Super Bowl Features Both Teams with Jewish Owners for Second Time in 5 Years

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 17: Robert Kraft attends the UJA-Federation Of New York Sports For Youth 2016 Luncheon at The Roosevelt Hotel on May 17, 2016 in New York, New York. (Photo by Steve Mack/Getty Images)

Robert Kraft attends the UJA-Federation Of New York Sports For Youth 2016 Luncheon at The Roosevelt Hotel on May 17, 2016 in New York, New York. (Photo by Steve Mack/Getty Images)

(JTA) — Both Super Bowl teams have Jewish owners, as they last did in 2012.

Robert Kraft will see his New England Patriots, the American Football Conference champions, in the big game for the seventh time since 2000. He bought the club, which will be making its record ninth Super Bowl appearance, in 1994.

Arthur Blank will watch his National Football Conference-winning Atlanta Falcons playing in their second Super Bowl — but the first since the Home Depot founder bought the team 15 years ago.

In the most recent faceoff between Jewish owners, in 2012, the unbeaten Patriots were upset by the New York Giants, who are co-owned by the Tisch family.

The Patriots and Falcons advanced to the 51st Super Bowl, which will be played Feb. 6 at NRG Stadium in Houston, with routs in the conference championship games Sunday.

Blank, 74, the chairman of the Arthur Blank Family Foundation, has pledged to take all of the Falcons employees, about 270, to the Super Bowl. He is a signatory of The Giving Pledge, committing himself to give away at least 50 percent of his wealth to charitable causes. Blank reportedly has a net worth of about $3 billion.

The Kraft family over recent decades has donated more than $100 million to an array of causes, including health care, education, the Jewish community, Christian organizations and local needs.

Kraft, 75, is a prominent supporter of American football in Israel, including the Kraft Family Stadium in Jerusalem and the Kraft Family Israel Football League.

Kids’ Soccer Leagues Aim to Bridge Israel’s Religious Divide

Members of the Tzav Pius team for 13-year-olds sing the team anthem following a practice. (Ben Sales)

Members of the Tzav Pius team for 13-year-olds sing the team anthem following a practice.
(Ben Sales)

PARDES HANNA, Israel — When Yoel decided, at age 8, to begin observing Shabbat, there was one problem: It meant he couldn’t join most of Israel’s youth soccer teams, which played games on Saturday.

Yoel, now 12, has always lived in the increasingly large gray area between Israel’s starkly divided religious and secular Jewish societies. His father observes Shabbat, his mother doesn’t. He attended a religious elementary school but transferred to a secular school this year.

He enjoys how Shabbat forces him away from TV and video games, allowing him to relax. But as a budding soccer forward, Yoel also likes the feeling of grass under his cleats. Few things excite him more than going one-on-one against a goalie and kicking a “missile” into the goal.

Yoel no longer has to decide between Shabbat and soccer, thanks to a team run by Tzav Pius, a not-for-profit organization that aims to bridge thedivides between religious and secular Israeli Jews. Tzav Pius teams play games during the week, from Sunday to Friday, allowing religious Israelis to participate.

“Tzav Pius lets me play soccer,” said Yoel, who as a minor couldn’t give his last name without a parent’s permission. Saying he has religious and secular friends, he adds: “I know how it feels to be in two different societies.”

Tzav Pius, which has organized 96 youth soccer teams across Israel, is aiming to change how the country’s religious society and soccer establishment view each other. Because Israel’s most popular sport is played on its day of rest, about one-third of Israeli Jews — the proportion that observes Shabbat — cannot watch, attend or play games.

What has resulted is a largely secular soccer culture. Soccer fandom, which unites nations and cities worldwide around their favorite teams, has become another wedge within Israeli culture, creating two groups that have two different passions on the same day.

“There’s a secular culture of sports that has no connection to Shabbat, and religious Jews want to be part of it,” said Avner Michaeli, a Tzav Pius youth counselor who is secular. “As a kid, my whole world was that Saturday was soccer. So as a religious Jew, you could say, ‘Don’t go crazy, it’s just soccer.’ Just like a secular Jew can tell a religious Jew, ‘It’s 2016, why can’t you drive [on Shabbat]?’”

Each of Israel’s 1,200 youth soccer teams, for children ages 10 to 18, is linked to one of the country’s 234 professional teams. Kids try out for the youth league, and the best athletes are groomed to play pro. Israel’s abbreviated weekend begins Friday afternoon and ends Saturday night; teams play on Saturday afternoon because weekend games are easier on families.

