‘Touchdown Israel’

The Jerusalem Lions line up against the Tel Aviv Pioneers. The two teams are IFL arch-rivals. (provided)

The Jerusalem Lions line up against the Tel Aviv Pioneers. The two teams are IFL arch-rivals.

Almost four years ago, San Francisco-based documentary filmmaker Paul Hirschberger began learning all he could about the North American-style of tackle football that is being played in Israel.

He has turned the research into his first sports film, “Touchdown Israel,” about how the growing sport is bridging cultural gaps in Israel.

“I was looking for my next film project and in doing my research I had read a feature story in The New York Times about tackle football being a growing sport in Israel,” Hirschberger said. “I contacted Andrew Gershman and Ari Louis of Israel Sports Radio, who covered football in Israel, and that began my nearly three-year odyssey to tell the story of football in Israel.”

He decided to use much of his own money to tell a story that has many facets to it and showcases how sports can be a tool to bring people together as teammates.

“What I ended up with was ‘Touchdown Israel,’ a feature-length documentary that presents the broader religious and cultural diversity that is Israel and illustrates how sports can be both metaphor and unifier for the world around it,” said Hirschberger. “American football has set down real roots in the Holy Land. The playing levels vary widely, but the cast of characters is utterly compelling: Israeli Jews, Arabs and Christians as well as Americans living in Israel and religious settlers.”

He added that the game is played in a uniquely Jewish way, with some players putting helmet on over their yarmulkes and some player will davening before the game starts.

An important part of the film, Hirschberger said, is the history of the game, which began in 1988 with the establishment of the American Football in Israel (AFI) group. The group grew to more than 90 contact and non-contact flag football teams. In 2005, the AFI established the Israeli Football League (IFL), which is devoted to American-style full-contact tackle football.

“They play an eight-man game [instead of 11 like in the U.S.] because the fields are smaller than the regulation 100-yard football fields that we are used to here in the United States,” he said.

Hirschberger credits Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, and his late wife, Myra, for advancing the game and sports in Israel in general. Although he had some safety concerns initially, Kraft worked with sponsors to build fields and get uniforms for teams in the league. The league honored him in its name, the Kraft Family Israel Football League.

“Kraft Field is likely the only place in the entire Middle East you’ll find Palestinians and Jewish settlers embracing after a big win,” Hirschberger said. The IFL has grown from 25 players in Tel Aviv to a thriving league of more 600 players and 11 teams throughout Israel, he added.

The 2014 league is comprised of the Tel Aviv/Jaffa Sabres, the Tel Aviv Pioneers, the Ramat Hasharon Hammers, the Jerusalem Lions, the Judean Rebels, the Jerusalem Kings, the Haifa Underdogs, the Beersheva Black Swarm, the Petach Tikva Troopers, the Northern Stars and the Rehovot Silverbacks.

“In many ways, Israelis are perfectly suited to play the game of football,” explained Hirschberger. “They have all served their country in the military and love the strategy that goes into the game along with the physical contact.”

While covering the football side of the story was interesting, Hirschberger was also inspired by watching Israeli, Arab, Christian, Thai and Palestinian players work together as teammates. The film focuses on the friendship of three particular players: Jeremy Sable, a Conservative Jew who played youth football in Philadelphia but wouldn’t play on Shabbat and gave the sport up until his family moved to Israel, Saud Kassas an Arab from Jaffa, and Roni Srisuren, a Christian from Thailand who lives with his family in Israel.

“I got the three of them together in a bar and we just talked about everything,” Hirschberger said. “Each young man spoke in detail about growing up with a total lack of understanding of the religion and backgrounds of others. Yet, it was through football these three men became friends for life.”

Hirschberger is taking the film on the festival circuit before he releases it nationwide. He will start at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, head to the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival and then the Toronto Jewish Film Festival. He is in discussions with film distributors and hopes to announce local showings soon.

To see previews of “Touchdown Israel” and get the latest news on where it is playing, go to touchdown israel.com.

A Flair for Broadcasting

Heinrich on set with Meir Einstein (left) and Ron Kofman, two of Sport5's top analysts. (Photo courtesy of Sport5)

Heinrich on set with Meir Einstein (left) and Ron Kofman, two of Sport5’s top analysts.
(Photo courtesy of Sport5)

Sport5, or Sport Hamesh as it is known in Israel, is in many ways like ESPN in the United States. It is a combination of five cable and satellite sports networks that cover both amateur and professional sports from around the globe; but instead of English, it offers its content in Hebrew.

At the age of 29, Tal Heinrich has become one of Sport5’s most popular sportscasters. She has covered the top events in the world of sports, including the Summer Olympics in London and Beijing, the European Basketball Championships and the Euro 2012 Soccer Championships. And despite her young age, she has served as both anchor and host of the network, in addition to being a field reporter. Heinrich has earned critical acclaim in Israel, as well as throughout Europe, for her work as a sports broadcaster. But it is the job of role model to thousands of Jewish girls that brings her the most personal satisfaction.

“To meet in person the young women who stop me on the street or approach me at an event and talk to them about becoming a sports broadcaster means that I am really connecting with them,” said Heinrich. “I do not for one moment take for granted that my job as a broadcaster inspires girls who want to follow me into the profession. [This is] the biggest compliment to my work and much more important than any award that I might win.

“I should also point out that we have a very talented staff of women both in front of and behind the camera at Sport5 that all work to inspire young women to enter the sports broadcasting business,” she added.

So how did Heinrich become part of Israel’s top sports network?

“I started watching basketball when I was in high school. A good friend and a neighbor of mine was a professional player, so I was following his career and cheering along with my high school friends. After I was done with my mandatory military service with the Israel Defense Forces as an Arabic translator, I knew I wanted to work in the sports TV industry,” she explained. “So at the age of 20, I started freelancing for national Channel 1 as a sideline reporter on Eurocup basketball games. When the season ended, I moved to the premier sports channel in Israel, Sport5. The network has been great to me, and I have the chance to work with some of the most talented and passionate sports broadcasters in the business. It is a true honor to be part of such wonderful network.”

