Dudi Sela updates on team composition and morale following his first round US Open win

NEW YORK — Fans of Israel tennis gathered yesterday at the US Open to watch Israelis in action in back to back matches on court 13. Shahar Peer lost in three tough sets to Croation Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, 6-7, 6-3, 6-2. But Dudi Sela, ranked 83 in the world, came from behind after dropping the first set in 17 quick minutes, to defeat Argentinian Carlos Berlocq, 63 in the world, 1-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5.

Sela closed out the match after a disputed call on match point. On Friday Sela plays the second match of the day at the Louis Armstrong Stadium at 1 pm against Grigor Dmitrov, the 7th seeded. Dmitrov has twice beaten Sela in previous match-ups. This is their first time playing together on a hard court.

After the 2 hour, 43 minute match Thursday, the good-natured Sela signed many autographs and spoke to an unusually large gathering of media at the near midnight press conference.

Members of the Argentinian media inquired about the upcoming Israel versus Argentina Davis Cup World Group Play-off tie, September 12-14, 2014. The Davis Cup matches, scheduled to be played in Israel, were recently relocated to the Sunrise Tennis Club in Sunrise, Florida (USA) due to the lengthy Operation Protective Edge and rockets shot into Israel.

Sela said Israel’s Davis Cup team will consist of Sela, Andy Ram, Jonathan Erlich and Amir Weintraub.

Given Weintraub’s injury, there was speculation that he might not play. There was also speculation that Ram would only play if the Davis Cup was held in Israel.

“Ram and Erlich are playing together and have been practicing every day. Jonathan didn’t get in to the US Open, though he wanted to,” said Sela.

Sela reports Weintraub is recovering well. “Amir hits the ball very hard, has a good serve and can be aggressive… Hopefully he can win his match. He has the support of the team behind him.”

Israel has also named 18-year-old Tal Goldengoren, 696 in world, and 20-year-old, Bar Botzer, 742 in the world, to the Davis Cup team as reserves.

While Sela acknowledges Argentina is favored to win, he notes, “We have a chance. We will be 100% fit and we will give 100%. We will have a lot of support.”

“There are a lot of Jewish people who will come from Florida and Israelis may come down from New York,” said Sela, who feels the move to Florida was “a fair decision.” He admits regretfully, however, “if it was in Israel, it would be unbelievable. Every match is full of people!”

Israel faces Argentina for the first time since 1990 in this World Group play-off tie. Argentina won the two previous meetings.

 (Source: http://www.timesofisrael.com)

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Former members of elite IDF units frustrated by toasting marshmallows while cohort called up to Operation Protective Edge

PALMER, Massachusetts — At Camp Ramah in New England this weekend, Israeli emissary Yakov described feeling very far away from what’s happening in Israel while sitting in the idyllic Massachusetts forest surrounding his Jewish sleep-away summer camp. He spoke about a disconnect with his otherwise peaceful town of Nazareth Ilit as tires burn in the nearby Arab village where he usually eats “the best shawarma in all of Israel.”

The camp’s tennis teacher Maoz was discharged 16 months ago from his Special Forces unit. The Jerusalem resident told the Shabbat learning session’s leaders he plans to return home if called, and added, “I am more worried about my brother who is still serving; we don’t hear from him for weeks at a time.”

It is especially poignant listening to Lior describe how hard it is for him being so far from his home and from his unit. The 23-year-old with curly black hair leads nature cooking classes each day for 9- through 16-year-old campers. He vaguely and discretely reported that he has served in “security services” for the past five years and is “still in the army.”

“My friends are lined up near Gaza. And I am making sambussakpitot and roasting marshmallows. It is insufferable,” said Lior.

‘My friends are lined up near Gaza. And I am making sambussakpitot and roasting marshmallows. It is insufferable’

While he is committed to his service in the American Jewish summer camp, he has been in touch with his commander and is ready to return home, to action, as soon as he gets the call.

“I will pack my stuff, stop by the office to say goodbye and go right to the airport,” said Lior.

And the situation on his yishuv in the Shomron, thirty minutes from Netanya, only makes his distance from home more difficult.

“The Arab villages nearby are exploding and threatening us,” he said.

Lior feels blessed that the Wi-Fi connection from the nearby staff lounge extends to his fire pit and checks his iPhone nonstop.