Until Tzav Pius began fielding youth teams 12 years ago, aspiring religious soccer players would either break Shabbat to play or give up on the sport. Moshe Yazdi, who now coaches the Tzav Pius team in Pardes Hanna, a city between Haifa and Tel Aviv, grew up religious but loved soccer. Beginning at 16, he was accepted to the local youth team and would sneak out Saturday afternoons, without telling his parents, to play games and ride the team bus, if necessary.

Tzav Pius teams now play on weekday afternoons, and the league requires rival teams to schedule their matches accordingly. Still, difficulties can arise. One Tzav Pius team forgot to request a rescheduling, so the players had to walk the five miles from one city to another rather than violate Shabbat by driving. Last year, a team had to stay overnight in a synagogue to play a Saturday game.

“It doesn’t bother them to play in the middle of the week,” said Iddo Diamant, director of Tzav Pius’ soccer program. “The kids come to play soccer. That’s what’s great about it. They don’t care about who’s religious and secular.”

Founded after the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin stoked bitter religious-secular tensions in Israel, Tzav Pius runs a network of joint religious-secular schools, kindergartens and summer camps that promote what it calls an “integrated” society.

Tzav Pius — literally “reconciliation order,” a play on the Hebrew phrase for a draft notice — doesn’t shy away from advancing its coexistence message during practices. A couple times each month, before the kids run drills and scrimmage, they attend an hourlong educational session on the field featuring games and exercises designed to imbue tolerance and an appreciation for pluralism. Some activities also aim to counter racism among Israeli soccer fans and players.

In one exercise on Monday, this city’s 13-year-olds’ team divided into two groups. One was allowed to play by normal rules, with the advantage of two goalies. The other had the usual one goalie, plus its players could only touch the ball twice before passing it. The exercise aimed to teach the kids how to handle an uneven power dynamic between two groups.

Michaeli, who runs the exercises, has experience playing with groups from different backgrounds. The child of a kibbutz, he grew up playing in a league with city kids, Arabs and Jews. While Michaeli said the kids enjoy the educational activities, they don’t always succeed. He recalled one exercise about breaking Shabbat to play the game — the core dilemma Tzav Pius is addressing. The ensuing argument ended up splitting the team along religious and secular lines.

“It’s all nice in theory, but in practice it isn’t always,” Michaeli said. “Everyone goes to their own corner and isn’t ready to give up on his space. Secular will remain secular, but I think the kids on the team will be a little more open.”

Although Tzav Pius allows Yoel, the 12-year-old forward, to play, he still feels a conflict between religion and soccer. Were he not Shabbat observant, he said, he could join the best youth teams and try to work his way up.

But Yoel knows one thing for certain: While he appreciates coexistence, he’d rather skip the educational exercises and play the game.

“I would rather have fewer activities,” he said. “Kids don’t enjoy that. We have education at school.”

Behind The Scenes Terps support staff are part of the team

Video coordinator Jonathan Trock stays focused on the action during a recent game. (Gary Trock)

Video coordinator Jonathan Trock stays focused on the action during a recent game.
(Gary Trock)

The Terps’ basketball student managers, in their red-collared Under Armour shirts tucked into black pants, Gatorade bottles and towels at the ready, work hard to make sure that the team can focus on playing, at home and away.

Head student manager Benjamin Eidelberg of Pikesville is in charge of making things run. Whether it’s putting out the players’ gear, filling Gatorade coolers or placing a bubble on top of a hoop for box-out drills, Eidelberg and his team of 11 student managers make sure it gets done on time and to the liking of head coach Mark Turgeon.

“We’re here an hour to an hour-and-a-half before practice starts to make sure anything [the team] needs for practice is ready, so when it comes to practice time, it’s not, ‘Oh, wait we need this.’ It’s already there,” said Eidelberg.

Becoming head manager of a Division I basketball team is an earned position. Eidelberg, who celebrated his bar mitzvah at Beth Tfiloh Congregation, began his journey during his senior year at McDonogh School when he chose to intern with the NBA’s Washington Wizards for six weeks.

That experience helped him when a month into his freshman year at the University of Maryland, Eidelberg applied to be a part of the student management team. His official assignment was to record practices, sitting up in Section 215 of the Xfinity Center by himself capturing footage.

