By Laura Goldman, www.Israel21c.com
Israeli basketball legend Maccabi Tel Aviv Elite will have its hands full next week when it takes on the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. But win or lose, both sides will have smiles on their faces, because the proceeds of the game will be going to Migdal Ohr, a unique youth village for disadvantaged children in northern Israel.
This will be the first time the Knicks hosts an international team on its home court, and the team is taking it seriously.
“I am kind of hoping that we do not embarrass ourselves too much,” said Knicks president and coach Isaiah Thomas at a press conference announcing the game. “Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv has long had a renowned international presence in the game of basketball and has demonstrated the ability to compete with teams in the NBA; we look forward to the match-up.”
For Macabbi coach Oded Katash, the game will be a homecoming of sorts. Katash, one of the best basketball players Israel ever produced, was supposed to play for the Knicks in 1999 before the NBA strike shortened the season.
“The fans will enjoy the game. We plan to plan an aggressive, offensive game. Maccabi does not have many preseason games this year so we need to make every one of them counts,” he told ISRAEL21c.
Maccabi player Will Bynum, who briefly played for the NBA’s Golden State Warriors is looking forward to seeing his old friends that play for the Knicks like Jamail Crawford, Eddie Curry, and Nat Robinson.
“We can win this game. With the addition of the new players to the Maccabi?s team this year, we are ready to show that we are equal to an NBA team,” he said.
The Maccabi TA-Knicks matchup has long been a dream of former Maccabi star player, Tal Brody, who’s originally from the US.
“Since our first game in the US two decades ago against the Philadelphia 76’ers, our dream was to play in Madison Square Garden against the Knicks and to have the Jewish community and our Israeli fans in the American filling the 19,500 seats,” he told ISRAEL21c.
“It’s a tribute to the team that has brought so much honor and respect to Israel in winning the European Basketball Championships five times, as well as raising the country’s morale through so many difficult times.”
Perennial Israel national champion, Maccabi TA has won two Euro league Championships in the last several years and is considered one of the most successful clubs in the league. It is the first team to win back to back championships in 14 years. And it has experience against NBA teams – in 2005, it defeated the Toronto Raptors at the Air Canada Center making it the first international team to win on North American soil.
The Knicks, on the other hand, has not won a championship in 30 years and is coming off six losing seasons. Last season, they lost 15 out of the last 19 games due to injury.
Regardless of what happens on the court, the children of Migdal Ohr (Light tower) are the big winners. Based in Migdal Ha’emek, Israel’s largest youth village provides a home and education to over 6,500 orphaned, impoverished, underprivileged, and new immigrant children.
“Migdal Ohr provides 10,000 lunches every day,” emphasized Robert Katz, executive director of American Friends of Migdal Ohr.
The organization was founded by charismatic Rabbi Dovid Grossman, who picked up the nickname of the ‘Disco Rabbi’ for his routine of frequenting clubs and nightspots in Migdal Haemek to try to dissuade the town’s youth from entering a life of crime. Former prime minister Ariel Sharon once credited Grossman for “effectively rebuilding the Jewish Nation, which the Nazis tried to destroy.”
As part of that rebuilding effort, the Knicks-Maccabi TA game is the highlight of a ‘Hoops and Dreams Week’ benefiting American Friends of Migdal Ohr. According to honorary chairman of the festivities,New York Daily News owner Mort Zuckerman, “American Friends of Migdal Ohr developed a creative and entertaining platform to share its message. The basketball game, the gala, and other events throughout the week will help strengthen the bond between America and Israel and ensure that Rabbi Grossman and his staff will be able to help Israeli children for generations to come.”
The Knicks’ Thomas said he was easily convinced to become involved in the project after hearing about Migdal Ohr’s efforts.
“The Knicks has been working two years to organize this event. I am from a family of nine and I was one of those kids who were at risk,” he said.
The game will be kicked off on a high note by native Israeli singer and Broadway sensation Dudu Fisher, singing ‘Hatikva’. The half-time show will feature a special on-court ceremony celebrating the memory of former Knicks coach Red Holzman who helped lead the Knicks to two NBA Championships in 1970 and 1973, and was elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1985.
As an additional bonus, Youtube videos of Israel will flash on the arena’s giant screens. In a contest sponsored by the Israeli Consulate of New York, fans will be able to vote for their favorite videos during the game.
“The upcoming basketball game provides a great opportunity to give Israelis a chance to show the Israel they know and love to Americans on one of the biggest and well known stages in NYC, Madison Garden,” said David Saranga, Consul for Media and Public Affairs at the Consulate of Israel in New York.
The winner of the video contest will win a roundtrip ticket to or from New York and two tickets to a Knicks game, courtesy of the Israeli-America Friendship League. For a chance to cheer the yellow and blue (Maccabi’s colors) team from the country with the blue and white flag, the place to be is Madison Square Garden on October 11 at 7:00 pm. Tickets for the exhibition game can be purchased at TicketMaster outlets, the Madison Square Garden Box Office and www.nyknicks.com.
“We hope that in New York those that haven’t bought tickets as yet will come and support us and pay tribute not only to the Maccabi Team, but to Rabbi Grossman and Migdal Ohr,” concluded Brody. “It is a real mitzvah to be there.”
This is one mitzvah that will be a pleasure to fulfill.
(Tickets for the exhibition game can be purchased at TicketMaster outlets, the Madison Square Garden Box Office and www.nyknicks.com.