,000 every year to it. A field in Jerusalem that hosts many of the league’s games is named after him.

Lacrosse blooms in the desert


“Building a team for 2014 is the exciting part, but it’s all the other work that needs to get done …” William “Bill” Beroza’s voice trailed off as he imagined the hard road ahead. He’s referring to the next lacrosse world championship, which will take place in two years, and Beroza faces the daunting task of coaching and preparing an Israeli team for competition in a sport that doesn’t have much history in the Holy Land. But that doesn’t scare Beroza; sitting in a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on Wilshire Boulevard recently, he seemed excited about the prospect of bringing the sport he loves to the state and people of Israel.

Lacrosse is a contact sport played by both men and women. The national sport of Canada, it has long been popular in the American Northeast. In classic field lacrosse, teams of 10 players square off, with attackers trying to score by bypassing the opposing team’s defenders to reach the goal using their distinct, netted lacrosse sticks. And though the sport has developed a reputation as an upscale sport of elites because of all the gear involved, in reality it’s cheaper to play than football and hockey.

Beroza, who is Jewish, grew up in Hempstead, Long Island. His skills as a lacrosse goalie took him to Roanoke College in 1973, and then to Team USA, where he played in the world championships and helped the United States defeat Australia for the world title in 1982. They also led to him being inducted into both the lacrosse and Jewish Sports halls of fame. So when Scott Neiss, a then-24-year-old lacrosse enthusiast decided to make it his mission to bring lacrosse to Israel after visiting the country on a Birthright trip, Neiss knew just where to turn.

“Scott … called me up and said, ‘If we have a team that gets a chance to play in the World Championships in 2014, would you coach?’ ” Beroza remembered. “I said, ‘Scott, how are we going to get a team?’ ” And so, the process began. “It wasn’t just a quick, whimsical thing,” Beroza said.

Finding players, for one, had its challenges. Beroza and Neiss organized some games in Israel to check out the local talent. “There were a handful of people that actually were Israeli-born who played in the games,” Beroza said. “Then there were some people who were American-born who’d moved to Israel, made aliyah.”

In the age of YouTube and Google, some of the Israeli talent had gotten their skills in unorthodox ways. “Ironically, a couple of players, one in particular … actually went on the Internet and started learning how to play lacrosse,” Beroza quipped, laughing. “He got a stick on his own, ordered it through a mail-order catalog.” Although the player had never been in an actual lacrosse game before, his skills impressed Beroza and his staff.

Then there were the Americans in Israel. “One of the goalies, Ben Levine … he’s from Pennsylvania, he lives there, runs a hotel there, but he’s a goalie and is now an Israeli citizen,” Beroza said. It was from such diverse origins that Israel lacrosse drew its initial talent.

The inaugural Jerusalem versus Tel Aviv game, pitting Israel’s only teams — both created by Israel Lacrosse — against each other, took place at the Kraft Family Stadium in Jerusalem on Aug. 13, 2011. Beroza and Neiss expected a modest crowd, but to their surprise, as many as 400 people showed up to watch what turned into an exciting game that was decided in the final seconds. And though Beroza’s Tel Aviv squad lost to the Jerusalem home team, he was more than happy with the result. 

But a couple of games in Jerusalem were hardly the apex of Neiss’ and Beroza’s ambitious plans. Jerusalem was great, but they wanted Europe, and then the world. But to do that, they’d need money and supplies, which was where Larry Turkheimer, Beroza’s childhood friend, came in. Turkheimer had played the sport in college at the traditional lacrosse powerhouse the University of North Carolina, and he now runs a successful marketing business in Los Angeles. When Beroza asked him to help out with fundraising, Turkheimer leapt into action.

Turkheimer is bullish on the prospects for lacrosse in Israel. “Being over there, you see there’s a lot of great athletes, and now you’ve just got to get a stick in their hands, and then the sport will grow.” But to do that, they need help from the Jewish community in America. “Our biggest challenge right now is to find a way to fundraise, and to get to the right people to help us put money in the bank for Israeli lacrosse, because the sport is recognized in Israel, but is not supported by the Israeli sports foundation.”

Beroza is also aware that it’s going to take some big American donors for their cause to really move forward. “We can either get a dollar at a time, or a million from five people,” Beroza said. “There are teams everywhere that are starting that face the same challenges we are.”

Beroza is in it for the long run, though. “It’s not going to be something that’s going to happen in a year or two or three, it’s going to take 10 years; it’s going to take 15 years, 20 years — you know, Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

To that end, Beroza and Turkheimer are building bridges in the United States, scouting for funds — and even for players, as American Jews are eligible to play for them — and jokingly musing about convincing a professional lacrosse player like Mitch Belisle to convert, so he can play for the team. 

Turkheimer, for one, definitely sees a light at the end of the tunnel. “When I came from the East Coast to Los Angeles, there was no youth lacrosse at all. Six years ago, when youth lacrosse started, there were 30 kids who came out here in West L.A. And today, the West L.A. lacrosse league has over 600 kids playing.”

Now what Beroza needs is a good showing at the European Championships with his fledgling team, “to put us on the front page instead of the second page.” In a country where lacrosse is as foreign as cricket is to most Americans, exposure is the surefire way to get kids with a stick in their hands. And that’s the future.

Palestinian soccer player injured in Israeli post-game brawl


A Palestinian member of an Israeli soccer team was knocked out during a brawl at the end of a game.

Ali Khatib of Hapoel Haifa, who also plays for the Palestinian national team, was hit in the face and kicked while he was on the ground, allegedly by members of the Maccabi Petach Tikvah team’s management, at the end of Saturday night’s game.

The blow reportedly knocked out Khatib; he was treated at a nearby hospital and released. He also reportedly lost several teeth in the altercation.

Footage from a local television crew showed that the attackers reportedly were Maccabi’s goalie coach and another team official. The two remained in police custody following the incident.

The attack comes two weeks after hundreds of fans from the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team chanting anti-Arab slogans assaulted Arab workers at a Jerusalem shopping mall following a local game. Sixteen fans were arrested; six were banned from future games.