His duties have since been taken over by student managers Chris Shields, sophomore, and Alex D’alessio, freshman; they assist video coordinator Jonathan Trock, who hails from Scarsdale, N.Y., where his family attends Temple Israel Center in White Plains.

Each year, Eidelberg took on more responsibilities until, as ranking senior, he was named head student manager.

But the title is bittersweet.

“Honestly, it would have been Zach,” he said referring to his friend Zach Lederer, who passed away last year after a second battle with brain cancer. The “Zaching” pose he inspired went viral as everyday people, athletes and even ESPN commentators posted photos of their strong man pose. A mural in Lederer’s honor adorns the wall of the manager’s room.

Eidelberg takes the role seriously, at home and on the road. When the Terps travel they take three student managers. Eidelberg, who admits to having some influence, tries to divide up the road games fairly so managers who have put in their time have an opportunity to travel.

Trock, who graduated from the University of Miami in 2012, joined the Terps in fall 2013. Like Eidelberg, he took a similar route on his way to Hurricanes head manager. As the Terps’ video coordinator, it’s Trock’s job to cut five to 10 games down into 10-minute videos “to give our student-athletes as much information as possible without being overwhelming.” The student-athletes, in compliance with NCAA rules, review the footage with their coaches before practices.

“Coach Turgeon is very detailed, very meticulous,” said Trock. “He’ll ask for something and I’ll have no idea why he’s asking for it, but when he explains it to the team, he points out the smallest detail and I’ll understand why.”

To see players translate that information into a move during a Big Ten game is incredible to see, he added.

Being a part of the Big Ten has opened up new opportunities for the basketball staff, not just to see other courts and meet other managers, but to get in on the action, too. The Big Ten managers have a tradition of fielding five-on-five games, which they take quite seriously, tweeting out results as @B1GManagerHoops. As of Feb. 9, Maryland managers (@TerpsBballMgrs) rank seventh with a 4-3 record.

“Our first trip, we got to Michigan State and I heard that one of their managers asked if we wanted to play,” said Eidelberg. “We played, Juan played, some of the [graduate assistants] played.”

Juan, of course, referred to the legendary Maryland alumnus of the 2002 championship team, Juan Dixon.

“When Juan became more involved with the team, it was like, ‘Wow, this is Juan Dixon,’” said Eidelberg. “In my mind, he’s been the face of Maryland basketball.”

He added, “I remember the first time I played against him, I went home, I texted my parents and my friends that I played with Juan Dixon. Now it’s just normal. My childhood hero and I can talk like normal [people].”

Dixon and the coaches have a great relationship with the student managers, which has carried over to the players, Eidelberg emphasized.

“You’re not on the team, but you’re a part of the team,” he said. “They’re very cohesive, very welcoming. It’s not just, ‘Oh, these are the managers who are supposed to be doing stuff for us.’ They treat us as equals.”

mapter@midatlanticmedia.com

Israel Surprises in World Championship Debut

Team Israel wrapped up a strong World Lacrosse Championship debut late last week with a seventh-place finish.
The team clinched the seventh spot with a 15-10 win over Japan on Friday, July 18. After falling behind 5-4 at halftime, Israel stormed back in the second half of its final match of the championships. Ari Sussman, who was the tournament’s second-highest scorer, scored a game-high five goals against Japan, and goalie Henry Altschuler played almost three quarters and turned back nine shots for the win.
The Israeli team finished the tournament atop its division with a 6-2 overall record.

Israel Lacrosse Improves to 5-0 in World Championship

Photo provided

Henry Altschuler made seven saves through 60 minutes of action on Tuesday against Germany.

The Israel national lacrosse team secured a top-eight finish in the FIL World Lacrosse Championship and a spot in the quarterfinals Tuesday with a 15-1 win over 6th-ranked Germany.
Attackman Ari Sussman, who leads the tournament with 30 points, netted three goals and two assists in the Germany match while Matthew Cherry (four goals, one assist) and Noach Miller (three goals) provided additional support for team Israel. Henry Altschuler made seven saves and allowed no goals in 60 minutes to earn the win in goal.
Israel, which has an undefeated 5-0 record in the tournament, took a strong lead early, collecting four goals to Germany’s zero by the end of the first quarter. At the half, the lead had doubled to 8-0, 10-0 by the three-quarter mark.
Israel has rolled through its first-round competition in its World Championship debut, defeating Sweden 19-4 in the opener, Slovakia 17-2, Korea 19-2 and Ireland 18-9 before its win over Germany.
The team will now face Australia, which finished in fourth place in the Blue group and has medaled in 11 previous World Championships. The game will take place on Wednesday, July 16 at 5 p.m. EST and be broadcast live on ESPN 3.

