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The record-breaking, observant “Jewish Jordan”

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Sport

Although basketball seldom grabs the headlines in South Africa, SA Jewish Report readers have probably heard of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Lebron James.

Another basketballer who played in the prestigious Capital Classic All-Star Game, American-Israeli Tamir Goodman, is a religious Jew who, as a 17-year-old high-school junior at the Talmudical Academy of Baltimore in the United States, was dubbed “the Jewish Jordan” by Sports Illustrated magazine.

The 6-foot-3 (1.9m-tall) Goodman went on to become the first Jewish basketball player to play Division-1 college and professional basketball without playing on Shabbat. He also set the record as the first yarmulke-clad player in Division-1 college basketball history.

Excited by the upcoming movie about his life, Goodman believes that “basketball is a universal language”, and he offers physical, mental, and spiritual lessons in his book, Triple Threat. He described some of the qualities that stood him in good stead.

“I would like to share the messages of humility, resilience, strong identity, time management, organisation, dreaming big, listening, paying attention, and trying to learn each day. Do small things well all the time, which will eventually lead to big accomplishments. Don’t stay too down when you’re down, and don’t celebrate too much when you’re on top of your game.”

Growing up as an Orthodox Jew in Baltimore, Maryland, in the 1980s, Goodman had eight siblings, and began playing basketball at the age of five. His father, Karl, was an attorney, and his mother, Chava, threw the javelin and discus.

In spite of his dream of being an elite basketballer seemingly out of reach as most teams played on Shabbat, the sport was Goodman’s passion, and he could practice regularly as his family had a hoop in the backyard.

He gained national attention after averaging more than 35 points per game as a junior at the Talmudical Academy. In Grade 11, he was ranked the 25th best high school player in the country.

Frequently, Goodman’s religious and secular worlds overlapped. After completing a 24-hour religious fast, Goodman placed second in a local slam-dunk contest in 1998.

He didn’t know how he was going to be able to pass his SATs because not only was there high expectation of him as a basketballer, he had also been diagnosed with severe dyslexia.

“What G-d hindered him with, G-d blessed him with something else,” Goodman’s high-school coach, Harold Katz, later said. “His vision was honestly as good as anybody I’ve ever seen play basketball.”

Goodman received a scholarship from the University of Maryland, and his life changed completely. News of his plans to play in one of the top-ranked basketball teams in the country attracted more than 700 media requests that week, he said. “I remember going to services with my father on Friday night. There were reporters inside the temple. It was just completely indescribable.”

He chose to play for Towson University, which better accommodated his religious observance.

“I realise G-d gave me this talent and if I use it the wrong way, he can take it away from me just as fast as he gave it to me,” Goodman said at the time.

The first freshman to start at Towson in more than a decade, Goodman was presented the Coach’s Award for his performance on the court and in the classroom.

Once, when the team was on the road and sundown was approaching, Goodman got out of the van and walked three blocks to a house where he was staying for Shabbat.

“My teammates see me fasting on some days, and they learn about havdalah and kosher food,” Goodman said. “It’s a great opportunity to teach them about Judaism.”

After Goodman and his Towson teammates finished seventh on the 2000/2001 America East Conference standings, the university changed its head coach.

Goodman and the new incumbent didn’t have the best relationship.

“I thought to myself, ‘What clearer message could I have had from G-d telling me it was time to leave Towson?’” said Goodman. “I just picked up and went on to Israel.”

He joined Maccabi Tel Aviv, a powerful force in European basketball.

“It was a pretty easy choice for me. I wrote in my seventh-grade yearbook that I wanted to be a professional basketball player in Israel and serve in the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces].”

In 2004, he took a break from the sport to accomplish the latter. He was named the most outstanding soldier of his platoon in boot camp, and did guard duty right in front of Gaza.

Since retiring from professional basketball in 2009, he has evolved into a successful coach, educator, motivational speaker, and entrepreneur.

Goodman has spoken via Zoom to communities around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic in an attempt to inspire them. “I’ve spoken to different synagogues and community centres across South Africa,” he says. “Hopefully one day I will come on a basketball speaking and clinic tour in the country.”

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Sport

Leilah hip-hopping to stardom

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Hip hop national champion Leilah Jankelowitz puts her success down to hard work.

The Grade 10 student at Roedean School in Johannesburg won the 15 to 16 age group in the South African National Hip Hop Championship at the South African State Theatre in Tshwane from 2-3 October 2021.

“It felt unbelievable, as if my hard work had paid off,” says Jankelowitz.

She was invited to the national tournament, organised by the South African Body of Dance, courtesy of achieving a certain percentage in four online and in-person competitions over the past year.

“If you qualified by placing in the top three for all of these competitions, you were given your provincial colours since you were seen as being the best of the best,” the dancer says.

