Maccabi Haifa game for New Jersey
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Maccabi Haifa game for New Jersey

Israeli basketball team set to play the Nets

Jeffrey Rosen, who has strong roots in the Garden State, is a New Jersey Nets basketball fan. His loyalty will be divided, however, on Sunday, Oct. 3 at 7 p.m., when the Nets play the Israeli team, Maccabi Haifa, in an exhibition game at the Prudential Center in Newark.

Rosen, you see, owns the Haifa team.

The visit will be a busy charity and goodwill trip for the Israelis. On Oct. 4, part of the team will play a scrimmage game with players from Ramaz High School in New York, where the youngsters will raise funds for Haifa Hoops for Kids, a program that takes needy youngsters in the Haifa area on outings to basketball games. On the same day other players will hold a clinic for Newark youngsters at the Westside Park Community Center. On Oct. 5, they will play a pro-am charity game with Birthright alumni at Drew University in Madison. Proceeds will benefit Haifa Hoops for Kids.

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Sylven Landesberg has NBA skills, says Maccabi Haifa owner Jeff Rosen. Photos courtesy Maccabi Haifa

Driven by two passions, sports and support for Israel, Rosen was active in trying to promote baseball in Israel. While the sport hasn’t caught on yet, Rosen says he still has hopes that it will. In the meantime, he satisfies his passion for Israel and sports by managing his basketball team.

As Rosen explained in a phone interview from Florida, where he now lives, basketball is a hot sport in Israel. He recalled seeing a Maccabi Tel Aviv game and feeling the energy of the crowd. “Basketball was happening,” he said, so he put baseball on the shelf for the time being and saw basketball as a better investment opportunity.

Since Rosen bought the team in 2007, it has moved into the first division. There are 10 teams in the Israeli “Super League,” where Maccabi Haifa is usually ranked in the top four. The organization has a farm team, which they fund 50-50 with the town of Tivon.

The team is half Israeli and half American, and 10 players have made aliyah.

One of them is Sylven Landesberg, 20, from Brooklyn. His mother is from Trinidad and his father Jewish, and he grew up Jewish, Rosen said. He was a standout at Holy Cross High School in Flushing and attended the University of Virginia. While his hopes of being drafted by the NBA haven’t materialized yet, he definitely has “NBA skills,” Rosen said.

Robert Rothbart is another Jewish player from America, and at 7-foot-2 is the tallest player in the league. He was born in Bosnia and played in high school in California.

Before coming to the states, Maccabi Haifa was scheduled to play a game in Paris. Rosen said he is looking to promote his team as an international brand and he sought a match-up with an NBA team.

“We called around,” he said, and while several expressed interest, arrangements fell into place for the Nets game.

“The invitation came from the Nets, and we are delighted that they invited us,” he said. “I’m a Nets person; I gave up on the Knicks.”

“We are honored to host Maccabi Haifa at the Prudential Center and to offer our fans the chance to see one of the best teams in Israel and a team rich in history,” Nets CEO Brett Yormark said in a statement.

The history he referred to goes back to 1953, when the team was formed.

As Rosen explained, he has international managerial experience as former owner, with his brothers and father, of Rose Art Industries, a toy and art supply company based in New Jersey, most recently in Livingston.

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At 7-foot-2, Robert Rothbart is a towering player in the Israeli league.

They sold the company in 2005, and two years later, combining two passions – sports and things Israeli – he bought the team. (He also own Triangle Financial Services of Aventura, Fla., a sports and entertainment investment firm.)

When he was growing up, Rosen’s hero was Sandy Koufax, the Dodger baseball Hall of Famer who famously refused to pitch in the first game of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur. Koufax’s team, went on to win the series from the Minnesota Twins.

As Rosen explained, basketball is a favorite in Israel. While soccer is the most popular spectator sport, basketball comes in second, but also claims more actual participants on all levels. Some 30,000 Israelis, youngsters and adults of both sexes, play at some level, he said.

So far, Rosen said the team is more a labor of love than a money-maker. “It’s tough to keep your head above water, but we try our best to break even,” he said.

Would he care to forecast the outcome of the game? Rosen laughed.

“I would love to, but I can’t,” he said. “See me at the game.”

The team recruits in the United States and holds mid-July tryouts at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. The players include Jews and non-Jews alike.

Tickets for the Newark game can be purchased through the regular Nets organization, but also from Triangle. Call 877-672-3132, or e-mail awilson@trianglefs.com.

Maccabi Haifa is featured on the monthly TV show “Inside Israeli Basketball” on the YES Network.

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