Basketball provided Heinrich with a role model for becoming a broadcaster.

“ESPN/ABC college and NBA analyst Doris Burke has had the biggest influence on my career. She is extremely professional, always asks the best questions, has a rich repertoire of knowledge and is simply a very nice person,” said Heinrich. “I should add that during last year’s NBA Finals, a colleague of mine had met her and told her how much I appreciate the work she does. Doris took the time to record a video message to me, which was fed back to our studio here in Tel Aviv. I must say that I still keep it on my computer and play it whenever I need a little extra inspiration.”

It is in many ways still tough for a woman to break into sports broadcasting in the United States. According to Heinrich, the situation is reversed in the Jewish state.

“In my opinion, it is easier for a woman to start a career within the sports TV industry of Israel than it is for a man,” she said. “However, once you are already working in Israel, it is much more difficult for a woman to gain legitimacy and prestige in the eyes of the viewers, fans, athletes and coaches than it is for a man. The ‘rookie’ stage lasts longer for women. Therefore, I find my work very challenging. That said, I always love a challenge.”

While it has been sports that has made Heinrich a household name in Israel, she sees her future possibly including another area of interest. She loves politics, and so it seems natural that viewers of CNN International have had the opportunity to see her work on that network as well.

“I have been working at Sport5 for over eight years, and as of late, I have also been contributing content relating to current events and politics in the Middle East to CNN International via their Jerusalem Bureau,” she said. “I enjoy both lines of work, and I believe the experience I have been accumulating is instrumental in achieving my dream job, which is working at the highest level of reporting, covering either news or sports.”

Heinrich admits that her dream job might take her out of Israel.

“Being an NBA fan and appreciating its extensive international audience, I would love to cover live NBA broadcasts, discussing the athletes and their strategy in the pregame and the postgame shows, channeling my experience at Sport5, where I did similar work, but for a broader audience on a bigger stage,” said Heinrich. “But my passion for sports is matched by my interest in international politics. … I would love to put my language and reporting skills to use and be a part of a broadcast that will discuss pressing matters in a balanced way. So while that might mean a job in the United States or perhaps in Europe, I feel that the outstanding experience that I have gained at Sport5 has prepared me to be ready when the time comes for that dream job.”

Be sure to follow Heinrich on Sport5 at sport5.co.il and on YouTube.

Jim Williams is an area freelance writer.

Striking Out

A cotton candy vendor roams the Wrigley Field stands in 1994.  (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

A cotton candy vendor roams the Wrigley Field stands in 1994.
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Longtime fans of the Chicago Cubs know there are a few mainstays they can expect when they visit Wrigley Field: ivy on the outfield walls, a strict no-wave policy rigorously enforced by fans and, most days, disappointing play by the hometown team.

But there’s one little-known quirk at Wrigley that appears to be fading away, as the ballpark, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last week, enters its second century: the numerous Orthodox Jewish vendors who sell food and drinks in the stands.

A few subtle signs could give them away: a stray tzitzit strand flapping out of a jersey, a name tag reading Simcha, the mincha prayer minyan that used to take place in the outfield stands before or after games.

No one seems to know quite how it began, but for decades Wrigley Field vending was a redoubt of Orthodox Jews, most of them teenagers or early 20-somethings and almost all of them men.

“I went to high school at Ida Crown Jewish Academy, and it was just like a rite of passage there,” said Jon Blumberg, 41, an investment fund manager who vended for five or six summers beginning in 1989. “Once you were at the age where you no longer were going to camp or didn’t want to be a counselor, it was just what guys did.”

The tradition long predates Blumberg. The late Rabbi Moshe Kushner, the Chicago Rabbinical Council leader and Camp Moshava-Wisconsin director who died last October at age 68, vended in his youth.

Twenty years ago, it wasn’t unusual to have upward of 25 Orthodox Jewish vendors working the stands at Wrigley, selling everything from beer to peanuts.

It was seen as an ideal summer job for observant teenagers. The ballpark is a short ride from Chicago’s Orthodox neighborhoods, it wasn’t too onerous to join the union required to vend, you could make a decent amount of money in just four hours’ work, and vendors could choose when they wanted to work and when they didn’t — perfect both for Sabbath observers and teens uninterested in committing to a regular job.

Plus, there was the baseball.

“This was a dream come true,” said David Porush, 40, a lawyer who vended for a couple of years starting at age 16. “I’m a huge Cubs fan. I love baseball. I love Wrigley Field. If you were a very big fan like me, I’d make $30 or $40 and then sit down to watch the game. But if you were a very aggressive vendor, you could make a lot of money.”

Danny Altschul, now a partner at the accounting firm McGladrey, credits his five years of vending with helping pay for his wedding and the down payment on his house in the Chicago neighborhood of West Rogers Park.

“For those few hours you were out there it wasn’t the time to be lazy,” said Altschul, who could make up to $300 on a good day. “You work hard, try to work swiftly and take advantage of an opportunity when you’re in a commission-based business. It helped me pay for college.”

Like many of the vendors, Altschul also hawked wares at Chicago’s other sports arenas. He remembers fondly the day he managed to sell 31 loads of pop (Midwest parlance for soda) at a Cubs-Astros day game and then headed downtown to Comiskey Park to work a White Sox night game.

Porush says he wanted to vend ever since he was a little kid, when he’d watch Orthodox vendors at Wrigley slip free beer, ice cream and peanuts to his father, a teacher at the Hillel Torah North Suburban Day School. The vendors were former students.

David Landsman, an accountant who now lives in New Jersey, used to cut school to vend on Opening Day and used a similar tactic to avoid trouble.

