Original Article Published on The Jerusalem Post

The Cleveland Cavaliers, the former NBA team of such basketball greats as LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, as well as beloved Israelis Omri Casspi and David Blatt, ended their abysmal 2018/19 season with a 19-63 record, in 14th place out of 15 teams in the Eastern Conference.

Their .232 winning percentage tied for next-to-last among the 30 teams in the entire NBA. But there is a glimmer of hope for the Cavaliers, thanks to the signing of Liron Fanan.

Fanan is not the latest up-and-coming hoops phenom. In September, the Israeli was named director of G League player development for the Cavaliers. The G League, short for sponsor, Gatorade, was formerly known as the D League and serves as the official minor league for all NBA teams. Fanan is also an important part of the Cavs scouting department
Fanan has basketball in her blood.

As Cavs GM Koby Altman said: “She’s a basketball lifer with incredible experience internationally and has great basketball acumen. We are fortunate to have her.”

Fanan is more than a lifer; she is a member of one of Israel’s most well-known basketball family. The Fanans are like Israeli basketball royalty. Liron’s father, Moni, was manager and vice chairman of Maccabi Tel Aviv for nearly 30 years. He was mostly beloved, known for his generosity and hands-on approach with his players – from meeting foreign players at the airport upon their arrival in Israel to helping them with routine household chores. Fanan was known to function as a surrogate parent for his players.

Liron’s brother, Regev, is also deeply connected to Israel basketball. He played for Maccabi Tel Aviv from 2000-2002, and again from 2004-2008 with additional playing stints with Hapoel Galil Elyon (2002-2003) and Ironi Ramat Gan (2003-2004). He has served as head strength and conditioning coach for Maccabi Tel Aviv since 2013.

“My whole life revolved around Maccabi Tel Aviv,” said Fanan to The Jerusalem Post in a phone interview from the Cavaliers’ head offices, in which she recounted her unique, enviable career path. She happily reported that she has been around basketball since she was three years old.

Fanan served in the IDF from 1997-1999 as an intelligence liaison, focusing on counterterrorism initiatives against global terrorist groups. She came to America to attend New York University in Manhattan where she received a bachelor of arts in sports marketing and sports management. Fanan could not get sports, especially basketball, out of her system.

After graduating college in 2005, she served as assistant to the Maccabi Games organizing committee chairman. From 2005-2009, Fanan was assistant general manager for Maccabi Tel Aviv, where she had a fully immersive hoops experience – she was responsible for basketball operations, marketing strategies, and ticket sales; she organized team travel and made all arrangements for tournaments, and was in charge of community relations. She also got to know then-Maccabi player Casspi personally.

Toward the end of Liron’s stint with Maccabi Tel Aviv, father Moni’s long relationship with the club came to an end. He retired in 2008 after a reported long-standing dispute with members of Maccabi Tel Aviv’s management and began working as a player agent.

One year later, his life came to a shocking and tragic end at the age of 63. Fanan reportedly took his life by hanging. He reportedly had debts amounting to millions of shekels after players invested with him on the promise of high returns.

Many from the Maccabi Tel Aviv organization including players, coaches and members of management attended his funeral and reflected on his generosity, kindness and his legacy.

The Fanan family’s impact on the world of professional basketball continues through Liron’s evolving, impressive course.

From 2009 until signing with the Cavs, Liron got to explore a different side of basketball.

“I left Maccabi Tel Aviv because I felt like I did everything I could,” she said. “I didn’t’ know if I wanted to go straight to the NBA or be an agent before. I was lucky enough to be close to Omri [Casspi] and started working with him and managing him. I connected him with his American agency and managed everything he did off court on the marketing side, and in his personal life. I did that for 10 years.”

Through her work with Casspi, Fanan decided to start her own agency, 2Talent Sports Management, where she served as an agent and player services professional. In that capacity, Fanan placed 48 players in Europe each year, signing them to teams and handling all of their needs. Clients of note have included Amar’e Stoudemire, Kostas Papanikolau, Donta Smith and Shawn James.

Fanan found that work rewarding but noted that “after 10 years of doing that, I kind of got tired. I had a lot of connections through my work in the NBA summer league doing international relations. I began telling people I was thinking of making a transition and was lucky enough to get a few offers from teams. What the Cavs offered me helped make the decision easy to come here.”

Fanan knows her job is unique and coveted by so many and doesn’t take it for granted.

“An Israeli coming to the NBA is not something you see every day,” she said. “I definitely know I should be proud of an achievement like that. I worked really, really hard in the last 15 years to get where I am today and achieve my dreams.”

Fanan’s daily life during the regular season with the Cavaliers organization consists of upwards of 90% of the time traveling. As director of G League player development for the Canton Charge, she is responsible for running day-to-day operations for the team, yet often manages to drive the 60 miles (100 km) to Cleveland for Cavaliers’ games. She is also assisting the Cavs scouting department and Altman.

