Eastern European accents: In May 2007, David Goldstein, then a young Toronto lawyer, was in Israel visiting relatives. One afternoon, near the end of his trip, he went to see his grandparents in Jerusalem. Little did he imagine it would be the genesis of a project that has occupied much of his past ten years. “When I got to my grandparents, they had invited a few friends over for coffee and to meet their grandkids,” says Goldstein, speaking in his Toronto apartment. “Their friends were these 80-something-year-old women with Eastern European accents. We were chatting when my grandmother mentioned I was from Toronto. Immediately, her friends went crazy about [former Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball star] Anthony Parker who was then in his first season with the Toronto Raptors in the NBA. They spoke to him with terms of endearment in a Hebrew/Yiddish mix, saying ‘eizeh mensch’ [what a mensch] and ‘eizeh zeeskite [what a sweetie].’”
The Jewish state
Goldstein couldn’t understand why these elderly ladies not only knew who Parker was but spoke of him with such affection. “They were talking about him like someone they knew well,” says Goldstein. “I have totally blown away, as I never would’ve guessed they were sports fans. I’d never had thought they’d be so fanatic and that they’d even know where Parker was playing after leaving Israel. I remember thinking that if these women are this much into it, what’s the rest of the country like?” That encounter with those unlikely followers of Israeli basketball would eventually trigger an epiphany in Goldstein which would be the catalyst for a book that, a decade and many challenges later, will be published next month. If books about Israel are ubiquitous, Goldstein’s is not. In “Alley-Oop to Aliyah: African American Hoopsters in the Holy Land,” he presents the Jewish state from an original angle — through the experiences of the many black Americans who’ve come to Israel since the 1970s to play basketball, from the legendary Aulcie Perry to present-day figures such as Amare Stoudemire.
Based on lists he received from the Israel Basketball League, Goldstein says some 800 black Americans have come to play over the past 40 years. What makes the story more compelling is that a small number of them chose to remain in Israel, became Israeli citizens, married Israelis, and converted to Judaism. In a few cases, they’ve served in the IDF and raised Israeli-born, Hebrew-speaking children who are now accomplished Israeli basketball players in their right. As part of his exhaustive research, Goldstein traveled to Israel seven times. He introduces readers to more than 50 players by name, (most of whom he interviewed), citing aspects of their respective experiences in Israel. Among them are two women who came to play in the Israeli Female Basketball Premier League.