Euroleague Basketball: 6 Straight Wins Get Maccabi to Quarter-Final

— by Amir Shoam

Despite the 71-74 loss to Barcelona in the basketball Euroleague second group stage yesterday, Maccabi Tel Aviv qualified to the quarter-final stage, and will meet Spanish League leader Real Madrid for a best-out-of-five game series starting next Wednesday.

After losing five of its first seven games in the second group stage, Maccabi won six in a row against all of the other teams in the group execpt for Barcelona. Small forward Devin Smith was selected Euroleague MVP for March for his performances.

“We didn’t break down even when the situation was hard, and once again showed Europe who are Maccabi Tel Aviv,” said Head Coach David Blatt. “We believed in ourselves and worked hard, and that’s what makes the difference between winners and losers.”

New Government in Israel: Lapid, Bennett and Livni join Netanyahu

— by Amir Shoam

Update: The Government was sworn on Monday. See photo below.

As speculated after the elections in Israel last January, one-year-old center party Yesh Atid (19 Knesset seats) and rising right-wing party HaBait HaYehudi (12 seats) signed today coalitional agreements with HaLikud (31 seats in a list shared with the Israel Beytenu party), that had also reached an agreement with new center party HaTnuah (6 seats) earlier.

HaLikud leader Benjamin Netanyahu will remain Prime minister — for the third time — and will also be Foreign Minister until the end of Israel Beytenu leader Avigdor Lieberman’s ongoing court hearing. Yesh atid Leader Yair Lapid will be Finance Minister, while Habait Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett will be “Economy and Trade” Minister. Hatnuah leader Tzipi Livni will be Justice Minister and will also be responsibe for the negotiations with the Palestinians.

With 68 of the 120 Knesset seats, it will be one of the only Israeli governments to have not contained religious parties (although Bennett himself is an Orthodox), due to differences with Yesh Atid about recuiting yeshiva students to the IDF. Also due to Yair Lapid’s pressure, it will be one of the smallest governments in Israel’s history, with 20 Ministers, in contrast to the current one, which started out with 30.

Left to right. Sitting: Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres
Standing in front row: Minister of Health Yael German, Minister of Culture and Sport Limor Livnat, Minister of Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver, Minister of Communications and Home Front Defense Gilad Erdan, Minister for the Development of the Negev and Galilee, Energy and Water Resources and Regional Cooperation Silvan Shalom, Minister of Economy and Trade and Religious Affairs Naftali Bennett, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Yair Shamir, Minister of Public Security Yitzhak Aharonovich, Minister of Finance Yair Lapid, Minister of Transportation Yisrael Katz, Minister of Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz, Minister of Welfare and Social Services Meir Cohen, Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni, Minister of Science and Technology Yaakov Peri, Minister of Education Shai Piron
Standing back row: Minister of Tourism Uzi Landau, Minister of Environmental Protection Amir Peretz, Minister of Pensioner Affairs Uri Orbakh, Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon, Minister of Internal Affairs Gideon Sa’ar, and Minister of Housing and Construction Uri Ariel

Obama to Israeli TV: We Won’t Let Iran Too Close to Nuclear Weapon

— by Amir Shoam

President Barack Obama gave an interview yesterday to Channel 2 News, the most popular in Israel, prior to his visit of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. “Taking 25 minutes of his time for this interview in this time of sequestration shows the importance of this visit to him,” said Yonit Levi, Channel 2 News’ main program anchor, who interviewed him.

“We’ve had some big crisis here in the US, so there’s been a lot of domestic work we had to do”, said the President. “What this trip allows me to do is to, I think, is to once again have a chance to connect with the Israeli people. There’s no substitute for that. The bonds between our two countries are so strong — not just shared values, but shared families and shared businesses”.

More after the jump.
About Iran’s developement of a nuclear weapon said the President:

There is a window — not an infinite period of time, but a window of time where we can resolve this diplomatically, and that is in all of our interests — Israel’s, the United States’, the World’s and Iran’s. Right now we think it would take over a year for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon, but obviously we don’t want to cut it too close. I continue to keep all options on the table. The United States has significant capabilities, but our goal here is to make sure that Iran does not possess a nuclear weapon that could threaten Israel or that can trigger an arms race in the region. Secretary Kerry and Secretary Hagel share my view that our commitment to Israel’s security is unbreakable.

