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March 9, 2018     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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March 9, 2018

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PAGE 16A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MARCH 9, 2018 By Eliana Rudee (JNS)--Canadian sports executive, lawyer and author of the new book "Alley-Oop to Aliyah: African American Hoopsters in the Holy Land," David A. Goldstein is often asked why he decided to write about hasbara, or positive propaganda used to convince others to support Israel. But according to Goldstein, when he started on the book 11 years ago, he discovered an un- known, upbeat phenomenon. "I didn't set out to create that positive feeling about Israel. That feeling is created by this country--how players embrace it, and in turn, how this country embraces them," he said at a Nefesh B'Nefesh event featuring a panel with some of Israel's most well- known Zionist basketball superstars. According to Goldstein, more than 800 African-Amer- ican players have competed in Israel. "This phenomenon was hiding in plain sight," he told JNS. "It's aphenomenon that's much larger than many real- ize. After playing here, some players convert. And others fully commit to living life here as Israelis--staying and becoming citizens,joining the IDF and raising their kids as Israelis with fluent Hebrew." Although many hoopsters are at first hesitant to even visit Israel, let alone live there, said Goldstein, many come for the beautiful weather and scenery, friendly people, good nightlife and the ease at which English speakers can get by. "They celebrate Jewish holi- days like Purim and Pesach, go to beach or the Western Wall, show patriotism on Israel's Independence Day and even choose the No. 18 jersey ("chai," the number symbolizing life in the Jewish faith) later in their careers as a homage to Israel and the Jewish people," he said. As they embrace Israel, Goldstein found, Israel em- braces them back. "In Israel, players are welcomed in a way that's special compared to other countries," said Goldstein, who maintained that in the context of Israel being somewhat of an outcast in the international political arena, the fact that high- profile athletes would choose to come to Israel and fully embrace the country "means something special here and is a big complement." "They like Israel--and even love it--take less money and then go on to tell others Israel is not what they see on the news," said Goldstein. "They become part of the family." According to Goldstein, although players who stay in Israel and become citizens have the notoriety of being famous players, they share a lot of commonalities with other olim (new immigrants) who become citizens. While they speak about having no personal space at the bank and dealing with aggressive drivers, they are also invited to Shabbat dinners. "It's the flip side of the coin--how everyone stops to help, but also to criticize," Goldstein told JNS, describing the Israeli phenomenon of being treated as family for better and worse. 'NBA Is possible for Israelis' Aulcie Perry is perhaps the first and best example of a player fully embracing Israel and being embraced in return. "Aulcie is the forefather of this movement and phenomenon," said Goldstein. Perry originally signed a two-month contract with Maccabi Tel Aviv in the mid- 1970s but ended up not only staying in Israel but serving in the Israel Defense Forces, converting to Judaism and becoming an Israeli citizen. Perry's aliyah predated Nefesh B'Nefesh, an orga- nization founded in 2002 to make the process easier and facilitate the integration of David Goldstein, Josh Halickman, Aulcie Perry, and Tamir at a Nefesh B'Nefesh event in Jerusalem. new immigrants into Israeli society. Thus, he spoke of vari- ous hardships getting used to the culture; even so, Perry fell in love with Israel, recalling his first year with Maccabi as "an unbelievable dream come true" to play at a high level and have the whole country behind the team. He found that he was ac- cepted in Israel in a way he never experienced in the United States. "I was born in the 1950s in America during the Jim Crow laws of segre- gation and discrimination," Perry told JNS, "And here in Israel, I learn there's 100 eth- nic groups all together as one and hardly no racism," he said. "And that opened the door." Goldstein, who has studied the intersection of sports, Zionism, culture and race for more than a decade, found that other African-American players share this sentiment. "By and large, they don't feel racism," he stated. "Many see commonalities in the history of persecution between Jews and African-Americans." According to American- Israeli Josh Halikman, edi- tor of, this phenomenon that Goldstein found, and sports in general, "speaks volumes of who we are as a country and a people." "Everyone knows that Israel is the best country to play in," said Perry. "I don't know any African-American basketball player who doesn't want to play here." Tamir Goodman, an Amer- ican-Israeli basketball player known as the "Jewish Jorda n," found this capacity of family- building especially unique when he moved to Israel. He told JNS of its special capacity "to break through boundaries while at the same time uniting so many people." Goodman lauded the in- fluence of African-American players in Israel who have changed the Israeli basketball industry. "Their influence in Israel is all positive, as I see it," he said. "Now, playing in the NBA is possible for Israelis. We wouldn't have gotten that if not for African-American Eliana Rudee Goodman pose for a picture players who taught us a differ- ent style of play, better defense and how to get to hoop. We learn from the great players, and that's what basketball is about--not settling and going for the best." Goldstein concurred with Goodman, saying, "When you're an Israeli kid playing basketball, it's an escape or a game. But if you're an African- American playing here, it's your job, and you work hard at it," said Goldstein."They teach Israelis