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Maccabi’s 1977 basketball victory still makes big men cry…

We are on the map and we will stay on the map, not only in sports but in everything.

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Lifestyle/Community

JACK MILNER

Those words were spoken by American-Israeli basketball star Tal Brody after underdog Maccabi Tel Aviv’s upset victory over powerhouse CSKA Moscow in the 1977 European Cup semi-finals.

Maccabi, led by Brody, would go on to win their first European title by defeating Mobilgirgi Varese two months later. It was one of those great David versus Goliath stories that make sport such a nation builder. 

Now the team’s dramatic success has now been brought to life in a new documentary film called “On the Map”, directed by Dani Menkin.

Who would have thought that basketball would become one of the biggest sports in Israel, and even more so, one of their most successful? 

Brody, now 73, still remembers those wonder years with Maccabi Tel Alviv.

“It has never been forgotten here,” said Brody. “Maccabi have won five European titles since then, but you always remember your first love and for 40 years we’ve been remembered like that in Israel. It’s amazing. It left a stamp. It was a win with very heavy meaning for generations.”

Brody said he was happy the story was now being told to the English-speaking world via the film, which focuses on the team’s six American players.

“Each time I’ve seen it, it has given me goose bumps,” he said.

The semi-final against CSKA Moscow – who featured the best players from across the Soviet Union – was played in a tiny gymnasium in Belgium because, for political reasons, the Russians would not allow the game to be played in either Tel Aviv or Moscow.

“To think that we could beat this team… it was something illusionary or a dream,” Brody recalled. “As sportsmen, you always go into a game feeling like you have a chance to win, but our fans were just hoping we wouldn’t be embarrassed. Yet every Israeli and Jewish person in Europe tried to find that gymnasium, and they did.

“So we had not only the majority, but around 99 per cent of the people in that gymnasium were rooting for us, with Israeli flags. That gave us spirit, confidence and adrenaline. And the Russians were really shell-shocked; they had never been in an atmosphere like that.”

Maccabi ended up winning the game 91-79 and Brody was carried off the court on the shoulders of ecstatic fans.

A New Jersey All-Star basketball player in high school, Brody led his team to an undefeated state championship. In college in 1965 he was a high-scoring, slick-passing player at the University of Illinois. That year, he was number 12 in the NBA (National Basketball Association) draft. Before the NBA season started, he travelled to Israel where he led the American team to a gold medal in the 1965 Maccabi Games.

Persuaded by Moshe Dayan and others to return to Israel to help elevate the country’s basketball team and lift its morale, he passed up his NBA career to instead play basketball for Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Menkin who directed the film was born and raised in Israel but now lives in Los Angeles. He grew up with the story. “The team was like a ray of light after the Yom Kippur War. I was just amazed that there wasn’t a movie about it. I’m really encouraged by the fact that so many Americans are loving the film and are seeing a positive story about Israel, which is not something they usually get in the news.”

The events portrayed in the film, Menkin told the Algemeiner, are “kind of like a ‘Forrest Gump’ of Israeli history. It’s an intersection that combines so many things in our journey and our destiny, including figures like Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin, the Russians and the Cold War, and the peace process with Egypt.

“So within this sports drama, it was not just a game, it was much bigger than sport.”

On Brody, Menkin said: “If there are still people like him out there, can you find them and please let me know? He is somebody who gave up the NBA to play in Israel. And for many Israelis his iconic statement, ‘We are on the map’, has become an 11th commandment. It’s beautiful how from the sports world, you can affect so many people.”

Nancy Spielberg, sister of Steven Spielberg, one of the film’s executive producers, said she loved the feel-good story about Israel. “We loved the feeling of Jewish pride. A key message I wanted out there was two-fold. First, there are those who want to delegitimise Israel’s right to exist and they will not win, just like the Soviets who refused to recognise Israel. That’s very current for today with the BDS movement. That’s just not going to happen. We’re never going to let that happen.

“We will be victorious, we will stay on the map, no matter what.

“And secondly, I loved the co-operative American-Israeli effort to rise above what lies in front of us – the hardship and the obstacles.

“I’m absolutely not a basketball fan, but you don’t have to be a basketball fan to love this film. At screenings I’ve sat next to big men who’ve cried out of pride. I love to see big men cry.”

 

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Lifestyle/Community

Shabbat Around The World beams out from Jozi

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More than 75 devices around the globe logged in to Beit Luria’s World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) Shabbat Around the World programme on Friday, 15 January.

Whether it was breakfast time in California, tea time in Europe, or time to break challah in Johannesburg, participants logged in to take part in Beit Luria’s Kabbalat Shabbat service.

Among those participating were Rabbi Sergio Bergman, the president of the WUPJ; chairperson Carole Sterling; and Rabbi Nathan Alfred, the head of international relations. Singers Tulla Eckhart and Brian Joffe performed songs from a global array of artists, along with Toto’s Africa to add a little local flair to the service. After kiddish was said and bread was broken, Rabbi Bergman thanked Beit Luria for hosting the WUPJ. The shul looks forward to more collaborations with its global friends in the future.