“In Chicago, everyone would play hooky on Opening Day,” Landsman recalled. “As long as I gave the assistant principal something from what I was selling, it was fine.”

In recent years, the stream of young Orthodox Jewish vendors has slowed to a trickle. Seniors at the two Orthodox high schools that served as the main feeders — Ida Crown and Skokie Yeshiva — said through an administrator that students aren’t becoming vendors anymore. Vending isn’t as lucrative as it once was; the rising number of night games makes the job less suitable for teens and the setting isn’t that compelling to young people.

“My kids, they don’t get it,” said Blumberg. “They don’t understand why you’d ever go to a Cubs game because they’re so pathetic. The ones who want to go say they want to go to the Sox.”

The number of young Orthodox Jewish vendors at Wrigley has shrunk to just four or five, plus about an equal number of older full-timers, according to Joe Bulgatz, an Orthodox Jew in his 50s who has been vending at Wrigley and other sports venues in Chicago since 2004.

“Between the Cubs’ performance and the economy, a lot of people are just saying, ‘Hey, it’s not worth it,’ ” he said.

With so many God-fearing Jews vending — and sometimes praying — at Wrigley, the Cubs’ dismal performance might seem like a challenge of faith.

Porush says he doesn’t see it that way.

“I’d like to think we’re getting our reward in the next world,” he said. “I’ve seen lots of heartache as a Cubs fan, and I think it is parallel to being a God-fearing Jew.

“We live through difficult times and all we can say is, ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’ A Cubs fan is always saying, ‘Wait till next year.’ That’s who we are.”

So what will happen first — the coming of the Messiah or a Cubs World Series title (the last was in 1908)?

“I really hope Moshiach comes first,” Porush said, “because the Cubs aren’t going to be a contender for at least another two years.”

A True Basketball Big Man

Former NBA commissioner David Stern.  (Fortune Live Media via Wikimedia Commons)

Former NBA commissioner David Stern.
(Fortune Live Media via Wikimedia Commons)

When the National Basketball Association playoffs tip off on April 19, the star players who take the court should credit their status to recently retired league commissioner David Stern, according to Peter Horvitz, author of “The Big Book of Jewish Sports Heroes.”

Horvitz said Stern’s leadership of the NBA for 30 years saw the league shift from the fringe of sports fans’ attention to the very center.

“The leading players of the sport have become true superstars,” Horvitz said. “Players such as Larry Bird, Dr. J, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan have become cultural icons. I don’t think the prosperity and popularity of any sport owes so much to the executive abilities of a single man more than basketball owes to David Stern.”

Stern — who grew up in a Jewish family in Teaneck, N.J. — retired from his role as commissioner on Feb. 1 and will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this summer. Hall of Fame board chairman Jerry Colangelo said Stern, a lawyer by trade, made himself a marketing genius through his work for the NBA.

Brian Scalabrine of the Boston Celtics accepts his NBA championship ring in October 2008 from then NBA commissioner David Stern.  (Eric Kilby via Wikimedia Commons)

Brian Scalabrine of the Boston Celtics accepts his NBA championship ring in October 2008 from then NBA commissioner David Stern.
(Eric Kilby via Wikimedia Commons)

“With intelligence and hard work he was always on the cutting edge in the areas of cable [television] and technology,” Colangelo said. “He positioned the NBA to take advantage of the new wave of technology and put us in a position on an international stage to be the first professional league to have a major foothold internationally. By doing this, he elevated the league in a tremendous way.”

Colangelo — who formerly owned the Phoenix Suns of the NBA, the Phoenix Mercury of the Women’s National Basketball Association and the Arizona Diamondbacks of Major League Baseball — said Stern “had great autonomy in terms of making decisions, and he proved to be an extraordinary leader of wealthy owners.”

Before rising to the rank of commissioner in 1984, Stern was the NBA’s executive vice-president and its general counsel. During his tenure as commissioner, the league expanded from 23 to 30 teams and television revenue increased from $10 million per year to $900 million per year. Stern implemented several rule changes in the game, instituted the age limit for NBA draft entries, created the draft’s lottery system, oversaw the launch of the NBA Developmental League and managed the relocation of six franchises.

“I’ve known David since 1967,” Colangelo said. “To have watched his growth as an individual, as a lawyer with great business acumen, as someone who developed relational skills — I’ve seen the whole journey and so I know his accomplishments, which are just short of sensational.”

Credited for developing and broadening the NBA’s audience by setting up training camps, playing exhibition games around the world and recruiting more international players, Stern’s legacy is in the numbers: the NBA now has 11 offices in cities outside the U.S. and is televised in 215 countries and 43 languages.

“Basketball is the No. 2 sport in the world in terms of popularity and participation, with soccer being No. 1,” Colangelo said. “The NBA and its incredible growth has been a big part of that overall growth. That’s because of the exposure of the game, domestically and internationally. There’s no small piece of credit that belongs to the NBA for where basketball as a sport is in the world.”

In a 1991 Sports Illustrated article titled “From Corned Beef to Caviar,” E.M. Swift wrote that Stern, the son of a New York deli owner, was undisputedly “the best commissioner in sports, the best in the history of basketball and every bit the equal of the best sports commissioners of all time, such as the National Football League’s Pete Rozelle and baseball’s Kenesaw Mountain Landis.”

Swift quoted Michael Goldberg, a former general counsel of the American Basketball Association, as saying that Stern “dismisses the adage that nice guys finish last.”

“David’s father ran a successful deli in New York. To be successful in that business, you have to have great rapport with your customers. You have to get them to come back, even if the corned beef is a little dry and the apple pie a little stale. You have to give the customer a smile, a pleasant greeting, a sense that he is being taken care of. David Stern understands that, and I don’t think it would be farfetched to say that he has applied that to the NBA,” Goldberg said.