About his image within some of the people in Israel, President Obama said:

I think some of this is politics. Particularly when there’s an election season coming up, like there was last year, the attempt to paint me as somehow not fully there and committed to Israel’s security, despite actions and words to the contrary, might have served some political purposes. Throughout my career I have admired not just Israel’s history, not just its core values, not just the incredible success that we’ve seen in terms of its economy, but also the fundamental right of Israel to be secure as a homeland for the Jewish people and its connection to the land. There had been times in which I had differences with some Israelis and pro-Israel individuals here in the United States about what’s the best way to preserve Israel as a democratic Jewish state in a very though neighborhood during a very difficult time. I’ve met with Bibi (Netanyahu) more than any other world leader. We’ve got a terrific business-like relationship, and we get stuff done. This is one of these unique times when you have what would be considered a center-left government here in the United States at the same time as you’ve got a more conservative government in Israel — usually things have lined up a little bit differently — so that probably puts a little bit of strain between our governments in terms of how certain issues should be pursued, but we always get them resolved.

About the Israel-Palestinian conflict the President said:

My goal on this trip is to listen. I’m intending to meet with Bibi and other leaders inside of Israel, I’m intending to meet with Fayad and Abu Mazen and to hear from them what is their strategy, what is their vision, where do they think they should go. What I do know is that is profoundly in the interest of both the Israeli people and the Palestinian people to get this resolved, in part because the environment has changed so drastically.

About the imprisoned Jewish spy Jonathan Pollard Obama said:

There is a justice system that allows for periodic review and the potential for him ultimately being released, and the way I, as President, function here is to try to make sure that I’m following the basic procedures and rules of that review. I have no plans for releasing Jonathan Pollard immediately.

About visiting Israel this time as a President he said:

I’d love to sit in a cafe and just hang out. The last time I was there, as a Senator, I still had the option of wandering through the old city in Jerusalem. That option, I think, becomes a lot trickier once you are actually President. Sometimes I have this fantasy, that I can put on a disguise, wear a fake mustache, and wander through Tel Aviv. It’s the toughest thing about being President — you can’t just slip out and interact with people without having a bunch of guys with machine guns around you.

Euroleague Basketball: 3 Straight Wins Get Maccabi Back in Business

— by Amir Shoam

Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Fenerbahce-Ulker Istanbul 94-85 yesterday and went back up to a 5-5 record in the basketball Euroleague second group stage. After an even first quarter (22-22), Maccabi went up to 33-23, and the Turks never managed to cut the difference down to less than five points.

Ricky Hickman scored 18 points with great accuracy (3/5 three-pointers, 7/8 free throws and 1/1 two-pointer). David Logan finished with 15 points (5/7 three-pointers), 3 assists, 2 rebounds, one steal and no turnovers. Devin Smith added 16 points (4/6 three-pointers and 2/3 two-pointers).

More after the jump.
Despite finishing the first stage on top of its group with a 8-2 record, Maccabi did not start the current stage well. Maccabi’s only win from the first five games was the previous encounter with Fenerabhce-Ulker. Since then, except for an understandable 77-82 loss to Barcelona, Maccabi got impressive wins against Basiktas Istanbul (77-55), Siena (92-61) and Caja Laboral (66-62). Next week Maccabi will play against Khimki Mosscow. After 14 games, the top four teams out of eight in each group will move up to the quarter-final series stage.

Head coach David Blatt concluded:

We came today with a very determined mindset knowing that this was a critical game and we played accordingly. We saw some great basketball and teamwork and that’s how Maccabi needs to play. We made a lot of three-pointers because we moved the ball well and got to open shots; we didn’t take crazy shots. The game against Khimki could determine our entire season and it will be a real battle.