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UJW Sewing School graduates model creations

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The outfits modelled by graduates of the Union of Jewish Women’s (UJW’s) Sewing School were all the more spectacular for the fact that some of their creators had never seen a sewing machine prior to the four-month course.

They were modelled at the school’s graduation ceremony at Oxford Shul on 15 December to much excitement and applause.

UJW executive member and Sewing School Manager Ariane Heneck expressed her gratitude to Chido Tsodzo, the school’s superb teacher, and the event ended with a much appreciated lunch for graduates and their invited guests.

The self-empowerment Sewing School for unemployed men and women was started by the UJW 10 years ago. It now has a small production team of ex-students, and some of its graduates have been employed in factories, while others are selling their own creations.

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Israel Rugby 7s to camp with the Blitzbokke

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The thrill-a-minute Rugby 7s have captured the hearts of fans around the world. The Blitzbokke, South Africa’s national Rugby 7s team, ranks second in the world, and is among the most exciting, formidable, and feared of 7s teams.

Exactly 9 191 km away are the Israelis, an emerging rugby nation that has talent, determination, and a world-class coach in South African Kevin Musikanth. Now, these two squads will meet. The Israeli 7s side will be travelling to the SAS Rugby Academy in Stellenbosch to train with the Blitzbokke.

The Blitzbokke will have the opportunity to prepare for the coming 7s rugby season by measuring their skills of play against the Israelis. And the Israelis, well, they will be rubbing shoulders with, and learning from the best in the world and honing their skills for their coming European Rugby season.

“It’s an opportunity for our boys to learn from the world’s best,” says Musikanth. The SAS Rugby Academy is run by the legendary Frankie Horn, a technical expert whose coaching guidelines and methods are second to none in World Rugby 7s.

Musikanth took over as Rugby 15s head coach in Israel in 2018, and in October 2019, he became director of rugby for the Israeli Rugby Union and head coach for the national programmes of both the 15s and the 7s.

Horn visited Israel last December at the behest of Rugby Israel and its supporting Olympic body and since then, the partnership has continued to grow. The upcoming training camp will begin in Israel, where Horn, together with Phil Snyman, the former Blitzbok captain and multiple world champion winner, will spend a week with the players and coaching staff at Wingate, Netanya, the home base of Rugby Israel. They will then all travel to Stellenbosch for a week’s camp with the Blitzbokke.

“We’ve already seen the difference through our partnership with Frankie. Two of our players were spotted by him on his previous trip to Israel, and have been training at SAS on the off-season,” says Musikanth. The two players are Omer Levinson (scrum half) and Yotam Shulman (lock).

Horn, technical advisor to Rugby Israel’s 7s, says “It is a great opportunity for both teams to derive positive benefit from the camp.”

Israel Rugby has been making considerable professional strides since Musikanth took over the reins. Israel 15s played their 100th test match against Cyprus and celebrated with a 34-22 victory.

“We’re in the top 25 in Europe in 15s and in the top 16 in 7s, the toughest, most competitive continent in world rugby,” says Musikanth, “and I can realistically see us setting our sights on the Top 15 and Top 12 respectively in the future.”

Currently, there are three eligible South Africans who are on the Israeli national squad: Jayson Ferera as flanker (Pirates Rugby Club), Daniel Stein as fly half (studying in Israel), and Jared Sichel as prop (Hamilton’s Rugby Club, Cape Town). Eligibility to play for a national team in rugby is stricter than in other sports. One does not qualify just because one has a passport. One has to have had a parent or grandparent that was born in that country or one has to have lived in the country for at least three years.

“With so much Jewish rugby talent around the world, we would be able to put a world-class Israeli national team together if not for the measures that restrict eligibility to national call ups,” says Musikanth.

The Israel Rugby development project was accelerated thanks to Musikanth initiating Bridges through Rugby. This project is the collective effort of a few South African Jewish businessmen who appreciate the long-term vision of Israel becoming a stronger rugby nation. They have come on board to assist with this most opportune tour. National financial support is fixed and, as such, is limited. While the strong players and national coaches will be attending the training camp in Stellenbosch, there will be some that will, unfortunately, have to stay behind.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our players and coaches. To get to see the best upfront and feed off their knowledge is going to be incredible,” says Musikanth. “Everyone is eager to go, of course, but there is a cap to the support we have in place. We would like to take a development u20 squad as well as coaching staff who would carry the benefits of this into the future. A rugby visit to Stellenbosch can change rugby lives in many respects. Stellenbosch is rugby utopia!”

Rugby aside, with the Israelis and South Africans camping together, the question of what will be for dinner after a gruelling day’s training may be a matter of contention. A tussle for whether to serve boerewors or shwarma may result in a scrum in the SAS dining hall to determine the outcome.

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