Colangelo concurs with Goldberg’s assessment of Stern.

“I agree, because when you are brought up in that environment and you see firsthand how to run a business, how to deal with customers, that’s a solid foundation to come from,” Colangelo said. “When he left that scene and went on to school, then professionally as a lawyer and then the NBA, he brought all that knowledge with him.”

Colangelo acknowledged that Stern is part of a long line of Jewish figures that helped shape basketball history, including coach and owner Eddie “The Mogul” Gottlieb; Ossie Schectman, who scored the first basket in NBA history; and legendary coaches Red Holzman and Red Auerbach.

“Eddie Gottlieb was a dear friend of mine, as was Red Holzman,” Colangelo said.

Though the David Stern era was marked by the rising popularity of the NBA’s stars, Colangelo stressed that basketball remains the everyman’s game.

“Basketball doesn’t take a lot of equipment or space,” he said. “You can play it in an alley, a playground or a schoolyard or on the side of a barn. You can play organized ball in YMCAs and high school gyms and college field houses. There are many places to play the game, which is the consummate team game. We always push stars and we talk about the greats, but basketball is poetry in motion.”

A Way with Words

040414_sports-Ben-RabyIt is 10:05 p.m. and the lights on the phone bank at the studios of WFED-AM radio in Northwest Washington are completely full. The Capitals have just lost to their bitter arch-rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, on a last-second goal.

Ben Raby, who hosts the postgame show on the Washington Capitals Radio Network, is poised and ready to play the role of Dr. Phil. For the next hour he will calm down the callers and do his best to answer all of their questions. In other words, just another day at the office.

The Montreal native is in his fifth season as part of the Capitals’ broadcast team. He handles pregame and postgame duties, along with period breaks. He is joined on the network by play-by-play announcer John Walton, color analyst Ken Sabourin and reporter Mike Vogel.

The team’s radio network reaches from Harrisburg, Pa., all the way to New Bern, N.C., with two stations in Baltimore, WJZ-AM 1300 and WHFS-FM 97.5, as part of the family. The games are also streamed for free on the Internet at federalnewsradio.com.

Recently, Raby spoke with the JT about his early career in Canada, his present role as part of the Capitals’ broadcast team and the many fans the team has in Baltimore.

JT: Tell us about your early career in Canada.
While I was still attending Bialik High School, a private Jewish school in Montreal, I was contacting newspapers and radio stations. Then I started college at Concordia University [in Montreal] and was very fortunate to land a job at The Team 990, the first all-sports station in Montreal, when I was 19.

I started as an overnight and weekend board operator and producer, but I gradually worked my way up and took advantage of opportunities as they presented themselves. I wound up spending four years at The Team 990, taking on a variety of different roles. I served as the station’s beat reporter for the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes, and I hosted the Montreal Canadiens’ weekend postgame shows.

During my final two years at The Team 990, I added TV work to my resume as a sports reporter with CTV Montreal, where I covered the Alouettes and the Canadiens. I also produced a series of year-in-review pieces in 2006 and 2007.

I left Montreal in 2007 to pursue a master’s degree at Syracuse University.

Did you have any broadcasting role models growing up?
My uncle Jason Moscovitz spent 29 years as a TV reporter with the CBC and more than a decade as its chief political correspondent. I always had an interest in media while I was growing up, so I admired the work he did. I’m grateful that since I started working in the media myself, he has passed along advice and feedback.

When I did TV reporting in my early 20s with CTV Montreal, every few months I’d bring a stack of VHS tapes of my work to his house, and we would review what worked well, what could have been better. He continues to listen to my radio work online and gives me feedback.

What is the key to being a good postgame host and talking to callers?
The key is finding a nice balance of information and entertainment. We may replay some of the game’s best highlights, but we may play them as a montage with an appropriate bed of music and a number of player cuts sprinkled in as well that help tell a story.

It’s also important on a postgame show not to just say what happened in the game, but to try to explain why it happened. For home games on the Capitals’ side, I’m joined by Ken Sabourin, who does an excellent job in answering the why.

It also helps to find storylines and identify broader picture themes. Sure the Capitals may have won a game by a 5-4 score, but what does it mean in the standings, what could it mean it for Player X, who may have broken out of a prolonged slump with the game-winning goal? What was significant about the game?

Our callers like how we break the game down so that when we open the phone lines they have plenty to talk about, regardless if it was a Caps’ win or loss.

What about Baltimore’s hockey fans?
Baltimore had a wonderful tradition of being a great minor league hockey town. Of course, over the past two years we have played the Baltimore Hockey Classic, and that has given us a great chance to see our fans in Charm City. But during the season, there are busloads of fans from the Baltimore area who make their way down to the Verizon Center to watch the games, and then we have plenty of callers from the 410 area code. So yes, Baltimore’s love for the Capitals is strong and continues to grow.

How about your life away from hockey?
I am about to celebrate my six-month wedding anniversary. My wife, Ellyssa, is from Toronto, and she is a volunteer teacher. We live in Bethesda, and we love the area.

As for seeing the rest of my family, by covering hockey and basketball, there is a nice window in the summer months when I can return to Montreal and Toronto and spend time with them.

It’s funny, though, because folks down here say that I have a Canadian accent, and then when I go back up north, my friends and family all say that I sound like an American.

Ben Raby serves as producer for the NBA Washington Wizards’ radio broadcasts when he is not attending to his role as host on the Capitals’ radio network. As for the future, he hopes to return to television while staying in the Baltimore-Washington area.