Israel Lacrosse Makes World Championship Debut

Despite turmoil at home and protests at practices, coaches say the Israel national team is ready to play.

Despite turmoil at home and protests at practices, coaches say the Israel national team is ready to play.

Amid turmoil at home, the Israeli national lacrosse team made their FIL World Championship Friday, July 11 with a 19-4 win over 10th-ranked Sweden.
The team traveled to host state Colorado earlier this month, just days after the bodies of three kidnapped Israeli teens were found in the West Bank and a week before Israel officially launched Operation Protective Edge against Hamas targets in Gaza. Since the start of the games, the team has beat Sweden, Slovakia, Ireland, Korea and Germany for a 5-0 record as of Tuesday.
“At the same time while we think about the games, we also think about what’s going on in Israel,” said head coach William Beroza in an interview with the JT ahead of the team’s debut. “It’s a challenging time for a lot of the players, but, you know, we’re excited about playing lacrosse.”
With three players enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces and more planning to enlist after the games, the team has been watching the news regularly, said Beroza, but the notion of dropping out has not so much as crossed their minds, he asserted.
“We end every practice, every dinner, basically understanding what’s going on back there, with our prayers and wishing them well,” said Beroza. “It’s not a major distraction, it’s just it’s something we need to think about, certainly.”
Since arriving to the U.S., the team has taken extra precautions to ensure the safety of the athletes and staff. Their schedule and hotel accommodations are not disclosed to the public and the team has hired a private security firm which has worked closely with the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Denver police, said Scott Neiss, executive director of the Israel Lacrosse Association.
In addition, the association has temporarily closed its headquarters in Ashkelon and relocated staff to the program’s Tel Aviv office.
Despite the efforts to protect the team in recent weeks, coaches and players have not been immune to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement picking up steam across parts of the U.S. Beroza said the team has had to deal with a protestor at one of their practices and even had to make changes in their practice locations due to non-violent threats.
At the end of the day, though, Beroza said, “we’re here to play lacrosse.”

Four Questions for Jeffrey Rosen

Jeffrey Rosen is proud that the BSL is now considered an elite league. (Provided)

Jeffrey Rosen is proud that the BSL is now considered an elite league.
(Provided)

Mark down the date: Friday, June 20, 2014. It was the day that the world realized that Israel had become a force in the world of professional basketball. Former Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv head coach David Blatt, who led the yellow and blue to both the 2014 Euroleague and Israeli Basketball Super League championships, was hired as the new bench boss of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers.

What an amazing season, as Maccabi TA won the Euroleague title May 18 in an exciting 96-86 overtime win over Real Madrid in Milan. But they still had to face defending BSL defending champion Maccabi Haifa in a two-game playoff. That also ended in another overtime victory, 84-82, on June 11.

Meanwhile, for Jeffrey Rosen, the owner of defending champions Maccabi Haifa, it was a tough loss to take. But he knows the most important thing for fans worldwide to remember is that the BSL has come into its own as one of Europe’s most elite basketball leagues.

Rosen has made the team from northern Israel into a global brand as the 2012-13 BSL champions. A resident of Aventura, Fla., Rosen has brought Maccabi Haifa to the United States, where last year they completed a successful preseason NBA tour against the Phoenix Suns, the Detroit Pistons and the Memphis Grizzlies.

Haifa management also helps produce the English-language “Inside Israeli Basketball” show, which has been broadcast on American cable networks and is available on the Internet worldwide.

Rosen is the owner and chairman of Triangle Financial Services, LLC, a Florida-based sports marketing, media and management firm. His passion for professional basketball in Israel has not gone unnoticed.

More potential ownership groups are looking to invest in the BSL, and the most recent entry was the group who purchased Hapoel Migdal Jerusalem in 2013. The group is headed by 32-year-old Internet businessman Ori Allon, and it includes New York Knicks superstar Amar’e Stoudemire and Eyal Chomski, who owns one of Israel’s biggest and most successful advertising agencies. Then for good measure they added U.S.-based Arn Tellem, who is widely recognized as one of the most influential and respected sports agents in the world.