Rotem Ad-Epsztein, an Israeli emissary of 13 years and the current head of Camp Ramah New England’s Israeli delegation of 50, is very aware her fellow Israelis are constantly checking the news and What’s App groups.

‘They get the news in real time, all the time. It raises the anxiety level’

“When I was a shaliach and we went through similar situations, the delegation head checked the Internet daily and printed out updates. Now, they get the news in real time, all the time. It raises the anxiety level,” said Ad-Epsztein.

Camp directors are well aware their Israeli staff’s inner conflicts. When Ronni Saltzman Guttin heard about the increased missiles falling on Israel last week, she said she immediately thought of the eleven Israeli emissaries working with her at Camp JORI in Wakefield, Rhode Island.

She wondered: What would happen if they were called up and needed to go back to Israel to accompany their IDF units to Gaza? How could the camp community support these Israelis during this difficult time? And what would happen if she lost nearly ten percent of her staff?

According to Abby Knopp, vice president of Program and Strategy at the Foundation for Jewish Camp, more than 1,100 shlichim arrive with the Jewish Agency’s support to more than 200 Jewish overnight and day camps every year.

‘Our contacts in the army feel that they are better helping Israel by helping children understand what is happening than by coming back’

“The shlichim are part of the fabric of Jewish camp across North America. They are an integral part of the community and the educational mission of each camp, enhancing the Israel and Jewish education that takes place,” said Knopp.

Camp JORI’s Guttin was the first camp director in the United States to contact Ariella Feldman, director of Shlihcut Services-North America at the Jewish Agency for Israel, but not the last. Feldman offered her sensible advice: Allow the Israelis time and space together; make sure they have time to call home, and make sure they have guidance for talking to campers and staff about the situation in Israel.

Feldman composed a detailed letter to camp directors that addressed emissaries’ concerns. Some shlichim may have gotten calls for reserve duty and are unsure of what to do, wrote Feldman. She wrote she was told by the Jewish Agency’s IDF liason that although the emissaries must inform their units of where they are, there is slight chance of anyone to be asked to return home.

“Our contacts in the army feel that they are better helping Israel by helping children understand what is happening than by coming back,” said Feldman.

Feldman’s letter suggested that “what the shlichim need more than anything right now is the feeling of support and understanding… They are filled with concern and guilt for what their families and friends are dealing with while they are ‘enjoying’ themselves.”

Dan Lange, Associate Director of Camping for the Union of Reform Judaism said URJ camps currently have 219 emissaries on staff this summer.

“Our camps are working hard to ensure our shlichim have the space and resources they need to both stay in touch with family and friends in Israel and process what’s going on,” said Lange.

‘Our camps are working hard to ensure our shlichim have the space and resources they need’

There are nearly 400 young Israelis working in Jewish Community Center day and overnight camps this summer. Since Israelis also come as shlichim through other non-JAFI channels, Jodi Sperling, the North American director of JCC Camps, suggested that the overall number of emissaries in North America is much larger than JAFI’s 1,200.

Sperling composed her own letter to JCC camp directors. “In addition to feeling worry and anxiety about their families in Israel potentially under fire, they may also be feeling frustrated about not being part of what’s going on there and not being drafted as their friends and army units are being called to serve. These feelings may intensify if they feel like camp is ignoring the conflict or their needs,” she wrote.

She goes on to offer eleven suggestions (“provide time and space to be calling home; show solidarity by raising the flag, singing Hatikvah, saying a prayer; remind them they are not alone”) to be implemented by camp directors.

However, despite the nonstop flow of news and the strong convictions of many soldiers to return home, JAFI’s Feldman reported, “Many have called and asked for assistance but none have gone back yet.”

(Source: http://www.timesofisrael.com)

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For Jerusalem resident Moshe Rosenbaum it is hard to believe that his Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor father, Pinchas, would have been 90 this year. He died 33 years ago – and, like many survivors, he did not share all of the details of his Holocaust experience. Fortunately, however, he shared enough information for his family to know that he was a true hero who risked his life to save hundreds of fellow Jews. Now the world will know too.

“Although our late father did not volunteer much information and would only respond to our questions, we learned as children about our father’s hatzala [saving] work,” Moshe Rosenbaum said recently in an interview with the Ledger. “Our late mother spoke to us about it and we also met many friends from those days, including people who were saved by our late father.”