Maryland Teams Hustle to Win

Danielle Miller, left, and Paige Siegel grasp the Kiddush Cup after their  victorious Maryland team captured the National Hillel Basketball Tournament championship at the University of Maryland on March 30.  (Hillel Kuttler)

Danielle Miller, left, and Paige Siegel grasp the Kiddush Cup after their
victorious Maryland team captured the National Hillel Basketball Tournament championship at the University of Maryland on March 30.
(Hillel Kuttler)

“One, two, three, hustle!” yelled Paige Siegal’s University of Maryland women’s team as they returned to the court from halftime during the National Hillel Basketball Tournament championship games on Sunday.

They were leading by eight points. Within the first minute of the second half, Ali Feinstein of the Texas team had taken hold of the ball and shot a three pointer. Not to be outdone, Maryland responded with their own three-point shot 30 seconds later.

Players kept the same intensity throughout the game. In the last minute, Siegal rebounded a missed shot and swung the ball down half court to teammate Connaught Blood, who sunk the game’s final basket. Maryland won, 38-32.

“It was difficult at first getting used to playing with each other,” said Siegal. “A lot of us didn’t even know each other before.”

Students from some 30 campuses competed at the weekend-long tournament held in College Park.

The team of six was all smiles as they raised their Hillel Tournament trophy proudly, smiling for pictures.

“We’ll all go get food and just hang out to celebrate,” said Siegel, the team’s 5-foot-5-inch captain, a sophomore studying business and management.

The same suspense was repeated as the men’s semifinalist winners, University of Maryland and Harvard University, took to the court. Although basketball is considered a no-contact sport, the game soon became territorial, with three fouls called within the first 40 seconds. Each time UMd. junior Danny Hoffman sunk a three, the crowd evolved into a contagious euphoria. UMd. Hillel’s rabbi, Ari Israel, said this year’s fans brought new electricity to the tournament.

“The turnout is huge and their energy is high,” he said.

During halftime, tournament chairs Michael Shrager and Joseph Tuchman thanked the event’s sponsors and introduced the NHBT founder, Rachel Klausner.

“I am amazed by the amount of sponsors and players,” she said. “I remember when there was a board of 12 of us. We were just a bunch of friends who loved basketball. This year they took it to a whole new level.”

With 30 seconds left on the clock, UMd.’s point guard circled the ball around the perimeter until the game was over. Both teams broke into huge smiles, with hugs of camaraderie and “congratulations” sealed with high fives. University of Maryland’s Jason Langer team beat Harvard, 39-30.

Seniors Aaron Jagoda and Josh Rice coached Maryland’s team to victory. Like the women’s team, many of the players had never competed together before the tournament.

“Our biggest obstacle was making sure that defense talked to each other,” said Rice, “but in the end the chemistry was really great.”

Jagoda said that although the team was composed of high scoring “ballers,” everyone worked together to “make the play” and participated selflessly. As the team gathered for a photo, plans were made to celebrate over dinner.

After seven games, “Lord knows I’m hungry,” Rice said with a laugh.

This year’s MVPs were announced before the closing barbeque. Women’s captain Paige Siegal and men’s forward Mark Brenner each received glass MVP awards to recognize their athletic achievement.

Tournament chairman Michael Shra-ger noted the “very high-caliber basketball” displayed over the weekend, and the participation of Jake Susskind, a Division I player, who joined this year’s NHBT winning Maryland team.

“The competition is the best it’s ever been,” said Shrager. “It’s great to see how athletics and sports can bring Jews from all different backgrounds together in Jewish unity. We did everything we wanted to do.”

With trophies awarded and students returning to their respective colleges, plans for NHBT 2015 are underway.

Shrager, a senior psychology major, has worked on the Hillel Tournament committee since joining its pilot planning board four years ago. Co-chairman Joseph Tuchman is already developing plans for the next tournament.

“Next year, we look forward to improving involvement from the UMd. community, through housing athletes, volunteering and attending events, to showcase our unbelievable campus and community,” said Tuchman.

Klausner has even greater expectations.

“Oh man, I got big dreams,” she said. The business school graduate, who lives in Israel, is still a Terp at heart. “I can’t wait to see the Hillel Tournament being played at the Comcast Center — or at least the championship game.”

Tamir Goodman Stays in Game

032814_tamir-goodmanWhen he was sidelined by injuries during his time as a professional basketball player in Israel, Tamir Goodman’s mind was still in the game.

“Specifically during that time when I wasn’t playing, I was spending my time in rehab, but I’d go to every game, I’d go to every practice, and I’d study if there was a scouting report,” said Goodman. “I just spent hours on the sidelines thinking, ‘What’s really needed in basketball, what are the coaches expecting from players?’”

Goodman’s homework paid off, culminating in his creation of the Zone 190 — a basketball training tool that combines trampoline-like material with a 190-degree, professional-grade carbon steel frame that allows players to practice a wide range of skills without the presence of a partner. After spending three years in development, Goodman rolled out the first “real model” of the Zone 190 earlier this year.

Goodman said the product, priced at $699, has garnered sales at every level of basketball — from camps to high schools to colleges to the NBA’s Detroit Pistons.

Hoopsters previously only had access to “one-dimensional” training tools such as pitch backs or toss backs, Goodman explained. While such tools are traditionally placed under the net to deliver the ball to shooters in a straightforward manner, they require the recruitment of multiple practice partners for a shooter to replicate receiving the ball from the array of spots on the court from which passes in a real game would come. Goodman said the 190-degree frame of his product changes that reality.

“The uniqueness of the Zone 190 is that it allows players to replicate game-like scenarios,” said Goodman. “In basketball, you get the ball from multiple angles. If you’re a post player you get the ball from both sides of the block; if you’re a guard you’re getting the ball from multiple areas passed to you — the top of the wing, the wing or [elsewhere] depending on where you are. Depending on from where the ball is coming to you in a game, you have to set your hands and feet accordingly.”

The Zone 190 further simulates game-like situations in that it is “the first basketball training system that comes with defensive distractors,” its website says. The tool includes a defensive hand that can be raised, lowered or removed to accommodate each user.

