Original article published on The Jerusalem Post, Jerusalem Post Children’s Articles.

The New York Knicks hosted Maccabi Tel Aviv at Madison Square Garden. The game helped raise funds to keep the Tower of Light shining bright for children in need.

Sport brings the world together. Whether it is the Olympic Games, the World Cup or even just a group of friends watching the game, sport has the incredible power to make everyone stop, drop their political, ideological, social or any other agendas and just enjoy the symphony of skill that is played out before their eyes. The cherry on top is when the fans come together not only for the spectacle, but to do a good deed as well.

Late in 2009, Madison Square Garden in New York City was packed on a Sunday afternoon for a most unusual basketball game. 14,600 fans came out for a pre-season exhibition game featuring the home team, The New York Knicks of the NBA and special guests Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv, of the Euroleague. The Garden crowd was split between Knicks fans, wearing white, orange and blue and Maccabi Tel Aviv fans, dressed in yellow and blue. Thousands of people of all ages and from all walks of life came out to show support for an organization in Israel called Migdal Ohr (Tower of Light), the largest orphanage in the world.

Fourteen year old Ben, a New York City native clad in his David Lee jersey, is a Knicks season ticket holder. He and his father Gil came out to see the game and his favorite Knicks players, David Lee and Danillo Gallinari, before the actual season began. I think the Knicks are going to win, said Ben, who also noted, European basketball is rougher and slower than American basketball.

Twenty-something Mendy Fuchs, a student in a Brooklyn Yeshiva, was wearing his yellow Maccabi Tel Aviv shirt and sitting in a section of Israeli and American yeshiva students, all of whom were dressed in yellow to support the Israeli team. Maccabi Tel Aviv will win! screamed Mendy.

Since the event was a benefit to raise money for Migdal Ohr, the game was anything but typical! Boys and men with kippot and women with covered hair were everywhere. Bobby Alter and his five kids, from Englewood, New Jersey, came out to show support for Migdal Ohr. What they do for children is amazing. It is unfortunate how the children start out, but with the help of Migal Ohr they thrive and give back to the Land of Israel, Bobby said amongst the screaming fans.

During the game, the scoreboard showed video footage of Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman, founder of Migdal Ohr and recipient of the 2004 Israel Prize, embracing former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and being praised by current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The scoreboard also invited fans to the upcoming Jewish Heritage Night at MSG. Madison Square Garden seems to be sprouting a true Jewish neshoma (soul) these days. It was a pleasure to see.

Meanwhile, the concession stands had special boxed lunches for sale. The chicken and avocado wrap, the knishes as well as the two other deli sandwiches were provided by a kosher restaurant known as Noah™s Ark. The boxes said, Packaged exclusively for The Rematch, a reference to the fact that this was the second time Maccabi Tel Aviv played the Knicks. The Knicks beat Maccabi 112-85 on Oct. 11, 2007, before the largest crowd ever in attendance at an MSG exhibition game.

The Maccabi players, in yellow shorts and blue practice jerseys, took the court first for shooting practice. The players were tired from their long flight from Israel the previous day. Giant starting forward D™or Fischer, who stands at 6 feet 11 inches (2.11m), is a strong defensive player who joined Maccabi after playing college basketball in the States and pro basketball for Poland, Germany and Belgium. Fischer was looking forward to the game. It is going to be a challenge, but playing an NBA team can only make you better and give you confidence against other European league teams, he said between shots.

Raviv Limonad, a 6.3 (1.9m) tall point guard said it was meragesh(emotional) and madhim (amazing) to be playing in the world famous Madison Square Garden. He pointed out that there are different rules in the NBA and in the European league. For one, according to NBA rules, quarters are two minutes longer than European quarters, and three points in the NBA are awarded for shots from further out than in the European league.

Center Yaniv Green also appreciated the historical significance of playing in MSG and knew it was going to be tough against the Knicks. He was right.