players to raise their work ethic. Omri Casspi said he learned about hard work and dedication from them. "I want people to know that if they see an African-Ameri- can basketball player walking around in Israel orwatch them play, they know what that person has contributed in so many different ways." As he told JNS, "my biggest aspiration is that this very positive phenomenon about a really amazing group of people, and a really unique and amazing country, becomes better known." Netanyahu hail US Embassy move as 'a g (Israel Hayom / Exclusive to JNS via JNS)--Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday hailed a recently an- nounced US plan to relocate the American Embassy in Is- rael from its current abode in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as early as May of this year, calling the move "a great moment for the State of Israel." "President Trump' s decision to move the American Em- bassy to Jerusalem will make our Independence Day celebra- tion even happier," Netanyahu said, noting that the planned relocation will coincide with the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of Israel's indepen- dence. "Thank you, President Trump, for your leadership and for your friendship." The Israeli Embassy in Washington issued a state- ment saying, "President Trump's decision to move the United States Embassy to Jerusalem on the coming Independence Day follows his historic declaration in Decem- ber to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. This decision will turn Israel's 70th Inde- pendence Day into an even bigger celebration. Thank you President Trump for your leadership and friendship." On Facebook, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat thanked Trump for "fulfilling your promise to bring the US Em- bassy home to Jerusalem, the eternal, united capital of the Jewish people." He added "this gift is a par- ticularly meaningful way to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Israel's independence and the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. This is a recognition of Jeru- salem not just in words, but in deeds. We look forward to hosting you this year at the Jerusalem embassy!" Danny Danon, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, said Trump's "coura- geous decision is proof of the strength of the genuine alli- ance and friendship between the United States and Israel. This is the hour to recognize Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the State of Israel." Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Minister Zeev Elkin urged additional countries to follow the American lead and move their embassies to Jerusalem as well. "We at the Jerusalem Min- istry will give any assistance necessary to advance this process, to both the US State Department and to any other country that is interested," said Elkin. Education Minister Naftali Bennett said "the people in Is- rael thank the US president for the friendship, the courage and the determination in recogniz- ing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the transfer of the US Embassy to Jerusalem. You will be recorded in the chronicles of Israel." Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely praised the Trump administration for its "actions to implement the historic decision" to transfer the US Embassy. And Michael Oren, deputy minister and former Israeli ambassador to the United States, called the announce- ment"a great moment for the State of Israel." He said he believed ad- ditional countries would follow in its footsteps and relocate their own embassies to Jerusalem. "This is another step that proves Trump is a president who lives up to his word," he said, adding that Israel was committed to channeling its strong friendship with the US administration to work towards a genuine solution to the Israeli-Palestinian con- flict."I congratulate President Trump and thank him from the bottom of my heart." Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chair- man Avi Dichter said: "In a 70-year delay, the US Embassy will be located in Jerusalem, Israel's capital. Calling the move "a small step for America, a giant step for Israel and human- ity," Dichter said "we hope this move will propel other countries around the world to transfer their embassy to Jerusalem." moment' for Isr; :l According to Likud MK Anat Berko, "this news only proves how important Israel is to the international com- munity and how beloved it is to the U.S." Likud MK Yehuda Glick hailed the move as "a historic decision of biblical propor- tions." Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer said that with the em- bassy relocation, "the Ameri- cans have proved that the winds that have blown since President Trump entered [of- fice] are genuine." He hailed his "friends in Congress and the American administration for keeping their promise and their steadfast stance along- side Israel and Jerusalem." United Torah Judaism MK Uri Maklev was slightly more cautious in his praise for the move. He said the embassy relocation was "a good thing if it comes from the recogni- tion of the importance of the issue, and not from a demand by Israel and in the hope that we will not end up paying a heavy price." Opposition lawmakers also welcomed the move. Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said Israel should "thank President Trump for a won- derful gift for Israel's 70th birthday." In a statement, the presi- dent of the International Christian Embassy Jerusa- lem, Dr. Jurgen Buhler, said: "We are grateful to the Trump administration, which has kept its promise to transfer the American Embassy to the capital, the place where it should be. We join the people of Israel and its government in saluting the gesture. "The Christian Embassy hopes other countrieswilljoin the move and we are acting to achieve this goal through our representatives and activists around the world. It is our belief that the transfer of the US Embassy and other embassies from around the world will bolster the city's standing around the world and the freedom of religion that the State of Israel grants the city."