Originally inspired by African dance movements, hip hop dance took off during the late 1960s and early 1970s. It flourished as a new style of street dance, incorporating aspects of modern dance, tap, and swing, integrating music and complex movements to form artistry.

For Jankelowitz, hip hop dance is both a sport and an art because it demands the creativity of art and the discipline and athleticism of sport.

“I’ve always loved dancing,” says Jankelowitz. “I began working with small and basic dance studios until they said that they felt I should move to something more professional as well as more challenging. That’s exactly what happened.”

She practices with other dancers in Pretoria about two or three times a week for about three hours. On her own, she practices twice a week for about an hour.

“When competitions are coming up, we train heavily, and I usually spend seven hours or more in Pretoria on a Saturday. That’s in addition to the training sessions during the week.”

Jankelowitz hoped to compete in the World Hip Hop Championships in Slovenia in November. “I qualified by getting a certain percentage or higher and placing first in the top three at nationals,” she says. Unfortunately, the rise in COVID-19 cases in the Central European country has resulted in the tournament being cancelled.

Jankelowitz could arm herself with Michelle Leigh Openshaw’s four principles for women looking to make a career in hip hop. The first female judge from Africa to sit on the world hip hop international panel, Openshaw’s advice is to fully discover your strengths and weaknesses, believe in yourself, be an apprentice or find a mentor, and remove fear of failure.

Hip hop isn’t the only sport that Jankelowitz excels in. She’s excited to be in South Africa’s netball squad for next year’s Maccabi Games in Israel. “Netball is another one of my passions. I went to multiple trials until I made it to the final round where out of the huge group, they chose nine to 12 girls from Johannesburg and Cape Town and I was among them.”

The Maccabi Games runs in the Jankelowitz family. Both her parents were Maccabeans, with her mom participating in netball and her dad in soccer.

In addition to netball and dancing, she also plays soccer, tennis, and does athletics. “I love going on runs or going to the gym. I really love spending time with my mates and going out with them,” says Jankelowitz.

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Lifestyle

Hatzolah’s invasion tour brings freedom back

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I’ve never thought of us as the invading type, we’re more “people of the book”, but for five amazing days, even if in our own minds, we invaded the roads of the Overberg region on the 2021 Hatzolah Cape Invasion Tour.

As a first-time invader, and yes, I have to say it, in a COVID-19 year, I wasn’t sure what to expect and how I would feel being in a hotel for five days with a group of guys, many of whom I didn’t know, and riding in a mask-less peloton. This was in addition to the real fear of whether my “pins” (legs) would hold up for the 500km of riding and more than 5 000m of climbing that was necessary to claim a full invasion.

What I hadn’t taken into account was the “Hatzolah factor”. Here is an organisation whose mission it is to care, keep our community safe, save our lives when called upon to do so, and in doing so, to help create “a future that looks brighter together”.

In some respects, the riding was secondary. The operation to keep the invaders safe in all aspects was the real show, and the stakes were high for Hatzolah, which has been our knight in shining PPE (protective) suits throughout the pandemic. And what a show it put on! Led by rosh riding, Mark Kruger; rosh logistics and anything else you could think of, Sharon Newfield; and rosh medical, Yudi Singer, the Hatzolah team of Bernard Segal, Justin Gillman, Albert Ndlovu, and Sisqo Buthelezi were simply exceptional. I can tell you from personal experience that to have Segal following you in a red ambulance and then pull up next to you and offer you a “red ambulance” (an ice-cold Coke) when you’ve been dropped by the group is really quite remarkable.

As were the unbelievable marshals who worked the traffic and kept us moving safely in every direction, and our bike mechanic, Sylvester, who kept our Dogmas, Canyons, and Treks rolling smoothly on the open road. An essential function for a group full of Jewish bike mechanics.

The riding was exceptional. From the spectacular descent into Gordon’s Bay to the golden fields of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, from Pringle Bay to Villiersdorp and Hermanus, we were treated to the best of our beautiful country.

One of the biggest challenges for the invaders, on top of riding and climbing, was to return from the invasion weighing less and not more than when we started. Avron of Avron’s in Cape Town made sure that was almost impossible. The food was top class. How do I know? No one complained.

Not everything was smooth sailing. On day three, one of the more accomplished riders in the group, who was beginning to glow like a lava lamp, discovered that he had been shmeering himself with sanitiser and not sun block, but even that was quickly fixed.

And just when it couldn’t get any better, it did. Each evening, we were treated to a virtuoso performance of Pavarotti, Bocelli, and beautiful chazonis from one of – actually probably the only – multitalented rider on the tour, Ezra Sher.

I almost forgot. How do you know you’ve got Chabadniks on the ride? You have a shul set up complete with a Torah and guys lining up to put tefillin on in the morning. Love it!