Nicknamed the “Jewish Jordan” after being ranked among the Top 25 high school players in the country, Goodman was profiled in Sports Illustrated and went on to play collegiately for Division I Towson University and then professionally in Israel. As an observant Jew, he sported his yarmulke on the court in front of national television audiences.

A 32-year-old Baltimore native who now lives in Cleveland, Goodman began a career as a coach and motivational speaker after injuries forced him to retire from Israeli professional basketball in 2009.

When he was at Towson, Goodman’s coaches reworked their team’s entire game schedule to accommodate his strict observance of Shabbat and Jewish holidays. Goodman will be similarly accommodated for his Zone 190 presentation on April 6 in Nashville at the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association National Convention, held annually in conjunction with the Final Four of the NCAA Division I Women’s Tournament. In recognition of Shabbat, the WBCA has allowed Goodman to move his Zone 190 presentation from Saturday to Sunday.

“When I was a little kid, I had this dream of playing Division I basketball and professional basketball, and doing this without playing Shabbat and always wearing my kippah, and that was seen as pretty much impossible,” said Goodman. “But thank God I was able to live out my dream, and now through Zone 190 I’m almost continuing the same dream. Everyone accommodated me through my playing days, and now the WBCA has accommodated me as well in my post-playing career. It has just been such a great blessing, and I’m just so thankful to everyone for their help.”

Bonnie M. Norman, manager of professional development and legislation for the WBCA, said the association turned to the Zone 190 to address “education around the art of shooting” at this year’s convention.

“We know there are lots of great coaches and shooting instructors out there; we decided to go with Tamir because his product allows players
to have an independent shooting workout with a real game-like feel in any location,” explained Norman. “The Zone 190 allows players of all levels, from beginner to pro, to work on foundational fundamentals such as ball handling and their hand-eye coordination and catch-and-shoot skills. Because one piece of equipment can offer so much, it puts developing these skills back in the hands of the player in the offseason.”

Norman, who calls the Zone 190 “unique,” said that if she were still a coach at the scholastic level, she “would have purchased one because it is affordable even for programs that fundraise for everything they purchase.”

To enhance the experience of those who buy the product, the Zone 190 website features a series of instructional videos for drills in ball handling, shooting, passing, post skills and conditioning. Goodman said he has used the Zone 190 to work with thousands of kids from all levels, noting: “The same tool can help a 7-foot center, a point guard, an NBA player, a special-needs kid, and anybody in between.”

In fact, the Friendship Circle of Cleveland — a nonprofit that pairs teenage volunteers with children with special needs, primarily for social interaction — is using the Zone 190 “to stimulate ball movement so that the children with special needs feel empowered to play along,” said Rabbi Yossi Mazarov, the organization’s executive director.

“It’s purely a matter of confidence,” explained Mazarov, “when kids can throw a ball and it comes back to them, like they’re playing catch, … You don’t have to throw it into a small, defined net. They can use it in this zone, which has so much space and is so intuitive. [Zone190] just works for them. For many of the children who have handicaps and disabilities or are weakened, they find a sense of confidence in this type of equipment.”

Mazarov adds that Goodman is “purely genuine and humble, when he brought the Zone 190 and started interacting with the children, you could see the kids’ faces light up; you could see that difference that he makes, that he’s there and doing ball movement with the kids.”

This summer, Goodman will employ the Zone 190 in his work at two Jewish camps in Pennsylvania — Camp Nesher and Camp Ramah in the Poconos.

“I’m always working with a lot of Jewish athletes throughout the year, and I’m very passionate about teaching young Jewish athletes the lessons of basketball, the lessons that they can apply to their life, which is maximize your potential and help everyone around you as well as time management, teamwork, respect,” said Goodman.

“All these attributes you learn through basketball, and I think Zone 190 is the physical tool that can help that.”

Regarding the injuries that led to his brainstorming on the bench in Israel and thus his eventual creation of the Zone 190, Goodman said he is “just grateful that I’ve been able to turn a negative experience around to a positive.”

“I’m unable to play professionally again,” he said. “At least my team and I have created something that is going to be able to benefit the next generation of players and the current generation of players.”

The Hockey Maven

Stan Fischler is flanked by producer Glenn Petraitis (left) and co-host Peter Ruttgaizer at the Nassau Coliseum, set of their pregame and postgame shows. (provided)

Stan Fischler is flanked by producer Glenn Petraitis (left) and co-host Peter Ruttgaizer at the Nassau Coliseum, set of their pregame and postgame shows.

As the Boston Bruins buzz the Islanders net throughout the opening period of a game at the Nassau Coliseum, Stan Fischler is standing 10 feet behind the Plexiglas to the left of New York goaltender Kevin Poulin.

Fischler, a hockey broadcaster for four decades, can feel the rattling boards of forechecking Bruins.

There’s no place he’d rather be.

Providing New York-area hockey fans with a bird’s-eye view and expert analysis is what Fischler, 81, has done on broadcasts of Islanders, Rangers and Devils games. He’s had a love affair with the sport since he was introduced to it quite by accident as a 7-year-old growing up in Brooklyn.

“The Hockey Maven,” as Fischler has long been known, has a love affair, too, with Israel. He and his wife, Shirley, visit there each summer. And their younger son, Simon, 35, lives on Kibbutz El Rom in the Golan Heights and blogs on diplomacy while also writing for Fischler’s hockey newsletter.

Simon, not surprisingly, taught the sport to his children at the ice rink in nearby Metulla.

He recalls his father asking him when he was 8 to find Israel on an atlas. The boy couldn’t, so dad pointed it out.

“That was one of my earliest memories: This is our land,” said Simon, who lives on the kibbutz with his wife and three children. “I thank him every day for it because I am extremely proud of my Jewish national heritage. It’s why I live in Israel.”