Because of Rosen’s promotion of Israel basketball and the longtime success of rival Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv, it suddenly seems like owning a team in the BSL is a wise sports investment.

Rosen, though, is not only involved in basketball. He was an original investor in the Israel Baseball League and has emerged as a leader in a group seeking to restore professional baseball to Israel after the failed attempt of 2007.

Just before a much-needed vacation after the BSL championship series, Rosen spoke to the JT about a number of sports-related issues.

JT: Another outstanding year but a tough ending. Can you reflect on how far Maccabi Haifa has come under your ownership?
Rosen: Despite falling just short of back-to-back championships, I’m extremely proud of the team’s accomplishments and the progress our organization has made over the past seven years. We went from a second-division team in the first season in 2007 and were promoted to the Premiere League in just one season. Our Maccabi Haifa team has earned five finals appearances (three Israeli League finals and two State Cup finals) in the past six seasons, including winning the team’s first championship, in 2012-13, in the franchise’s 60-year history. Maccabi Haifa has become a global brand, playing six NBA teams in the past four seasons. We also have our “Inside Israeli Basketball” TV show, which has been on the air in the United States for five seasons and has earned two New York Emmy Award nominations.

The Israeli Basketball Super League has attracted new owners and top players. Are you pleased with the growth of the league both in interest as well as the talent level?
The Israeli Basketball Super League’s talent and ownership is definitely on the rise since I became an owner back in 2007. Many of the teams are opening first-class venues, including our team, which opened a beautifully renovated Romema Arena in Haifa in 2012-13. Hapoel Jerusalem has attracted new ownership, including present New York Knicks star Amar’e Stoudemire. As the owner of Maccabi Haifa, I welcome and am open to additional owners for our Maccabi Haifa team.

Is it your hope to have Maccabi Haifa play in both the BSL and
the Euroleague?
Our goal is to continue to be a force in the Israeli Basketball Super League. The Euroleague is something we can see happening in the future, but our focus is on the BSL and continuing to build Haifa as a global brand in international basketball with our annual games against NBA competition. We will soon announce the names of the NBA teams we will face in the United States and the dates, so our American fans can come out and see us.

I know of your love of baseball. How is your quest to bring professional baseball to Israel coming?
Baseball is a passion of mine, and we continue to support the local Israel Association of Baseball each year. We hope to build high-class baseball facilities in Israel in the near future.

Winning Shot

070414_basketballLOS ANGELES — In 1981, David Blatt moved to Israel in pursuit of a path of lifelong worship — to play professional basketball.

Now, more than 30 years later, Blatt is leaving Israel to make a different, and totally unprecedented, form of aliyah — to leave the ranks of Israeli basketball to coach in the NBA.

On June 20, the Cleveland Cavaliers announced the hiring of Blatt as their head coach.

“I’m leaving my home but not my family,” Blatt had said at a June 12 news conference, as he explored his NBA options. “I’m not necessarily leaving for a better place. I’m leaving to follow my dream.”

He becomes the first coach in the history of European basketball to move directly to an NBA head coaching position. Blatt’s journey from the Boston suburbs to Israel and now back to the United States marks a triumph not only for Blatt but also for the small but storied world of Israeli basketball, and particularly for the Maccabi Tel Aviv team, famous for its underdog victories.

The most recent of those, which seems to have catapulted Blatt into the upper echelons of professional basketball, took place in the Euroleague Final Four in mid-May when Blatt led an undermanned Maccabi Tel Aviv squad to consecutive victories and the championship, a feat that impressed even NBA executives.

“Maccabi was outgunned at every position except coach,” one NBA general manager told ESPN. “David took down two Goliaths in a weekend. He belongs in the NBA.”

It has been a long journey for Blatt, who grew up in Framingham, Mass., as an avid Celtics fan. Blatt attended Hebrew school at Temple Beth Am and later recalled putting money in jars to plant trees in Israel. But he never connected his passion for basketball with his Jewish background.

Instead, he established himself as a top basketball talent and also had the good fortune to play for top coaches — first at Framingham South High School for Phil Moresi, now in the Massachusetts High School Basketball Hall of Fame, and then at Princeton University for Pete Carril, famed as the inventor of the “Princeton offense.”

