Sunday, March 22, 2009

Nissim ... and his baseball bat hands

If you cannot see the video, please click here.

Monday, March 16, 2009

We are Binghamton

My Alma Mater, Binghamton University (otherwise known as SUNY Binghamton), made the NCAA tournament for the first time in the school's history after a win on Saturday in the final of the America East tournament.

For game highlights, click here.

"...and I'm proud to be a Binghamtonian" ;)

Binghamton wins America East, punches first dance ticket
Associated Press

VESTAL, N.Y. -- Kevin Broadus choked back tears. So, too, did Emanuel Mayben as teammates D.J. Rivera and Reggie Fuller struggled to find the right words.

That's what securing a spot in the NCAA tournament can do to a coach and his players, especially when it's the first and you've overcome a heap of criticism.

Fuller, a senior forward and junior college transfer from Texas, had 19 points and 10 rebounds, Rivera added 16 points, and Binghamton beat defending America East champion UMBC 61-51 on Saturday for the conference title and the school's first NCAA tournament berth.

"We just persevered and fought all year long," said Broadus, conference coach of the year in just his second year at Binghamton. "They never gave up. The only way you can be a champion, someone told me, is to beat a champion. This year was an unbelievable ride for me personally. These guys coached me. These guys showed me what a true champion is all about."

It was the 11th straight win for the top-seeded Bearcats (23-8) and their first America East title since moving to Division I for the 2001-02 season.

UMBC (15-17), the sixth seed and the last team to beat Binghamton, made its first NCAA tournament appearance a year ago. The Retrievers' chance of a second vanished when they failed to score in the game's final 4:49.

"We didn't score for a while, but we had numerous chances," UMBC coach Randy Monroe said. "It just wasn't meant to be."

Rich Flemming led UMBC with 14 points and 11 rebounds, conference scoring champion Darryl Proctor had 12 points and 11 rebounds, and freshman Chauncey Gilliam had 10 points.

Two decades ago, the Binghamton Colonials were a mediocre Division III team playing in an old gym with a tiny fan base. These Bearcats were cheered by a raucous green-and-white-clad, standing-room-only home crowd of 5,342, the largest in the history of the Events Center, and they celebrated the first title of any kind in the program's 63-year history.

"We had a long year," said Rivera, named tournament most outstanding player. "I'm just happy and excited it's paid off."

Binghamton shadowed UMBC guard Jay Greene with a taller player at every turn, and the strategy worked. Greene was just 3-for-10 -- 1-for-6 from beyond the arc -- and finished with seven points, four assists and five turnovers in playing every minute.

Binghamton took control by scoring 12 straight points spanning the halftime break, and then held on at the end when the Bearcats had difficulty finding openings in the UMBC defense. Mayben's layup that gave Binghamton a 56-47 lead with 7:32 left was the last basket of the game for the Bearcats.

The Retrievers had plenty of chances to challenge after moving within 57-51 but it all failed. In the final 4 minutes, Greene missed a 3, Proctor was called for a charge as he made a layup, then missed another drive to the basket and a pair of free throws.

In the final frantic minute, Flemming missed a follow and a 3 and Gilliam missed a 3 and a layup.

That set off a noisy celebration on the court. The Bearcats had been the subject of a recent article in the New York Times that criticized the school administration and Broadus for his recruiting.

League coaches vote all-conference teams, and when they delivered a message by not selecting any of the Bearcats to the first team -- Rivera, a transfer from Saint Joseph's, was voted to the second team despite losing the scoring title to Proctor by just 20.2 to 20.1 points per game -- Broadus defended his record and the university backed him.

On Saturday, he simply wanted to put that all behind.

"There comes a time when you have to let things go," said Broadus, a former assistant at Georgetown. "We were like racehorses. We put blinders on, earplugs in and just played the game harder."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Playing Tawlee

Playing what? It's the Iraqi name for Backgammon, or Shesh Besh as we Israelis call it.

Now I'm sure you're asking, how do I know that? Well, for the past two and a half years, I've developed a friendship with an Iraqi blogger* whom I started interacting with when he blogged about Zionism. I didn't see eye to eye with it, and thought it was important he hears the story through my eyes. Since then, we've kept in touch and I've managed to learn more about his Iraq (& the future he hopes to see for her) through his many interesting blog entries.

This past week, we both discovered that we're fans of backgammon. So we decided to play each other, via Yahoo! games, this Sunday. Although we didn't finish any games due to internet issues, we both enjoyed the experience of "an Israeli and an Iraqi playing backgammon!"

* I am not disclosing his name or the blog url for the time being, but hope to do so in the near future when we do a 'blog vs blog' Q&A session.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Israeli Apartheid Week

Interesting piece from the San Francisco Chronicle by Ishmael Khaldi:

For those who haven't heard, the first week in March has been designated as Israel Apartheid Week by activists who are either ill intentioned or misinformed. On American campuses, organizing committees are planning happenings to once again castigate Israel as the lone responsible party for all that maligns the Middle East.