Follow me on twitter @amirshoam

High School Tennis Star Returns to Play With U.S. Maccabiah Team

— by Amir Shoam

Among the names in the U.S. tennis team for the Maccabiah announced last week you can find Jennie Shulkin, Pennsylvania’s five-time high school State champion (four times as the leading singles player in the team competition and once in individual doubles). The player, who will turn 20 next month, is already a Maccabiah gold medalist: in squash, with the U.S. junior team in 2009. Being nationally ranked in both squash and tennis, and despite that a shoulder injury made her miss the trials for the tennis team for that year, she was still able to seize the opportunity to participate in the games.

The University of Pennsylvania sophomore started playing tennis almost as soon as she could pronounce “tennis” — at two and a half years old. Being ranked #32 nationally in squash entering Penn, she played on the varsity squash team, but now has gone back to her first love: “My dream has always been to represent the U.S. in tennis at the Maccabiah”, she explained in an exclusive interview with the Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

More after the jump.
“Playing tennis has always felt natural to me, like it’s what I’m supposed to do”, she said. “I feel at home on the court. I was never planning on becoming a professional, but I see it as a life-long sport”. At Penn she studies Communications and Public Service, and afterwards wants to go to law school.

A conservative Jew, Shulkin says that her ethno-religious belonging affects her “identity, decisions and everyday life. I am very proud of being Jewish.”

Shulkin wins the Pennsylvania State trophy in her senior year, 2011

“Since joining the squash team I have not played competitive tennis regularly, but in the try-outs I held my own against players from Division 1 tennis teams, and I feel ready to compete in the games”, she indicated.

I don’t like being overly confident, but I really want to help the U.S. team bring home the gold. I’m also excited to play competitively again, and to see my friends from all over the world that I’ve met last time. My family is also very supportive of my participation. My mom, dad and brother came with me four years ago, and this time my grandparents will join us too.

U.S. tennis team for the tournament:

  • Joshua Albert from Manhattan Beach, CA — University of California Davis;
  • Stephanie Falcon from Marietta, GA — University of North Carolina Greenboro;
  • Max Franklin from Mercer Island, WA — Washington University;
  • David Holiner from Dallas, TX — University of Texas Austin;
  • Michael Laser from Glencoe, IL — Dartmouth College;
  • Emma Levy from Princeton Junction, NJ — Tulane University;
  • Jose Lieberman from Los Angeles, CA — University of Miami;
  • Amira Massi from Los Angeles, CA — California State Northridge;
  • Jenna Nurik from Roswell, GA — University of Tennessee;
  • Sara Perelman from Pittsburgh, PA — Cornell University;
  • Adam Reinhart from Chicago, IL — DePaul University;
  • and Jennie Shulkin from Gladwyne, PA — University of Pennsylvania.

Follow my tweets @amirshoam

Rugby: U.S. Team for Maccabiah Trains With Navy Seals

— by Amir Shoam

The U.S. rugby team for the Maccabiah in Israel this summer will train with the US Navy Seals at their facility on Coronado Island and at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista during this week. The team has been training for the last year under Shawn Lipman, who was an International with the USA Eagles — having played in the Rugby World Cup — and the captain of the USA Maccabiah Team that won the gold in 1997.  

Rugby is the game that most of the western world plays instead of the American football. Despite their common origin, rugby differs from football in many ways, including:

More after the jump.

  • The forward pass is completely forbidden, and players can only advance by breaking the opposition line or running to a ball kicked by a teammate in front of them.
  • The game does not stop after the tackle and substitutions are limited, which requires the players for better aerobic ability.
  • Each team has 15 players on the field: eight forwards who win the ball at set pieces and after the tackle, and seven backs that break the opposition line and score most “tries” (equivalent to touchdown).
  • The game is not violent, and only specific ways of tackling and pushing are allowed, and so the players use minimal protective equipment.

“The squad that we have assembled is the most talented and athletic squad ever assembled and has seven international level players”, said Lipman to the Philadelphia Jewish Voice. “I anticipate all the teams will be better this time and the competition will be very good. We believe that by training, coaching and managing ourselves like a professional elite level team, we will be prepared for the challenge of the tournament”.

The team is expecting a fierce competition from nations like Britain, Australia, South Africa and Israel. For the first time in the Maccabiah the teams will also compete in the seven-a-side format, which is shorter (14 minutes instead of 80) and requires a better athletic ability as the seven players need to cover the whole same-sized field. “We are planning on winning Gold in both”, added Lipman.