During Blatt’s sophomore year at Princeton, a coach for an Israeli kibbutz team recruited him to play in Israel for the summer. Blatt loved kibbutz life and found that he was hooked. By the time he competed for the U.S. team in the 1981 Maccabi Games, winning a gold medal, he knew he was coming back.

“From the time I came here in 1979, I knew that I wanted to play in Israel professionally for some years,” he told Haaretz. “I realized that I wasn’t making the NBA, and I wanted to continue to play basketball professionally, in terms of money, but more than anything — to keep playing.”

He played nine of the next 12 years in Israel before retiring in 1993 to become a coach.

His coaching career eventually took him to Maccabi Tel Aviv — a team for which he had never played — where he served as an assistant under legendary coach Pini Gershon. When Gershon took a break from coaching in 2001, Blatt stepped into the head job for two successful seasons. Blatt went back to the job of assistant coach when Gershon returned.

Blatt then bounced around Europe, coaching several teams as well as the Russian national team, which he led to an Olympic bronze medal in 2012. In 2010, Blatt returned to Maccabi as head coach.

Among Israeli basketball teams, Maccabi Tel Aviv has long been dominant, winning the Israeli Championship 51 times and the European Championship six times since the team’s inception in 1932. That history, along with the city’s famed weather, culture and English-speaking population, has made it one of the most desirable international locales for top players, including Jordan
Farmar, a Jewish standout currently with the Los Angeles Lakers who played for Maccabi Tel Aviv during the 2011 NBA lockout.

Maccabi Tel Aviv, in turn, has used that desirability to its advantage, offering low salaries to match a payroll that is relatively small by European standards.

“It’s known to be what is called among players a low-ball organization — they’ll lure you and low-ball you into signing with them because of tradition and history,” said David Pick, a senior basketball correspondent for Eurobasket.com and Israeli sports channel One.co.il. “They’re expecting players to take pay cuts to play for Maccabi, and for the most part it works.”

However, despite that edge in attracting talent, this year’s Maccabi Tel Aviv team was widely considered weak and unlikely to advance far in the playoffs. Three of their five projected starters at the beginning of the season had been injured, and the team entered the Euroleague’s Final Four as a severe underdog. When Maccabi took the championship in a pair of nail-biters, the victory was hailed in Israeli newspapers as a “miracle.”

Shortly after the victory, Blatt announced that he was interested in pursuing options in the NBA. When he flew back to the United States last week for his father’s funeral, he reportedly met with new Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr for 45 minutes during an airport layover in Los Angeles, and Golden State subsequently offered him a position as one of Kerr’s assistants. He also interviewed with Cleveland, first by phone, and then in person on June 18. They offered him the job the next day.

It is an open question, of course, whether Blatt’s success in Israel will carry over to the NBA, although the increasing success of European players in making the jump suggests that talent can transfer. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that the San Antonio Spurs just won an NBA title by dominating the LeBron James-led Miami Heat with an international roster and style of play.

A number of Blatt’s former players and coaches think he can do it. Ex-coaches Carril and Moresi have both expressed their belief that Blatt can make the transition, and former Maccabi and NBA player Anthony Parker, subsequently a scout for the Orlando Magic, has repeatedly stated that Blatt is one of the best coaches in the world.

Blatt will be leaving behind a country that not only has become his home, but also has embraced him as a superstar.

“David Blatt doesn’t want to walk out in the street because he wouldn’t be able to,” Pick said. “David leaves the coaches’ facility at 1, 1:30 in the morning just to avoid the mob.”

But, as Blatt has proven before, he’s willing to travel a long way from home to pursue his dreams.

Diamond minds

(From left) Ron Shapiro, Caden Shapiro and Mark Shapiro share a special bond over baseball.  (provided)

(From left) Ron Shapiro, Caden Shapiro and Mark Shapiro share a special bond over baseball.
(provided)

Standing on a hill on a glorious Sunday morning, Mark and Ron Shapiro are kvelling as they watch Caden Shapiro — son of Mark and grandson of Ron — pitching — in a baseball tournament in Aberdeen, Md., after having been shelved for nearly two months by a broken ankle.

Mark Shapiro, the president of the Cleveland Indians, was back recently for the three-day competition as a coach for his boy’s Cleveland Spiders, not to see his Tribe play the Orioles at nearby Camden Yards.

The site for the tournament — a complex of beautifully maintained fields — was named for Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. — the most recognizable client of his dad, an eminent sports agent.