Fischler says his mother, Molly, losing nearly all her relatives in the Holocaust in the former Czechoslovakia helps explain why his support of Jewish causes “revolves around the security of Israel.”

It was his mother who introduced 5-year-old Stan, her only child, to spectator sports.

But two years later it was his father, Benjamin, who would bring Fischler to his first hockey game. They were intending to see “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” but emerging from the subway into torrential rain at 50th Street and Eighth Avenue, where Madison Square Garden then stood, the plans changed.

“Forget it,” said Benjamin, a big-time sports fan, in spurning the film, Fischler recalled. “We’ll go to the game.”

The Rangers’ minor league team, the Rovers, was taking on the Washington Eagles, and the boy was hooked. After each Rovers game, Fischler would write a recap in his souvenir program. A hockey writer was born.

Fischler would handle public relations for the Rangers, then work 20 years as a newspaper reporter before moving into broadcasting, first for the World Hockey Association’s New England Whalers and then the New York-area teams in the National Hockey League.

The opinionated broadcaster has won multiple Emmy Awards and, in 2007, the NHL’s Lester Patrick Trophy for advancing American hockey.

His love and knowledge of the game are apparent in the pregame and postgame shows he co-hosts for the three NHL teams on the MSG Network.

Fischler just had his 100th book on the sport published. “We Are the Rangers” is an oral history of the team that tugged at Fischler’s heart as a boy growing up in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Some of the books were co-authored with Shirley, with whom he lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. His subjects have included Hall of Fame players such as Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Stan Mikita and Rod Gilbert. Others have been on coaches, teams, great moments and rivalries.

The epilogue of the new book tells of Simon needing a heart transplant in 1993. Fischler movingly writes of the Rangers’ then-coach and goalie, Mike Keenan and Mike Richter, visiting his son — a diehard fan of the Islanders, the Rangers’ bitter rivals.

Unwritten was what Gilbert relayed: He also had come to the hospital, where he and Simon, sitting alone, discussed hockey and prayer.

That evening, an emotional Fischler phoned Gilbert, a friend since the player’s debut in 1960, with the news that a donor heart had become available.

“Call it coincidence, call it energy or whatever you want,” Gilbert said. “I was very grateful that he did successfully get a transplant.”

Told of Gilbert’s comments, Fischler says the visit came when Simon’s condition was dire.

“I did attach something positive to Rod Gilbert’s visit. Rod was basically doing some preaching, some talking about getting through his [own] medical experiences,” Fischler said. “When you’re in a situation like that, you welcome any source of hope.”

Another source was praying at the family synagogue on West 110th Street.

The crisis wasn’t discussed on-air.

Viewers tune in to hear Fischler opine and inform on hockey — the sport he adored alone among his childhood pals in Williamsburg.

Fans strolling the Nassau Coliseum concourse during the Islanders-Bruins game stopped by the white picket fence delineating the set where Petraitis, Fischler and the broadcast’s other co-host, Peter Ruttgaizer, ply their trade.

They seek out Fischler to banter, ask questions and pose for photographs.

“You turn on MSG and there’s Stan,” said Kyle Hall, 25, after taking a picture with Fischler. “I only know things are true if Stan says so. He’s knowledgeable.”

Preparing for the pregame show, Fischler says, “It never stops being eciting because you never know what’s going to happen from game to game.”

Slam Dunk

The UMd. Hillel hosts the  Kiddush Cup on March 28.  (University of Maryland Hillel)

The UMd. Hillel hosts the Kiddush Cup on March 28.
(University of Maryland Hillel)

For the past three years, University of Maryland Hillel has hosted a basketball tournament for Hillel teams from around the country. Students will gather in College Park once again on March 28 for the National Hillel Basketball Tournament, a weekend of food, speakers and basketball. The winning team will take home the Kiddush Cup.

The tournament was founded by students and continues to be mostly student run. Members of the tournament board are “people who just love basketball, love Jews and love camaraderie,” said senior Mike Shrager, who is chairing the tournament with Joseph Tuchman.

The tournament is at capacity, organizers said. There will be 41 teams — 32 men’s and nine women’s — from more than 30 schools and made up of almost 300 students. Maryland has five teams — three men’s and two women’s — but there are also teams coming from as far away as the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles.

Shrager described the tournament as a “whole weekend experience” for participants, most of whom will stay in university housing. “We use the tournament as a way to bring Jewish students together,” he said.

The games begin on March 29 with each team playing three preliminary games that night and the following morning, and the single-elimination bracket tournaments begin late on the morning of March 30. There will be separate men’s and women’s brackets.

Participants will arrive next Friday, participating in what Shrager called a “huge kickoff Shabbat dinner” to which everyone is welcome. Following dinner, Jewish comedian Joel Chasnoff will perform. Afterward, the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity will host an oneg Shabbat.

Past winners of the tournament reflect the diversity of its participants. The inaugural tournament was won by Washington University in St. Louis, followed by Yeshiva University in 2012 and the John Jay School of Criminal Justice, a New York City senior college, last year.

Maryland Hillel’s executive director, Ari Israel, said that while Hillel staff is involved, it is there to support the students and help with what is needed.

“We do everything we can to help them to grow and nurture,” he said.

The tournament “is a real tribute to what students can do,” he added. “It’s very sophisticated; students and staff put together a full gamut of events.”

Israel, like Shrager, stressed that the tournament weekend will be “more than just 10 minutes of playing ball.” While the games will take place in campus gyms, Israel said other events will take place “all over campus,” with Shabbat dinner taking place at the Adele H. Stamp Student Union, and other events being hosted by Hillel and AEPi.

For the first time, the tournament will allow teams to include up to three NCAA athletes. While Shrager said that no Division I athletes will be participating, he said that there will be several Division III players.