Following the exchange of gifts by Knicks and Maccabi players, the singing of Hatikvah by Beat Achon, a male acapella group and then The Star Spangled Banner, Maccabi got out to an early lead, which they held only briefly (2-0, then 4-0). At half time, the Knicks were up, 56- 35. The Knicks won 106-91, though several Maccabi players performed very well. Alan Anderson, who played briefly for the NBA Charlotte Bobcats, scored 20 points, and D or Fischer scored 19 points and had 16 rebounds.

The excitement in the stands, on the scoreboard, during half time and on the sidelines was just as impressive as the action on the court. Fans enthusiastically chanted Mac-Ca- Bee! The announcer welcomed former Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, and other dignitaries in attendance. Fans had an opportunity to cheer for their favorite song in Choose Your Tune. It was no big surprise that the Black Eyed Peas song, I Gotta Feeling, with their Mazel Tov lyrics won the crowd over. Rabbi Grossman came on the court during halftime, wearing his black hat, long black coat, and sporting a very long beard. He led the crowd in the chanting of Shema Yisrael and the singing of Am Yisrael Chai. Finally, Onlysimchas.com sponsored the t-shirt toss into the crowd.

Though Maccabi Tel Aviv did not come away victorious, the State of Israel was proudly represented. The crowd thoroughly enjoyed the game and most importantly, the incredible work of the Migdal Ohr organization was highlighted and given further support by the Jewish and wider communities. It really does pay to be a good sport.

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Original article published on the Jerusalem Post, Jerusalem Post Children’s Articles

Last month we brought you Shahar Peer. This month, the spotlight is on Dudi Sela, Israel’s leading male tennis champion.

Dudi Sela began playing tennis at age seven at the Israel Tennis Centre in Kiryat Shmoneh, which is in the north of Israel. He remembers spending time as a boy in bomb shelters when his town was bombed by Lebanon. Dudi also remembers watching hisbrother, Ofer, play in tennis tournaments. Tennis seems to run in the Sela family! Soon after the Sela parents immigrated to Israel from Romania, his father Michael, a bus driver, and brother Ofer, 13 years Dudi’s senior, began taking tennis lessons—and both became top players in their respective age groups. When Dudi was three years old, he picked up Ofer’s racket and fell in love with tennis. In fact, when Dudi was ten, he began commuting (by plane!) twice a week to Ramat Hasharon, the tennis capital of Israel. When Dudi was showing promise as a juniors player, the whole family relocated to the Tel Aviv area to be closer to the tennis center.

Dudi has three older siblings, Nir, Shirley and the aforementioned Ofer, who is one of his coaches. Sela loves soccer and supports teams of Kiryat Shmonna as well as Manchester United. His mother, Anca, is a nurse. He also loves hanging out with friends on the beaches of Tel Aviv.

Earlier in 2009, Dudi Sela put Israel on the tennis map during the Davis Cup’s quarterfinal men’s singles match which was played at Nokia Stadium in Tel Aviv. To the home crowd’s delight, Sela beat Russian tennis champion Mikhail Youzny to earn a place the semifinals. D’ash American correspondent, Howard Blas, had the opportunity to catch up with Israel’s tennis pride during the US Open. Here’s what he had to say:

Dudi, how many times have you played in the US Open? What is your current ATP ranking? My current ranking is 35. This is my 3rd US Open.

There are only a few tournaments played in Israel. Do you enjoy playing overseas? Yes, of course especially when I win! It is tough but I enjoy traveling and playing overseas. It would be better if a few more tournaments were in Israel, but unfortunately they are not.

You have had a very exciting 2009. You qualified for and then reached the 3rd round of the Australian Open. What was that like for you, getting in the main draw, defeating Schutter and Hanescu, then taking Tsonga to 4 sets? Regarding the Australian Open – It is a good feeling to win in a Grand Slam. When I was a kid, I always wanted to be in a Grand Slam (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and US Open are considered Grand Slam events – ed). In Australia, I went all the way through the qualifiers. It gave me confidence in the tournament and into the next few months.

You had a great year playing for Israel in the Davis Cup. You beat the Swedes, then you had an amazing win against the Russians. Was the match against Johannson TRULY the biggest win of your career? No. The win against Russia in the next round of the Davis Cup was my best win. It was the best feeling winning in the Davis Cup, and it was very special to beat the Russians.