At 11, Caden is the latest Shapiro drawn to baseball, a chain emanating from the 1950s, when Ron’s immigrant father, also named Mark, took his young son by train from their home in Philadelphia to a World Series game at Yankee Stadium in New York

Ron and Mark Shapiro have combined for 62 years of baseball-related employment that began when the Orioles’ then-owner Jerry Hoffberger asked Ron, a lawyer friend, in 1975 to assist Brooks Robinson with financial problems the team’s All-Star third baseman was experiencing.

It launched Ron Shapiro into a lucrative career as an agent representing athletes in contract negotiations.

The work appealed to Mark Shapiro too, but he blazed a different path to his baseball life. In 1991, he took an entry-level job with the Indians that included chauffeuring prospective free agents such as pitchers Sid Fernandez and David Wells from the airport. From there he would serve as director of player development, assistant general manager and general manager before being promoted to president four years ago.

Their jobs, at least occasionally, would have pitted Shapiro the agent against Shapiro the executive. Instead, they recused themselves from face-to-face involvement.

“When it came to doing contracts, he delegated and I delegated,” Mark Shapiro said. “It just seemed like the right way, the honest way, to handle it.”

Ron Shapiro said he’s heard plenty of kind words around baseball about Mark’s integrity.

“What does a father feel other than unbelievable pride?” he said. “I look at Caden looking at his father, and the relationship continues.”

Mark and Ron Shapiro see each other five or six times a year — they had been together a month earlier at the New Jersey bat mitzvah of Mark Shapiro’s niece — but speak by telephone several times a week.

“Nothing happens of major importance where we don’t talk to each other,” said Ron Shapiro, 71.

“It makes me happy to see kids play and parents and kids interacting around baseball,” said Mark Shapiro, 47.

It was Mark Shapiro who co-founded the Spiders — a name the Indians had used in the late 19th century — two years ago to imbue youth baseball with values that he thought were missing.

In youth baseball, “the overarching opportunity is character development,” Mark Shapiro said, sitting with his father in the shade following Caden’s game. “Character is how do you respond to adversity [and] setbacks? Being a great teammate, showing respect — that’s at the core of what this experience provides for us as coaches and as fathers.”

They have the perfect role model in Ripken. The Orioles former star infielder, baseball’s Ironman, had stood with Ron Shapiro not far from here surveying the acreage that would become a stadium and complex for the minor-league Aberdeen Ironbirds and youth leagues to draw the next generation of players.

At the Ripken facility, Mark Shapiro called over former major-league first baseman Sean Casey to address the Spiders. Casey, coaching his son Jake’s Pittsburgh club, stood beside his own father, Jim, who had enlisted Ron Shapiro as his son’s first agent upon his being drafted by the Indians in 1997.

Jake and Caden’s teams would square off that afternoon. Close friends Casey and Mark Shapiro would be in the coaching boxes.

“Take it easy on us,” Casey told the Spiders.

Coaching the Spiders helped Mark Shapiro overcome the temptation to attend the Indians-Orioles series. So was visiting with his father and stepmother, Cathi, at their suburban Baltimore farm.

Father and son exude warmth. Ron Shapiro, unable to stay for the afternoon game, told Mark upon departing, “Give me a kiss and a hug,” and through their embrace the men uttered their mutual love.

Their personal-baseball time together here was a weekend to savor.

“For me, baseball has always been relational — and nothing is more relational than family,” Mark Shapiro said. “My love for baseball has always been tied to my father. And to be able to see that relationship and love for the game shared with my son, and to have my dad here, is incredibly special.”

Caden gets the whole baseball-family thing.

“It’s pretty cool, passing down baseball generation to generation,” he said, grasping the white sphere. “It’s a great experience I’m living with my father and grandfather. Baseball just runs in our family. I’ll pass it on to my grandkids.”

An Israeli Olympic equestrian?

Equestrian show jumper and Olympic hopeful Danielle Goldstein is Israel’s best hope to compete in equestiran show jumping at the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Games. (Ben Sales)

Equestrian show jumper and Olympic hopeful Danielle Goldstein is Israel’s best hope to compete in equestiran show jumping at the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Games.
(Ben Sales)

YAGUR, Israel — The crowd was sparse and admission was free. Pop music from 10 years ago blared from loudspeakers. A few families sat on bleachers near the athletes, who hopped over a low fence when it was time to compete.