Toward the end of the Cavs season, she managed to spend two weeks traveling with the team for their West Coast games.

But Fanan currently spends most of her time and energy working with her mainly 19-to-26-year-old Canton development league players. Her lifetime of acquiring technical skills and basketball know-how around the game are only part of what she taps in to in her work in player development.

“The main thing in G League is to develop guys – to give them the tools to handle all kinds of situations. I help them with all aspects of being an athlete – culture, media, finances. You can be a great talent on the court, but you need to develop as a whole person.”

This training in being part life skills coach, part big sister, and part parent comes largely from her own family.

“My dad was an owner and GM, but he was not the technical definition of a GM – players were around our house and he took care of them, like his own kids,” she recalled. “I was quite close to him and helped take care of the players’ day-to-day needs.”

Fanan acknowledged that the players relate to her “in a certain way at first,” given that she is a woman, but, “by the end of the season, they can relate to me, respect me for what I am and see that I am here to help them achieve goals on and off the court.”

Fanan has seen first-hand the impact basketball players, and all pro athletes, can have on the game and in the world, most notably from her work with Casspi, as a friend and as the mission director of the Omri Casspi Foundation from 2015-16.

“I am so proud of Omri and his ability to take his role as an NBA player and put his dream to work,” said Fanan. “He wanted to do his part to bring his NBA friends to this great country so they could see real life in Israel. I was fortune to produce it and be part of it.”

Casspi helped organize two trips to Israel as a joint initiative between NBA Cares and the Omri Casspi Foundation for 20 players, family members and friends. NBA players on the trips included DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Caron Butler, Iman Shumpert, Alan Anderson, and Chandler Parsons.

The trips included visits to historic sites in Israel, beaches, night life, restaurants, a visit to the Friends of Zion Museum to learn about the history of friendship and cooperation from non-Jews during the Holocaust and basketball clinics with Maccabi Tel Aviv’s youth clubs.

“All the players will tell you that the trip was one of the best experiences of their lives,” said Fanan.

Fanan was especially pleased that the NBA took notice of the impact and success of the trip.

“As a result, the NBA decided to run Basketball Without Borders every summer in a different country.”

Fanan is proud of her friend.

“The idea came completely from Omri. He is very creative. He felt his calling as an ambassador for Israel.”

Fanan, while not currently involved professionally with Casspi, is hopeful that Casspi will return to playing professional basketball once fully rehabbed from his recent knee surgery.

While the 2018/2019 NBA season is over for all but the Toronto Raptors and the Golden State Warriors, Fanan is still going strong.

She just returned to Cleveland after several weeks on the road scouting in both Europe and Israel. And she will be the road again until various summer leagues and camps wind down in August. Fanan hopes she will have a little time in Israel to catch up with friends and family – before a hopefully more successful 2019/20 Cavs’ season gets under way.

“My life is tiring,” Fanan admits. “But it is super exciting and I wouldn’t change a thing.”

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Original Article Published on The New York Jewish Week

Howard Blas shares an important lesson from the Access Israel Conference.

I have been struggling with the role of disabilities simulation activities for many years.  Five days at the Access Israel Conference, where such activities were handled thoughtfully, sensitively and mostly facilitated and processed by people with disabilities—has convinced me that they can play an important role in changing society’s attitudes toward people with disabilities. Let me explain.

In 2015, when Lisa Tobin, the then Director of Inclusion Initiatives at the Foundation for Jewish Camp and I were completing our 201-page Inclusion resource guide, we received some feedback from members of the disabilities community that we should reconsider including disabilities simulation activities. In short, they argued that such activities do not really replicate the disability experience and they can leave participants with increased negative perceptions of disability including feelings of pity.

We ultimately decided to include some simulation activities in the training manual —with a caveat: “They are intended to offer a glimpse into the very complex world of disability.” Five days at Access Israel’s recent 7th International Conference in Tel Aviv Access Israel Conference demonstrated that it is possible to effectively and sensitively use simulations in teaching about disabilities. They key ingredient is involving people with disabilities in the training.

At the Access Israel Conference. Courtesy of Howard Blas

The Access Israel conference brought together over 500 people from 22 countries. Attendees heard from experts on access and inclusion on such topics as Accessible Technology, Barrier-Free Tourism, Urban Accessibility Initiatives and Challenges from Around the World, and Global Models for the Implementation of Technology. They participated in customized sessions—and panels—on such topics as Inclusive Design, Culture for All and Justice and Democracy for All, visited Israeli programs, and toured the now-accessible Old City of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv/Jaffa. Many conference attendees and presenters were people with disabilities including app and product designers, government officials and even the co-founder of Space IL, Yariv Bash.