Pinchas Rosenbaum was born in Hungary in 1923 and received his rabbinic ordination at the age of 18. When the Nazis occupied Hungary in 1944, the 21-year-old was sent to a labor camp, never again seeing his parents and siblings who were sent to their deaths at Auschwitz.

Pinchas escaped the labor camp and devised a scheme to save others by wearing the stolen uniforms of the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party, a nationalist socialist party responsible for deporting and murdering tens of thousands of Jews. Pinchas would learn which Jews were to be deported; seek them out, seize them, and pretend to arrest them. Instead of sending them off to their deaths, though, he brought them to a place known as the Glass House, the Swiss refuge in Budapest which was overseen by a Swiss diplomat named Carl Lutz. Lutz was the Swiss vice-consul in Budapest from 1942 until the end of World War II. He is credited with saving more than 62,000 Jews.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Film director Mark Schmidt came across the Rosenbaum story while viewing a History Channel documentary on World War II heroes. What he learned prompted him to make a film about a fictional character named Elek Cohen (played by Jonas Armstrong), based on Pinchas Rosenbaum. Set in Hungary during the final months of World War ll, the young Elek sets out to find his displaced family by stealing a Nazi uniform to pose as an officer. He undertakes extraordinary measures to reroute his family and other Jews to safety by disrupting the activities of the German occupiers.

When Moshe Rosenbaum read about the movie, he contacted the producers. “They invited my wife and I to see that first version. I really had nothing to do with the making of the movie, which in a way is better. I much prefer a fictional story inspired by my father than a distorted biography.”

Still, says Rosenbaum, “I was very moved to see that my late father’s deeds inspired Mark Schmidt and [producer] Randy Williams, who are both not Jewish, to such an extent they decided to make their first movie based on their vision of my father’s story. It was very intense to watch this film and feeling so connected to the main character. Elek does display great courage and total devotion to help and do whatever is necessary to save other Jews and that was my father.”

“Walking with the Enemy,” starring Ben Kingsley, is currently being shown in select theaters in New York, New Jersey, and other parts of the country.

The Ledger spoke recently with director Mark Schmidt about his new film.

JL: How did you come across this story in the first place?  

MS: I saw a documentary on World War II heroes on the History Channel – and one was Pinchas Rosenbaum. I did research; I read books. I went to visit Hungary and went to such towns as Budapest and Krivoda, his hometown, where I conducted interviews.

The film was shot in Eastern Europe. Some in Budapest, also Bucharest and Southern California. We chose the locations to duplicate what it looked like in the 1940s.

JL: Why did you feel this was an important film to make?

MS: Pinchas Rosenbaum was a true hero, he had no army or government behind him. He could have hid out, but he put his life on the line to save innocents. It shows the true hero spirit of one person. That he risked his life; he did the best he could; he adapted to his environment. It is about good versus evil; it makes you think of what happened there and that we in the United States are so lucky.

JL: Do you have any personal connection to the Holocaust?

MS: I have no personal connections. I just wish we would think about how our leadership sometimes goes down the wrong road and does things which can be evil and that the right leadership can offer practical solutions.

JL: You are donating money from the film to the Wounded Warriors project – what’s the connection?

MS: We felt that people who get injured protecting democracy deserve to be honored. We’re doing that by donating to Wounded Warriors.

(Source: http://www.jewishledger.com)

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Optimistic of a full recovery, the second Israeli in the league joins a record-breaking 92 international players from 39 countries.

NEW YORK — On a recent Monday evening, New York City’s Madison Square Garden was rocking. The sellout crowd of 19,812 at the newly renovated Manhattan landmark was on its feet cheering as the Knicks came from behind to tie the visiting Dallas Mavericks with seconds left on the clock.

But a buzzer beater by Dallas Mavericks’ 7 foot, 245-pound forward Dirk Nowitzki sent the Knicks down to defeatsville again, with a final score of 110-108.

A handsome Israeli in street slacks, button-down shirt and sports jacket sat the whole game on the Mavericks bench, smiling and cheering — and biding his time for his chance on court.

Currently in treatment for an injury, Gal Mekel, the well-dressed Israeli, was signed by the Dallas Mavericks in July 2013.

Only the second sabra in the National Basketball Association, the Petach Tikvah native is averaging 2.4 points in his 30 games played this season. Mekel, 26, is a 6 foot 3 inch guard — perhaps a skill learned on his seven siblings.