From the COVID-19 tests that were required from all riders prior to arriving at Arabella, to the dedicated dining area, to the support teams and riders who made up the invading party of 2021 in a COVID-19 year, it almost felt normal. Like we were back.

This year’s tour was as much about the riding as it was about re-claiming just a little bit of our freedom that has been taken away from all of us over the past 18 or so months. It was about being careful, which allowed us to be carefree. It was about being part of a remarkable community of riders supporting the remarkable organisation that Hatzolah is. There aren’t many quotable quotes when one thinks of Arnold Schwarzenegger, but when it comes to the Hatzolah Cape Invasion for 2022, one springs to mind. “I’ll be back!” May the wind be at our backs.

  • Herschel Jawitz is on the board of the SA Jewish Report.

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“The Cheetah” sets the pace in ju-jitsu and judo

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Mila Ben David, known as “The Cheetah”, became the youngest ever person to be crowned Woman Achiever of the Year at the Johannesburg Women in Sports Awards held on 8 October.

A Grade 4 student at King David Linksfield, the feisty 10-year-old martial artist won the accolade based on her achievements in ju-jitsu and judo.

“Thank you so much for inviting me and for this beautiful award,” Ben David told all the attendees, including Banyana Banyana forward Rhoda Mulaudzi. “I’m so glad to be recognised for my hard work and dedication.”

Ben David went on to thank her family, coaches, and Moonira Ramathula, who founded the Awards in 2018.

Ben David’s Israeli-born father, Amir, told the SA Jewish Report, “The nominees were all women, adults, and then a young girl actually wins. Normally these awards go to sports like rugby and the more popular sports. So, this is a big thing for ju-jitsu and judo. But the unique thing about Mila is that, in South Africa, she’s always fighting in the boy’s division and keeps winning.”

She has 24 gold medals for ju-jitsu and four gold medals for judo. She won the 2018 World Jiu-Jitsu Championship in Los Angeles, the African Continental Jiu-Jitsu Championship (boy’s division) three times in a row, and the Israeli Championship. In addition, she came second in the European Championship.

In South Africa, she has been dominating competitions against boys for the past three years.

In a recent interview screened on Disney Junior (DStv channel 309), Ben David explained why she no longer competes against girls. “After my first fight, the first competition, the girls decided that they didn’t want to fight with me,” she said. “So, I moved to the boy’s division, and my coaches said that it was a good challenge.”

Born in Madrid, Spain, Ben David emigrated with her family to South Africa when she was five.

“She speaks Spanish, her first language, and Hebrew,” says her father. “When we came to South Africa, she couldn’t speak a word of English. Now she speaks a very good English.”

Ben David was motivated to get involved in judo when she watched the sport during the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. “My dad asked me if I wanted to try that kind of sport,” she recalled. “The next day, we went to the gym and I met my coaches. Since then, I haven’t missed one training.”

Her dad encouraged her to take up martial arts that have a grappling instead of striking style. “I think it’s a better style for a girl. She does box and does kickboxing, but she’s not competing in that.”

Judo and ju-jitsu are grappling arts that trace their roots back to feudal Japan. Whereas judo focuses on standing and throwing techniques, ju-jitsu concentrates its efforts on controlling and submitting opponents on the ground. In short, judo is 90% standing and 10% on the ground; ju-jitsu is the opposite.

Ben David practices judo and ju-jitsu every day of the week, and trains at Gracie Barra, a martial arts school in Illovo, Johannesburg. In addition to the “The Cheetah”, they also call her “Mila the Killa”.

Storm Conrad, Ben David’s coach since she started martial arts, said, “She’s not the type of student that comes every day. She wants to fight the bigger, stronger kids. She’s always up for a challenge. She’s the most diligent, hardworking individual I’ve ever come across.”

Said her father, “She’s extremely dedicated. In King David, she brought the medal from the awards to the school and her interview on DStv was played in assembly on Friday. In a recent competition, once again, she was the only girl in the boy’s division and won all the fights by submission, not even by points. It’s quite extraordinary when a girl does that.”

Said a male opponent, “Mila is one of the hardest opponents for me to face – I think I can speak for a lot of the children at [Gracie Barra]. Mila is very focused when she starts ju-jitsu and I don’t think anything can get her unfocused.”

During the COVID-19 lockdown, Ben David took part in Zoom martial arts classes. “But it wasn’t like the real combat sport. I was happy to move back to gym,” she said.

Ben David also trains in rock-climbing and Muay Thai, a combat sport characterised by its use of stand-up, kicking strike actions. Although she enjoys dancing and cooking, she wants to succeed in martial arts.

“My dream is to be a world champion and a black belt,” she said. “I was also thinking of being an astronaut because I love space, or a palaeontologist because I like dinosaurs, so I’m not really sure about it yet.”

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