Last year, at UC Berkeley, I had the opportunity to "dialogue" with some of the organizers of these events. My perspective is unique, both as the vice consul for Israel in San Francisco, and as a Bedouin and the highest-ranking Muslim representing the Israel in the United States. I was born into a Bedouin tribe in Northern Israel, one of 11 children, and began life as shepherd living in our family tent. I went on to serve in the Israeli border police, and later earned a master's degree in political science from Tel Aviv University before joining the Israel Foreign Ministry.

I am a proud Israeli -- along with many other non-Jewish Israelis such as Druze, Bahai, Bedouin, Christians and Muslims, who live in one of the most culturally diversified societies and the only true democracy in the Middle East. Like America, Israeli society is far from perfect, but let us deals honestly. By any yardstick you choose -- educational opportunity, economic development, women and gay's rights, freedom of speech and assembly, legislative representation -- Israel's minorities fare far better than any other country in the Middle East.

So, I would like to share the following with organizers of Israel Apartheid week, for those of them who are open to dialogue and not blinded by a hateful ideology:

You are part of the problem, not part of the solution: If you are really idealistic and committed to a better world, stop with the false rhetoric. We need moderate people to come together in good faith to help find the path to relieve the human suffering on both sides of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Vilification and false labeling is a blind alley that is unjust and takes us nowhere.

You deny Israel the fundamental right of every society to defend itself: You condemn Israel for building a security barrier to protect its citizens from suicide bombers and for striking at buildings from which missiles are launched at its cities - but you never offer an alternative. Aren't you practicing yourself a deep form of racism by denying an entire society the right to defend itself?

Your criticism is willfully hypocritical: Do Israel's Arab citizens suffer from disadvantage? You better believe it. Do African Americans 10 minutes from the Berkeley campus suffer from disadvantage -- you better believe it, too. So should we launch a Berkeley Apartheid Week, or should we seek real ways to better our societies and make opportunity more available.

You are betraying the moderate Muslims and Jews who are working to achieve peace: Your radicalism is undermining the forces for peace in Israel and in the Palestinian territories. We are working hard to move toward a peace agreement that recognizes the legitimate rights of both Israel and the Palestinian people, and you are tearing down by falsely vilifying one side.

To the organizers of Israel Apartheid Week I would like to say:

If Israel were an apartheid state, I would not have been appointed here, nor would I have chosen to take upon myself this duty. There are many Arabs, both within Israel and in the Palestinian territories who have taken great courage to walk the path of peace. You should stand with us, rather than against us.


Thursday, March 05, 2009

2 Funerals & 2 Weddings

I had never been to a funeral of a family member before this past month. In 10 short days, this would all change as I attended the funerals of my two great aunts, two women I had been very close to. Losing one person you love is tough enough, but losing two in such a short period of time is extremely difficult to handle. Both Auntie Monica & Tante Amelie had been mainstays of my childhood in Ra'anana and important parts of my life since I returned to Israel in 2003. During these 10 days, the city of Ra'anana and my understanding of life changed drastically. Ra'anana will obviously never quite be the same, and life ... well, life will remain the same, just with a stronger realization that death is unfortunately an unavoidable part of our existence as we forge on along.

It's not easy to see motionless loved ones wrapped up in a talit (a prayer shawl). Tears flow, and you start thinking of their last words to you ... and then through gritted teeth, you silently whisper good bye. Despite the darkness of the new reality, I found myself eager to push through to the proverbial 'light at the end of the tunnel.' A day after the first funeral, and a few hours after the second one, I was at weddings - which to me symbolized that light. Despite the sadness I felt, I wanted to be at both weddings and celebrate in the happiness of the bride & groom. Although I didn't dance at either wedding, I enjoyed the excitement generated by each event. Yes, the pain was, and still is, there. The tears still accompany their memories, or photos, or videos ... but life, with an adjustment to the newly created void, must go on. I hope it doesn't come off like I'm slighting the memories of my great aunts, far from it. I just feel like when the lights of those we love is extinguised, we must 'be content' with the light we have from our other loved ones (be it our siblings, parents, spouses, children etc...) and continue to enjoy the time we have with them in this world.

If I have, as I assume, made little sense here, perhaps this little pearl from the Chofetz Chaim will sum up what I'm trying to put forth:

Rav Shmuel Dovid Walkin was with the Chaftez Chaim during some of the more horrific times of World War I. He vividly recalled how the Chafetz Chaim would lecture those who were in danger of becoming depressed by the terrible suffering that they experienced or witnessed.

He would say to them, "Why are you so fearful and devoid of hope? Chazal teaches that when Adam saw the first sunset, he said to himself, 'Woe that because of my failure, the world is about to return to chaos and confusion.' He spent the entire night crying together with Chava and it was only when he saw the gathering light of dawn that he realized that the sun's disappearance was a part of the natural order that G-d had decreed for the World ... We know that this night will not last forever. Light will soon come again, for such is the order that the Creator has set for this world."

(I first saw this in Rav Abraham Twerski's 'Twerski on Chumash', but this is quoted from Sefer Talelei Oros)

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Better Late than Never

More please!

Lake Kinneret rose by almost 8 inches over the weekend after heavy rains battered Israel in the most serious storms of the winter.

The storms will taper off on Sunday, after dropping 60-100 millimeters of rainfall in various parts of the country and thickening Mount Hermon's snowy mantle.