After the trials, the team will be fully appointed with additional 18 to 20 players. Ten players have already been named to the team:

From left to right: Dallen Stanford, Matt Hawkins, Zach Test and Shawn Lipman, all are USA Eagles
  • Matthew Crawford, Collegiate All-American in 2011 and 2012;
  • Joji Kurosaki, alumnus of the 2009 Maccabiah, Boston University and University of Oregon Rugby teams;
  • Max Levine, two-time DII Collegiate National Champion, alumnus of the 2009 Maccabiah and Middlebury College Rugby Club Captain;
  • James Murray, 2007 NYS Rugby Men’s College All-Stars — SUNY Cortland;
  • Robert Shaw, Current U.S. National Team Eagle standout and playing professionally in England;
  • Ross Silverman, 2010 U.S. Rugby Federation High Performance Grant Recipient;
  • Joshua Slater, alumnus of the 2009 Maccabiah;
  • Dallen Stanford, USA Eagles;
  • Kevin Swiryn, USA Eagles, American Rugby Union Player and leading scorer and points for the U.S. during the ’08-09 IRB Sevens World Series;
  • Roman Wilson who plays for the Oklahoma City Crusaders;
  • Zach Test, professional Rugby player with the U.S. National Team, alumnus of the 2009 Maccabiah, IRB Sevens World Series in 2010-11, and member of the U.S. Team that took the bronze at the 2011 Pan American Games.

The tournament will start on July 19. Follow the Philadelphia Jewish Voice on Facebook and Twitter for additional coverage of the team as preperation progress.

This Is Real: Lapid Gets 19 Knesset Seats

Election Day in Israel was declared a national holiday and the weather was gorgeous. The public voted and then most of us went to the beach, to cafes, or shopping for the rest of the “day off”. It was a delightful, very Israeli experience. Everyone seemed happy and up about being who and what we are.

In the morning we found that we’ve handed our politicians a classic Israeli post-election dilemma. It feels so very Israeli and nostalgic that I did today’s cartoon in Blue and White.

— by Amir Shoam

Update: after counting all votes, including all IDF soldeirs, Habait Hayehudi got another seat and went up to 12 on the expense of Raam-Taal, that went down to 4. See full table below.

After counting 99.8% of Israel general elections votes, Yesh Atid, former journalist Yair Lapid’s one-year-old party, gets 19 seats in the Knesset. The unification of HaLikud and Israel Beytenu gets 31. HaAvoda gets 15 seats, two less than expected in TV channel samples. Right party HaBait HaYehudi gets 11 seats, like orthodox party Shas. Religious party Yahaduth HaTorah gets 7 seats. Center-left party HaTnuah and left party Meretz get 6 seats each.

Ultra-left party Hadash gets 4 seats, while Arab parties Raam-Taal and Balad get 5 and 3 seats respectively.

Kadima, largest party in current Knesset that was eliminated in TV samples, eventually enters the Knesset with 2.09% of all votes (2% is required to enter), and 2 seats.

HaAvoda had announced that it will not join a coalition headed by HaLikud. Assuming Halikud leader and current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will get to build a coalition, his partners are likely to be Yesh Atid, HaBait HaYehudi and Hatnuah (67 of 120 seats total). There is also a risky possibility of having a coalition with Shas, Habait HaYehudi and Yahaduth HaTorah (60 seats). Netanyahu will speak with the leaders of all mentioned parties trying to form a 85-seat coalition, but it is not likely to happen. If Netanyahu fails to form a coalition, Lapid will get the opportunity to do so, but only if he reaches agreements with all HaAvoda, Shas, Yahaduth Hatorah, Hatnuah and Meretz (64 seats total).

Cartoon courtesy of Yaakov “Dry Bones” Kirschen.

Sensation On The Way: Lapid Expects 19 Seats In Israeli Knesset

Israeli Channel 2 TV news reports elections results
— by Amir Shoam

The big three Israeli TV channels are in agreement: the right-wing and religious parties will hold a bare majority with 61 seats in the 120 member Knesset while the Arab and left-wing parties will hold the remaining 59 seats.

