Undivided loyalty

Undivided loyalty

I made aliyah in 1997. I was 8 years old.

I hardly spoke a word of Hebrew and I didn’t have any friends, but one thing I did have: a love for sport. This started when I was very young. I always remember myself playing with the boys – whatever the sport, at every chance that they would give me. I always was a competitive girl and I always hated to lose.

Basketball very quickly became a way of life for me, and today I am a professional player who earns a nice living from basketball. I really am fortunate.

This summer I participated in the 19th Maccabiah, which took place in Jerusalem. Every athlete dreams about representing their country, and I was indeed privileged to represent my country – Israel – in the games against Jewish girls my age from all over the world, including Australia, Canada, and the United States. As the days passed I grew closer to the American players. They were very excited to learn that I spoke perfect English. I told them my story, and they were stunned to hear about a family that moved to Israel from the United States just because of Zionism.

I have to say that my Israeli teammates and I felt a bit inferior to the American girls: We tended to think that they were better than us because they studied at good colleges and lived the good life in America. All the time I had one thing in my head: if my parents had decided to stay in the United States I would have turned out like these girls, who play basketball in college for the fun of it (though they are fairly distant from Judaism and Jewishness).

At first I thought that their lives were wonderful, and that I really lost out when we made aliyah. There in America I could have played college basketball before sizeable crowds, I could have received an athletic scholarship and studied for free, and by the time I was 22 I would have had a college degree.

As the Maccabiah proceeded I understood that where I am, in Israel, really is the place where I belong, despite all the difficulties that I had here and the long and sometimes difficult path that I traveled. Today I can say with a full heart that my parents made the right and courageous decision, because if the choice is between being just another American college basketball player or being a stand-out player on Israel’s national teams from a young age – well of course I am happy to be in the place where I am. Plus, most college-level players in America do not have the opportunity to play professional ball. So I feel fortunate both for the professional basketball side of my life and for the privilege of growing up and being here in the Land of Israel.

On the last day of the tournament, we played the American team for the gold medal. At the beginning of this game they played Israel’s national anthem, the “Hatikva.” I was flooded with feeling. It was one of the most emotional moments of my career – perhaps of my life. I raised my head to the stands to look for my father sitting among the hundreds of fans, and when I saw him smile back at me it was an affirmation, it made me feel truly proud.

It’s true that we lost the game, but for me that moment was the sweetest victory of my career. There was something in that moment beyond basketball. As a girl from America, representing Israel against the United States, with all my friends and family coming to cheer me on, I felt that I had tremendous support, that loads of people believe in me and are rooting for me, and this was a supreme feeling that I will not forget for a long time.

Go Israel!