The Israeli Equestrian Championships wasn’t the most obvious place to look for an accomplished athlete with Olympic aspirations. But Danielle Goldstein, an American who speaks little Hebrew and spends most of the year in Florida, is Israel’s best hope to compete in equestrian show jumping at the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Games.

“It’s important to have a presence here,” said Goldstein, 29, as she surveyed the competition two weeks ago. “I’m excited to be at the championships, [excited to be] in the community.”

A native of New York’s Upper East Side, Goldstein fell in love with horses at an early age and later focused on show jumping, a discipline in which riders traverse a course of obstacles. In high school, she was active in jumping competitions across the United States but felt drawn to the prospect of representing Israel after traveling there on a bat mitzvah trip.

So her decision to apply for Israeli citizenship after going pro in 2010 came naturally to her, but it surprised the Israel Equestrian Federation.

“It’s not something that was like, ‘Yeah, great,’ “ Goldstein said. “It was very much like, ‘Who are you? What are you doing?’”

Goldstein says joining Israel’s horse riding scene has been “a little of an initiation,” but she feels welcomed. Since immigrating, she has qualified for this year’s International Equestrian Federation World Games, putting her on the verge of qualifying for Rio.

But she isn’t content with carrying Israel alone on horseback. Goldstein and another New Yorker, Deborah Schultz, are working together to promote horse riding in Israel, both by getting more people in the saddle and by teaching skills to more experienced riders.

Schultz’s nonprofit, The Equine Athletic Mission Israel (or TEAM Israel), organizes riding clinics hosted by Goldstein and other Israeli riders and works to coordinate teams for international equestrian events. With the support of TEAM Israel, which was founded last year, Israel fielded a show jumping team in the 2014 FEI Nations’ Cup for the first time.

“The more we do this, the more people who ride are popping out of the woodwork,” Schultz said. “Every time you bring a new sport to Israel, they’re typical Israelis, [saying] ‘Eh, no.’ But then it happens.”

Immigrants have played a large role in boosting Israeli athletics over the years. Soviet immigration in the 1990s helped broaden Israel’s presence at the Winter Olympics, while North Americans have helped expand the state’s athletic repertoire beyond mainstays such as soccer and basketball. Associations promoting Israeli baseball, American-style football, lacrosse and even curling have been launched at the initiative of immigrants.

But unlike those sports, Goldstein has a long tradition to draw upon in helping to push competitive horse riding to a higher level. The Israel Equestrian Federation, the organizer of the recent event, has promoted riding in Israel for 50 years, but the sport remains a niche interest.

Federation committee member Noam Zered said the quality of Israeli riding has picked up in recent years, as riders gained more access to the sport’s centers in Europe and the United States.

“More of the young generation saw the world and want to have high quality,” Zered said. “People come back here with expectations. We’re building now.”

One up-and-coming Israeli show jumper, Eyal Gat, moved from Israel to the United States at 16 and has lived for the past year in Holland, which has better access to top horses. Israeli riders have formed a community in Europe, he said, joining last month for a Passover seder in Belgium.

“It’s impossible to advance without being there,” Gat said. “It’s clearly difficult to live alone in a country that’s not yours, but that’s part of the deal.”

While a few Israeli riders lamented that the sport’s popularity is constrained by the high costs of accessing a horse, some Israelis are finding an alternative to the saddle through therapeutic riding, which uses exercises on horseback to improve various conditions. Therapeutic riding is subsidized by the Israeli health system, making it more accessible than recreational riding for those who need it.

Yonatan Dresler, who was born with cerebral palsy, said therapeutic riding has helped him improve his balance and develop a relationship with his horse. Now 27, Dresler rode for Israel in the 2012 London Paralympics and is ranked 10th worldwide in paralympic dressage, another equestrian discipline.

“The connection with the horse makes you feel like you have responsibility over another being,” Dresler said. “Whether the competition is paralympic or [regular] dressage, you need the same abilities.”

Schultz’s goal is to make Israel a place riders can stay if they want to advance. Raised in a religious household in Brooklyn, N.Y., with little exposure to the sport, Schultz insists “the horse thing is in my DNA.”

Now a high-tech consultant, Schultz comes to Israel occasionally to advise Tel Aviv technology companies and wants to bring her startup mentality to equestrian.

“It’s not part of the myth of Israel,” Schultz said. “But there’s a lot about horses that’s similar to Israel. They’re independent, spirited. This country is ripe for that. I want to get them hooked on horses.”