You were reportedly confident that you could beat the Russians in the Davis Cup and you DID In Israel! How did you know it was possible? Can you describe what that was like? I knew we would win because we played at home, and because all of our players were in good shape. I had just come from the 4th round at Wimbledon. We had luck and we knew there would be big surprises!.

What’s your greatest challenge as an athlete? To stay in the top 50 for the next 10 years! What’s your greatest challenge as an Israeli athlete? I don’t know about challenges so much, but the most special moment for me as an Israeli athlete was playing in the Davis Cup this year. It was very special. The ceremony, hearing the national anthem, these made me very emotional. It was special playing for my country and giving 100% each match. I loved it!.

When competing overseas, do you find a lot of Israeli/Jews come to support you? Yes, especially in New York and Australia where there are lots of Jews and Israelis. I feel people behind me and they push me!.

How does Israel’s prowess on the tennis court affect public opinion about Israel, in your opinion? I don’t think the way we play tennis affects it. People think what they want to think.

Can you tell our readers about your army service? I was in a sports unit. I mostly did community service any time I was in Israel. For example, if I was in Israel for a few weeks at a time, I did community service in different places around the country.

Do you feel special being an Israeli athlete? If so, how? Yes! I love to play for my country and to represent my country. All Israeli tennis players feel this and do whatever we can to represent Israel well.

If you had a message for all of your fans out there, Israeli, Jewish or otherwise, what would it be? Good question. That I love them. That I will try my best to be who I am Dudi Sela.

Favorite food? Schnitzel with mashed potatoes like my father!.

Do you have any hobbies? Other than soccer!? The beach in Tel Aviv, sheshbesh (backgammon) on the beach, soccer and hanging out with my friends!.

Favorite Color? Blue.

Favorite City? Melbourne, Australia.

In a relationship? Yes, I have a girlfriend.

What would you do if you were NOT a pro tennis player? That is a good question….maybe be a veterinarian.

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Original Article Published on The Jerusalem Post, Jerusalem Post Children’s Articles

Ari Zivitovsky is a little like an ancient explorer. The scientist rabbi travels the world looking for different kosher animals. Zivitovsky has come head to head with grasshoppers, guinea fowl, buffalo even giraffes!

Zivitovsky and his childhood friend, Rabbi Ari Greenspan, are both Americans who came to live in Israel. They are both rabbis and doctors. Lots of information has been lost about which animals are kosher, so these guys are on a mission to find the secrets of weird and crazy kosher animals! A friend came to the two Ari‛s and asked them if a kosher pheasant could be prepared. Neither of them was sure, since the Torah tells us about the 24 birds that are not kosher, but since those times, many more species of birds have been discovered! The rabbi doctors did lots of research and Rabbi Yosef Kafich taught them that pheasant is kosher, and in his Yemenite family, they have been eating kosher pheasant for centuries!

Zivitovsky and Greenspan have travelled the word together in search of exotic kosher animals. They went to Turkey in search of the Talmudic Shiboota fish, to Cyprus, in search of a special grasshopper that is considered kosher, and recently they were called to an animal park in Israel to research giraffes. Giraffes are considered kosher. The reason we don’t eat them is because giraffes are so strong that they could kill a lion with one kick. It would be very hard for a shochet to try and hold them down!

Since 2002, Zivitovsky and Greenspan have been holding special dinner parties, where people can come try all sorts of newfound kosher animal dishes, including pigeon, sparrow, water buffalo, fallow deer, red deer, Muscovy duck, partridge and pheasant. And for dessert? Grasshoppers! The two Ari’s have certainly shown us that there is more to keeping kosher than eating lots of chicken!

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Original Article Published on The Jerusalem Post, Jerusalem Post Children’s Articles

The US was awash with tennis champions during the US Open and the many lead-up competitions that preceded it. Dash American correspondent Howard Blas had the opportunity to catch up with two of Israel’s leading tennis players, Shahar Peer and Dudi Sela during the competition.