At age 17, Mekel won the Israel Youth League championship, then went on to play two years of college basketball for the Wichita State Shockers in the United States. Mekel says he still roots for his old team, which stalled in a close game during the Round of 32 in this year’s NCAA March Madness tournament.

Before joining the NBA, Mekel played professional basketball in Israel and Italy, adding Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Gilboa Galil, Maccabi Haifa and Benneton Treviso to his list of credits.

Now Mekel sports a #33 Dallas Mavericks uniform.

Mekel started his first NBA game on November 13, 2013, scoring six points with seven assists against the Minnesota Timberwolves. But the Israeli has had a greater impact and shown more potential than his numbers may suggest.

Teammate Dirk Nowitzki praises him as a hard working team player who moved in while others were injured.

“He was thrown in to the water earlier in the season—playing when Jose (Calderon), Devin (Harris) and Shawn (Marion) were injured. He did a good job. He kept fighting. He is a great passer,” says Nowitzki, in his 15th year in the NBA.

Now, Mekel is battling back after suffering a torn meniscus in his right knee in a January 13 game and has been traveling with the team since the NBA All Star Break.

Mekel spoke with the Times of Israel in the Mavericks locker room following the Knicks/Mavs game on his way to spend a late evening with family members in New York City.

“I started feeling a little better after the All Star Break and started full practices with the team. Now, I’m a little sore and will be seeing the doctor when we are back in Dallas,” says Mekel. (Mekel has subsequently had his knee drained and will be out until early April.)

Mavericks Coach Rick Carlisle is impressed with Mekel and in a post-game interview says, “We like him and are glad that he is part of our organization… He has gotten better as a player, and he is ahead of schedule with his recovery from knee surgery.”

Mekel is working at returning and remains upbeat and optimistic. “It is not easy — but that’s life in athletics.”

Mekel speaks affectionately of his teammates — especially those who came to the NBA from other countries — who have been especially supportive and helpful as Mekel transitions to life in the NBA. Mekel singles out Jose Calderon, the 6 foot 3 inch guard from Spain and Nowitzki from Germany.

Calderon notes, “I was in a similar situation when I got here nine years ago. Gal asks questions, he listens, he is a great worker — he is doing great!”

The NBA reports a record-breaking 92 international players from 39 countries and territories for opening-night rosters for the 2013-14 NBA season. The previous opening-night record was set in the 2010-11 season with 84 players from 38 countries and territories.

Twenty-seven of the 30 NBA teams feature at least one international player. France is the most represented country with ten players, and Canada follows with eight. Australia and Spain each have five players on team rosters, with Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Russia, and Turkey each having four. Four countries have their strongest representation ever – Australia (five), Israel (two), Italy (four), and Russia (four), with Macedonia making a first appearance on the list.

Mekel appreciates the support of Calderon, Nowitzki and the other international players in the league.

“They went through the same stuff I’m going through as a non-American rookie. It is good to learn from them,” says Mekel.

Fellow Israeli NBA player Omri Casspi, traded last year from Cleveland Cavaliers to the Houston Rockets, has also been a big support.

“I have played against Omri four times this year if you include the pre-season and the season. We talk and we are good friends,” says Mekel.

Mekel isn’t bothered by the observations of some skeptics who note that he hasn’t received the same support and enthusiasm on the part of Jewish and Israeli fans who came out en masse for Casspi during his first seasons in the NBA.

“There has been a great reception in each city we play and there are lots of Israeli flags,” notes Mekel, who praises the Dallas Jewish community.

“The community loves him and anything Israeli. He is a great guy, he has a great heart, and he is great for the community. We are just waiting for him to get over his knee issue,” says long-time Dallas resident, Martin Golman.

Despite the warmth and support of both the Dallas players and the Jewish community, Mekel admits, “I miss my family, friends and food. I love my country.”

But the road to rehabilitation and remaining in Dallas is filled with detours and obstacles. On March 4, Mekel was assigned to the D-League Texas Legends for several games.

“It’s time for him to get some game minutes to continue with his rehab,” says coach Rick Carlisle. “I just want to be clear that this is an opportunity for him to continue his rehab and conditioning, and he’s done very well with that.”

Despite Mekel’s travels back and forth from Dallas to the D-League, he can look forward to a guaranteed minimum of three years with the Mavericks. Mekel remains upbeat and has modest goals— “to get healthy, help the team before the end of the season, be a good player in the league and establish myself. I see that I belong.”

(Source: http://www.timesofisrael.com)

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