On the first day of the conference, several attendees toured the Wingate Institute, Israel’s National Centre for Physical Education and Sport. We had the opportunity to experience a simulation activity, set up by Access Israel, during an Israeli Junior Olympics competition, which provided the judo participants, swimmers, and others the chance to play basketball with an Israeli wheelchair player, Liron Levy, navigate an obstacle course in a wheelchair, and eat a mystery cold substance in a cup—while blindfolded.

Our adult group also had the opportunity to participate in the basketball and ice cream eating activity. Liron shared his experience as a person who uses a wheelchair, and a young woman who is blind spoke to us about her experience being blind, completing university, etc. Such simulations take place with school children throughout Israel—and are always facilitated by people with disabilities. Participants in the simulation not only had a momentary glimpse in to the experience of navigating the world as a blind person, or as a wheelchair user; we had the opportunity to hear about the real life experience of people with disabilities as they navigate the world. And we engaged in a dialogue. As we better got to know our instructors who had disabilities, we did not feel pity, as critics had cautioned; rather, we felt better informed of their daily experiences navigating the world, including getting dressed, eating and traveling.

Three days later, as the main part of the conference got underway at Avenue Convention and Events Center in Airport City, conference attendees were greeted with many simulation stations as they passed through registration, on the way to the main conference hall. Again, people with disabilities were on hand to explain the simulation and to share their experiences of being blind, deaf or using a wheelchair. Many tried learning and communicating in Hebrew sign language, navigating a blind obstacle course and taking a wheelchair through a series of obstacles.

At the Access Israel Conference. Courtesy of Howard Blas

Later that evening, conference participants enjoyed a Feast of the Senses dinner. Following cocktails on a lovely Renanna event space terrace, everyone received an Access Israel blindfold and was escorted in to dinner. People in wheelchairs commented about the unique, important opportunity to experience the disabilities of others. Staff members patiently and carefully showed us to our seats, where we encouraged to feel our way to two wine glasses—and determine through our other senses which was white and which was red. And we were challenged to figure out which vegetables and fruits were in our salad.

At the Access Israel Conference. Courtesy of Howard Blas

Michal Rimon, CEO of Access Israel, introduced the meal. “We will be joined by people who live with disabilities. They will talk to you about their challenges, triumphs and successes. The more your let yourselves dive in, the more you will get from the experience.” Rimon, who has led this exercise at many past dinners, knew what the diners were going through. “Right now, you are compensating—you are using other senses more.” This helped explain my increased sensitivity to the noise in the room—and to my walking in to the room very intentionally, trying to maintain my balance.

Our blindfolds were removed and we engaged in a dialogue with an Israeli woman who lost her sight at age three and learned Braille at age four. She reported that only 10% of blind people know Braille since many lose their sight later in life, when it is very hard to learn. “Learning Braille is the greatest gift I was ever given,” our guide reported. One participant asked, “What do you see in dreams?”

Our second course was a sensory course, where each participant was challenged to eat with cooking mitts—with a wooden flat board inside. Finally, our last course was a deaf simulation. A deaf man shared his experiences navigating the world as another man translated for the audience.

As the third successful simulation drew to a close, I continued to wonder why our camping inclusion manual simulation activities were met with pushback, and what made the Access Israel exercises so successful? Rimon patiently considered my questions and conceded that they too had some difficulties at first. “In the beginning, it was a big challenge to do such activities. People thought such simulations would be bad for the kids, it would make them sad, so we had to find one or two schools to start.”

Rimon describes the four pillars to their approach: knowledge, experience, knowing the person behind the disability, and paying it forward. Rimon stresses the importance of giving participants in each class the tools to pass on the experience to others. Students are given homework to go home and discuss what they have learned with their families. She notes that” schools now stand in line to participate in the program.” Rimon feels the program is “changing the DNA of the children.”

At the Access Israel Conference. Courtesy of Howard Blas

The simulation activities we experienced at the Access Israel conference were useful. Spending five days of the conference sharing and learning, eating meals, riding the tour bus and navigating the Old together with colleagues and new friends with disabilities—from a German reporter and two commissioners on disabilities of major US cities who use wheelchairs, to a deaf museum executive, to a blind member of the Google Accessibility team–went even further in changing our DNA.

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See All NEXT Summer Courses

Young Jews “become” bar and bat mitzvah at ages thirteen and twelve respectively. How individuals, families and communities “have” a b’nai mitzvah and mark this rite of passage has varied through place and time. This course will offer a framework for assessing student and family needs and suggest accommodations, modifications and options which can be implemented in synagogues in all denominational settings, based on the individual learner’s interests, passions, strengths and areas of challenge. The course will also explore a number of creative “do it yourself” options.

Semester Information: Summer B – July 22 – ALL GRADES

You Can Register For Summer 2019 From Here.

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