Brad Alhadef, a recent Maryland graduate, is preparing to play in the tournament for his fourth straight year. The Dallas native will be involved for the first time this year as just a player. Previously, he was on the board.

“As a board member, it was a great experience,” he said, “and to be a part of it from the beginning was great. Being a player, it’s a very different experience.”

Alhadef, who is competing on Maryland’s Langer team this year, is looking forward to seeing friends from his yeshiva as well as fans who attend the games “all decked out in Maryland gear.”

He said that the tournament is a great chance to showcase the university’s successfully large Jewish community, specifically the modern Orthodox community.

Last year, students had the opportunity to hear from then-NBA commissioner David Stern following the championship game. This year, after the men’s final game (which will take place late afternoon on March 30), they will hear from Bruce Levenson, owner of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks.

Students can also submit their picks for the men’s and women’s tournament victors with the prize being a registration discount for next year’s tournament, “the NHBT Ultimate Fan Swag Bag Package,” and, perhaps most importantly, “national bragging rights,” according to hilleltournament.com, where the survey form can be found.

Alhadef, whose teams have not previously been successful in the tournament, believes his team will be competitive this year.

“We’ve never gotten that far,” he said. “We’re hoping to change that.”

The National Hillel Basketball Tournament will begin at 8:30 p.m. on March 29 and continue through March 30.


Head of the Glass

Even though Y.U. lost to the College of Elizabeth recently, Rebecca Yoshor dominated the boards with 22 rebounds. (Courtesy of Yeshiva University Sports Information Office)

Even though Y.U. lost to the College of Elizabeth recently, Rebecca Yoshor dominated the boards with 22 rebounds.
(Courtesy of Yeshiva University Sports Information Office)

NEW YORK — Watching Rebecca Yoshor in action for the Yeshiva University women’s basketball team, the skills are evident: the shot making, quickness, leadership and court smarts.

They are skills honed in what her father describes as “fierce games” with her brothers and the neighborhood kids in the driveway of her Houston home and playing for the city’s Beren Academy, where Yoshor joined the modern Orthodox school’s varsity squad as an eighth-grader among high schoolers.

At Y.U., the senior forward is leading not just the team but the nation — all divisions, men and women — in rebounding with a 16.0 average per game, one more than anyone else in Division III.

The lean 6-footer also has more blocked shots, 34, than her Maccabees teammates combined and is second on the squad in scoring with an average of 15.7 points, despite occasional foul problems that send her to the bench.

Yoshor’s rebounding prowess, her coach and teammates say, comes from superb positioning and strength. Her dad, Daniel, says it’s her hunger for the ball but adds she could be even more dominant by getting nastier and tougher on the court.

“While I do have to work hard for every rebound I get, rebounding is absolutely a team thing,” she said, explaining that teammates boxing out help pave her way to the boards.

Led by Yoshor, Y.U. has improved markedly from a season ago, said coach Nesta Felix. While the Manhattan school’s record stands at 5-11 overall and 1-4 in the Hudson Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Conference heading into the season’s final two games, the second-year coach says the Maccabees are far more competitive than last season.

That, she said, indicates improvement and offers hope.

Yoshor said it’s all about the team.

“It’s really cool,” she said of the rebounding lead, “and now that it’s been called to my attention, it’s something I’ll be proud of for the rest of my life. But I do everything I can to help the team — and if good stats come my way, that’s fine.”

Yoshor isn’t just succeeding on the court.

She was named recently to the Academic All-America team for New York-area Division III schools by the College Sports Information Directors of America. That means Yoshor, who maintains nearly a 4.0 grade- point average as an English major and psychology minor, could be selected to one of the national Academic All-America squads; she was a second-team selection in 2012-13.

Her studies aren’t just in the classroom.

As she grew taller and better at basketball, Yoshor says, she began paying close attention to other players, absorbing details on how they excelled on both ends of the court. It’s a habit that continues today.

Someone playing her tough when she posts up? Yoshor will draw the opponent outside and drive past her.

“They might be showing you something you haven’t seen before,” she said. “It’s the player you play against who forces you to evolve. As long as you play, there’s development. You have to be open to changing — in everything, but it’s definitely true in basketball.”

Her coach at Beren, Chad Cole, said, “She held her own” on varsity as an eighth-grader.

Daniel Yoshor said she did more than hold her own in the driveway, when her two brothers and the neighborhood kids played ball for hours and “she’d always beat them, until they outgrew her.”

Yoshor said she took to basketball in sixth grade.

“I was definitely one of the taller people in the back of the class picture,” she said.

For the players at Yeshiva University, the schedule is rigorous. Like all the students attending its Stern College for Women, they take a dual curriculum of Judaic and secular courses. Practices are squeezed in late at night, and they’re generally shoehorned into an 11th-floor gymnasium nearby with a half court and low ceiling. “Home games” this season have been played at three other colleges.

(Gender restrictions at the Orthodox school prevent practices being held at Y.U.’s uptown campus, according to the university’s sports information director, Michael Damon.)

Several of the players say they play for the love of the game and because it offers an outlet for academics-related stress.

Yoshor adds an internship at a Manhattan literary agency — she’d like to work in publishing upon graduation this spring.

“I just budget my time as best as I can,” she said of her busy schedule. “It’s hard.”

Felix said replacing the play and leadership of co-captains Yoshor and Naomi Gofine, who already has graduated, will be a substantial challenge next year. Junior guard Stephanie Greenberg and sophomore forward Julia Owen are expected to help fill the void.

But as Yoshor exits college ball, the family has some subs in the wings who learned the game on the driveway asphalt. Her brother Zach, at 6 feet 6 inches, was heavily recruited and will play for Harvard University following his current year of study in Israel. And 6-foot-4 Ben is a Beren sophomore.

Little sister Jordana stands just 4 feet 1 inch, so her hoops future remains unclear. She is, however, only 7.