Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post, Newspaper Articles

On a sunny Sunday this past June, world No. 17 Shahar Peer joined mayor of Akko and other dignitaries to celebrate opening of coastal city’s new Israel Tennis Center.

On a sunny Sunday this past June, world No. 17 Shahar Peer joined the mayor of Akko and other dignitaries to celebrate the opening of the coastal city’s new Israel Tennis Center. The day concluded with an exciting exhibition game between Peer and 19-year-old Ofri Lankri, one of Israel’s up-and-coming tennis players.

The day was a celebration for Israel Tennis Centers throughout the country, long known for their programs geared toward children at risk and with special needs, and for strengthening coexistence between young Jews and Arabs.

The 14 Israel Tennis Centers totaling 178 tennis courts from Kiryat Shemona to Yokneam also strive to promote and develop world class Israeli tennis players.

They serve as the training ground for the next generation of Shahar Peers, Dudi Selas, Andy Rams, Yoni Erlichs and Harel Levys.

The Jerusalem Post recently caught up with Ram at the Pilot Pen Tournament in New Haven, Connecticut, and with Sela and Peer at the US Open in New York, to shine some light on the recent progress among Israel’s future tennis superstars.

Ram, who has focused on his doubles game recently, sees a tremendous gap between the generation of Amos Mansdorf and the generation of Erlich, Sela, Peer and himself.

We played at the Israel Tennis Centers for many years, he said. I played in Ramat HaSharon. We are in the process of building the next generation of Israeli tennis players. It will come, and there will be Israeli tennis.

While Ram is somewhat hopeful about Israel’s longterm tennis future, Sela and Peer are less optimistic.

There is nobody behind us, Sela said, going on to blame the lack of young upand- comers for the fact that many of the coaches have left for overseas.

Sela did acknowledge several young Russian-born Israelis, however, seeing promise in 14-year-old Valeria Patiuk (currently world No. 330 for juniors) and 15- year-old Igor Smilansky (No. 747 in the world). But he is not sure whether Israeli will produce world-class players in the near future.

Peer agreed, saying, unfortunately, there is not much coming up. I just know one girl who is 14 [Patiuk] that they are talking about her, that she’s pretty good.

But Peer offered a partial explanation for what appears to be a somewhat dim future for Israeli tennis.

You know, we are a very small country that were trying to invest in sport, but we have other things to take care of, she said.

Every ten years comes a new player… I hope in the future we will have some good players.

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Original Article published on The Jerusalem Post

Our American correspondent goes one on one with Israel’s first NBA player

He is a rock star! Sacramento Kings assistant coach Mario Elie said as he watched from the side of the court at New York City famed Madison Square Garden. Rookie Omri Casspi smiled as he signed pictures, jerseys and even Israeli flags for loyal Jewish and Israeli fans. I’m excited to be part of Omripalooza! commented another fan. When Casspi began addressing the pre-game crowd on Jewish Heritage Night, thousands began chanting, Omri Casspi! He patiently answered the questions which he has been answering in stadiums across the country: What is it like being the first Israeli in the NBA? Who are your heroes? Do you miss Israel?.

Casspi, 21, has had a very successful rookie year. The handsome, good natured forward from Yavne has become a true star and fan favorite on and off the court. He averages 11 points, five rebounds and one assist per game, scored a career high 24 points against the Phoenix Suns, and participated in the Rookies versus Sophomore game and the HORSE competition at the 2010 NBA All Star Game.

Casspi had a great night against the Knicks. At the post-game press conference, Casspi was flocked by American and Israeli reporters. One noted the irony: 18 points – CHAI – for number 18 in the purple Kings jersey!

Casspi’s Jewish Heritage Tour continued recently in New Jersey, against the Nets. Or Rujdera was lucky enough to be visiting the States from Netanya and came to the game with his father. Or, decked out in his bright purple #18 Sacramento Kings jersey wasn’t at all disappointed by Casspi scoring only two points, seconds before the final buzzer. The seventeen year old was proud that he and his friends get up at 4am in Israel twice a week to watch Casspi play. Just a few short years ago, Casspi himself was waking up at 4am to watch his hero, Michael Jordan, play basketball!

Casspi was born into a sporting family and began playing basketball at an early age. He played for several local teams and at age 13 moved to the Maccabi Tel Aviv youth team. At 17, Casspi turned pro, playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv. In 2009, Casspi was drafted in the first round (23rd overall) by the Sacramento Kings, signing a three year contract worth $3.5 million.

The Casspi family is very close and very athletic. His brother, Eitan, lives and travels with him while in the States. His sister, Aviv, 16, is a serious basketball player for Elitzur Holon and may even make it to the WNBA. His father, Shimon is a great tennis player and mother, Eliana, was a competitive basketball player herself. They take turns coming to the States to watch Omri play!

Casspi understands what it means to represent Israel and the Jewish People. I feel great pride being Jewish and Israeli, and a lot of responsibility. I feel happy being Israeli and Jewish every time I step on the court. At the end of the season, he will return to Israel and play for Israel’s National Team.

Casspi is truly blessed; he is a talented athlete surrounded by supportive family, teammates and fans. And he is a true mentsch! We have high hopes for Casspi as he continues to be Israel’s ambassador around the world.

Do you miss Israel?
I miss home. My family and friends are there. But I have gotten used to living in the States; it is pretty comfortable now.

Do you ever feel affected by the current political situation between the US and Israel?
I’m reading and trying to be as connected as possible. However, I’m mostly focusing on basketball.

What is your current relationship with Maccabi Electra?
They are my friends and it was my home for over 8 years.

Tell us about your sister, Aviv, and her hopes for the WNBA.
She is 16 and plays for Elitzur Holon. She is very talented. We pray for her. You never know!

Who are your mentors at the Kings?
Francisco Garcia (#32, a guard) has really shown me the ropes.

What has been the biggest adjustment playing in the NBA?
Getting used to the athleticism, physicality and nightly games.

You have worn lots of different numbers so far. Now you are wearing #18…
I wear #18 because it is symbolic to our Jewish community. It means life. I plan to wear it from now on!

Tell us about your army service.
Army service is an important part of growing up in Israel. I did it, my brother did it, my father all my friends. I was a sports counselor for three years. I taught, refereed and played. The army really helped me. It was a good experience.

What does it mean to you to be the first Israeli in the NBA?
It is a great honor. I am trying to be the best player and the best example I can be.

Favorite Jewish holiday?
Chanukah. I love sufganiyot!

Did you celebrate your bar mitzvah?
Yes, at home in Israel. I went to my local synagogue on Shabbat, read Torah, everything. We took a family trip to the States, which is when the Nike Commercial was filmed.

Other sports you love?
Soccer and tennis.

Favorite food other than hummus?
Italian pasta, chicken, pizza.

Shoe size?
13. At games I usually wear black Nike’s with a white swoosh.

Favorite movie?
Currently Avatar. In general, Lord of the Rings.

Favorite music?
I love Israeli music Shlomo Artzi, Eyal Golan, Muki.

How did you spend Yom Haatzmaut?
I was at home in Israel with my family and friends having a barbecue!

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Today is our last day in Israel, and we are making sure to enjoy every minute! We had our last gigantic hotel breakfast at Hotel Yearim, loaded the buses and headed off to Har Herzl, Israel’s military cemetery in Jerusalem. Our three soldiers wore their uniforms as per protocol. We started our tour of the cemetery by learning about the branches of the military and the various uniforms.

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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, 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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