  • Yesh Atid (There is a Future), the one-year-old party of Yair Lapid (shown on the right), former journalist and son of the late Deputy Prime Minister Tommy Lapid, gets 19 of the 120 Knesset seats after the Israel general elections held today.
  • The list-unification of current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s HaLikud (The Unity) and Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu (Israel Our Home) has weakened both parties, which got together 31 seats: by the pre-agreement of both parties, 21 will go for HaLikud (currently 27) and 10 for Yisrael Beytenu (currently 15).
  • HaAvoda (The Labor), traditionally Israel’s biggest left party, is expected to get 17 seats.
  • Habait Hayehudi (The Jewish Home, currently 3 seats) gets 12 seats having gained voters from the failing Halikud-Beytenu merge.
  • Orthodox party Shas (Shomrey Sfarad, Sfarad Guards) retains it’s 11 seats.
  • HaTnuah (The Movement), former Kadima (Forward) leader Tzipi Livni’s new party, gets 7 seats, like left party Meretz, which currently has only 3.
  • Yahaduth HaTorah (Torah’s Judaism) gets 6 seats.
  • Ultra-left party Hadash gets 4 seats, like Arab party Raam-Taal.
  • Another Arab party, Balad, expects to enter the Knesset with 2 seats (the minimum possible as 2% of all votes is required to enter).

Meanwhile, three parties Otzma LeIsrael, Am Shalem and Kadima, largest party in current Knesset (28 seats) are all expected to be eliminated. Atzmaut (Independence) has not participated in the elections after its leader, current Defense Minister Ehud Barak, had decided to retire from the Knesset after current seat.

66.6% of eligible voters have voted today.  

Basketball: Maccabi Tel Aviv Returns To Win Against Istanbul

— by Amir Shoam

After two disappointing losses, Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Fenerbahce-Ulker Istanbul 91-73 yesterday in the basketball Euroleague second group stage. Maccabi could not flee during the first half, which ended in 36-36. During the third quarter Maccabi seemed to run away, but the Turks managed to cut the difference back to 53-48 by its end. However, in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter Maccabi went up to 66-54, and Fenerbahce could not get back from that.

More after the jump.
Maccabi enjoyed a great day of its two best scorers this season: center Shawn James scored 9/10 two-point throws and 4/4 free throws, and also contributed five rebounds and an assist in his 30 minutes on the field. Guard Ricky Hickman scored 6/8 two-pointers, 9/9 free throws and 1/3 three-pointers, and added five assists and five rebounds in 29 minutes. However, Israeli guard Moran Roth was selected game MVP for his six assists and eight points, including 2/2 three-pointers, in 16 minutes.

As remembered, Maccabi finished the first group stage in the first place out of six with an 8-2 win-lose record. As a result, it was placed as one of the two group winners out of eight teams in the new group. In the first game of the stage Maccabi lost to Siena, which finished third in Maccabi’s group in the first stage but has greatly improved during the season — 69-79. Last week Maccabi lost 70-71 to Caja Laboral. The teams that finish in the first four places of this group will advance to the quarter-final series stage.

“Fener has a lot of useful players, but we played better as a team”, said head coach David Blatt. “I’m still hurting last week, because we could win an even better team, but at least we’re back in business. It wasn’t as easy as the score suggests, but the last quarter was something special. We defended pretty well as always, but we needed another scorer except for Ricky and Shawn and I’m happy that Moran had a great game”.

Basketball: Maccabi In Final Game For 1st Place

— by Amir Shoam

Maccabi Tel Aviv will play tomorrow against Alba Berlin in the last game of the basketball Euroleague group stage. Maccabi currently holds the 1st place in the group as it won Unicaja Malaga, which is in second place, by 5 points and lost to it by 2. While a win tomorrow will get Maccabi the 1st place, a loss will let Malaga have it if it wins Elan Chalon.  The group’s winner will get teams that were ranked lower in the round as it’s rivals in the second group stage.

More after the jump.
Yesterday Maccabi’s players and staff visited the schnieder children’s hospital in Petach Tikvah, distributed presents and even performed the Korean hit song “Gangnam style” for the children.”Through those visits the players realize what’s really important in life and try to give back the love they get”, said head coach David Blatt.