Tennis is one of the world’s leading international sports. Players and fans from all around the world converge upon Roland Garros (French Open), Wimbledon (Wimbledon), Melbourne Park (Australian Open) and Flushing Meadows (US Open) to see the world’s best tough it out game after game, set after set, in impossible heat, in order to bring home the trophy, the crown of the tennis world.

Though they haven’t won a grand slam tournament yet, Israeli tennis stars Shahar Peer and Dudi Sela are on the rise, and have captured the hearts of Israeli and Jewish tennis fans across the globe. Earlier in 2009, Shahar Pe’er made headlines around the world when she was denied a visa for Dubai in order to compete in the Dubai Tennis Championships, only because she was Israeli. Also earlier in the year, Dudi Sela put Israel squarely on the tennis map during the Davis Cup quarter final men’s singles match, which was played at the Nokia Stadium in Tel Aviv. To the home crowd’s delight, Sela knocked over Russian tennis giant Mikhail Youzhny to get to the semifinals. D’ash American correspondent, Howard Blas, had the opportunity to catch up with Israel’s tennis stars during the Pilot Pen, a US open warm-up. This month we are featuring Shahar Peer and next month we will be featuring Dudi Sela.

Shahar Peer is one of the highest ranked women’s tennis players in Israel’s history. She and Anna Smashnova, another Israeli tennis champion, have each reached 15th in the world. The 22 year old Peer was born in Jerusalem and when she is not playing tennis around the world, lives in Maccabim. She enjoys reading and romance movies! She has an older brother Shlomi, who is 29 and an older sister, Shani, who is 26. Her mother, Aliza, is a retired sports teacher and her father, Dovik, is CEO of a software company. She comes from an athletic family. Her father was an award winning swimmer and her mother was a champion sprinter. D”ash reporter Howard Blas briefly met Peer at the Pilot Pen, a tennis tournament in New Haven, Connecticut, which serves as a warm up to the U.S. Open.

How many times have you played in the US Open? What is your current ATP ranking? This is my fifth time playing in the U.S. Open (first time was 2005). I am currently ranked 64th in the world.

Do you enjoy playing overseas? never play in Israel. There are no tournaments in Israel! (The only time I play in Israel is in the nationals). So I am always playing tennis overseas it is my life, my job, my career. I enjoy traveling. It is part of what I do.

What’s your greatest challenge as an athlete? It is not so hard being an athlete. I enjoy what I do. I guess the greatest challenge is playing well.

What’s your greatest challenge as an Israeli athlete? It is not so challenging being an Israeli athlete. I am proud of Israel and I enjoy representing Israel.

When competing overseas, do you find a lot of Israelis/Jews come to support you? Yes, especially places like New York at the U.S. Open and Melbourne at the Australian Open. Israelis and Jews come out to cheer and show support.

How does Israel’s prowess on the Tennis court affect public opinion about Israel, in your opinion? I am not sure what people think about Israel or about Israeli tennis. I hope it is positive. I hope they are happy watching Israelis playing the sport.

Can you tell our readers about your army service? Was it a tough decision to do it since you are a professional athlete? Or was it important simply because you are Israeli? Going in to the army is natural. Everyone does it for their country. I am happy I did it. I did what I had to do for my country.

You’ve had a couple of interesting, somewhat high profile incidents in the past few years. First, what was it like teaming up with Indian Sania Mirza for doubles and what was your reaction to playing with a Muslim player? We were friends before we played together and we are still good friends. We don’t involve any politics on the court.

How do you feel now looking back on the Dubai incident in February? How did it feel to have the support of Venus Williams and other players? Note: Peer was prevented from playing at the Dubai Tennis Championships in the United Arab Emirates since she was denied visa. Many players condemned this action and some sponsors pulled out. The tournament organizers were also forced to pay major fines for this action. Israeli tennis player Andy Ram was given a visa for the same tournament the following week. It was not a happy thing. I was not happy about it. I was happy that other players came out and supported me. I was especially proud of Andy Roddick.

If you had a message for all of your fans out there, Israeli, Jewish or otherwise, what would it be? Work hard and enjoy what you are doing.

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