We are on the map!

November 27, 2015 by Henry Benjamin
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“We are on the map! And we are staying on the map – not only in sports, but in everything”…the iconic words of Israeli basketball legend Tal Brody, guest speaker at Maccabi Australia’s 90th  anniversary gala dinner in Sydney.

Tom Goldman, Tal Brody. Leo Dan Bensky and Barry Smorgon Photo: Giselle Haber

Tom Goldman, Tal Brody. Leo Dan Bensky and Barry Smorgon Photo: Giselle Haber

Brody uttered the famous phrase when Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv beat CSKA Moscow in 1977 91-79. The Russians refused to play in Israel and would not grant visas to allow the Israelis to play in Russia. The game was played in front of a tiny crowd of around 500 in Virton in Belgium. CSKA had gained renown for having beaten the USA team in the Olympics. The match went down in basketball history as David v Goliath.

Maccabi Tel Aviv went on top defeat Italian side Mobilgirgi Varese  78-77 in Belgrade…a first ever championship in a 23 country competition for the Israelis who were to make basketball more popular than soccer in Israel with Brady being pinpointed as the team’s source of inspiration.

Brady’s statement became an inspiration for the nation and the star basketball was to become the first sportsman to be awarded the coveted Israel prize in 1979.

Tal Brody

Tal Brody Photo: Giselle Haber

Brady told a captivated audience at Sydney’s Shangri-La Hotel his journey through life mentioning that his decision not to play NBA in America but to make Aliyah was inspired by a direct personal request from legendary Israeli leader Moshe Dayan.

The evening opened with an address by the president of Maccabi World Union Leo Dan Bensky who said that he believed the next Maccabiah in 2017 would top 10,000 participants for the first time. He had words of praise for the way Maccabi Australia’s leadership had coped with the tragic bridge collapse in 1997 which claimed four Australian lives.

Maccabi Australia president Barry Smorgon introduced Tal Brody following a short video outlining the history of Maccabi Australia which had its roots in a cricket match between Victoria and NSW and his own personal experiences both as a sportsman and an administrator.. He told the 270 guests that Tal Brody had been a member of the U.S. team which won the gold medal at the 1965 Maccabiah. Smorgon said that Brody returned to Israel the following year to play with Maccabi Tel Aviv and  Israel’s national team. In 1967 Maccabi Tel Aviv reached second place in the European championships and Brody was names Sportsman of the Year.

Brody commented that his early years had been focused on life within the Jewish Community Centres which form the hub of most American communities and that Maccabi Australia had flourished without the presence of JCCs in Australia. He said that he had “learned the fundamentals of Jewish sport at the JCC”.

Brody said that his fellow players in America asked him frequently “why are you going to Israel and not go for the NBA?”.  Brody continues: “I told them that even today, when to be 12th in the draft you get $2.7 million a year for a two-year contract. If I didn’t know what I was going to experience in all those 48 beautiful years in Israel I would definitely take the money. But knowing today if I was getting that same offer and knowing that I would have to pass up what I have been through, what I have seen in that journey I have taken since the Maccabiah Games in 1965, I still wouldn’t take that $2.7 million.”

He said that he went to Israel to play basketball “but I stayed there because I saw what basketball was doing for the country. I owe my life to the Maccabi movement.”

He recalled starting his career with Maccabi Tel Aviv “a team that had never got past round one in the European Basketball Championships”. He said that at the University of Illinois he had played before a regular crowd of over 16,000 spectators.” He described the high quality of the U.S. stadiums, the uniforms, the mode of travel…and in Israel he was rained out in his first game in Haifa.

Things were to change rapidly for Brody, basketball and Maccabi Tel Aviv. Tal Brody said that Israel became known “as the sports capital of the Middle East”. It was not long before basketball superceded soccer as the most popular game in Israel.

With only one TV channel at the time, the year Maccabi Tel Aviv got to the finals of the European Championships “caused a revolution of sport in Israel.

Discussing antisemitism Brody said that “he saw what it meant for the Jews” in the 1960s when Maccabi Tel Aviv would compete in Europe…and win.

When he decided to make Aliyah Tal’s dream of playing in the NBA “just drifted aside and another dream came in that Israel would one day take out the European basketball championship.”

Brody reminisced of what it was like to return to Israel after winning the European Championships. “Over 150,000 Israelis greets us in what is today Rabin Square. We were invited to the Prime Minister’s office. Rabin said to me ‘Tal, you don’t know what this means to the country of Israel that lost eleven of its best athletes at the Munich Olympics. In 1973 we had over 6,000 Israeli soldiers killed or wounded in the war.  You saying We are on the map! And we are staying on the map – not only in sports, but in everything picked every one up and changed the mood of the country.”

Israel went on to win the European Championship in 1981 for the second time in Strasbourg.

In 2001, 16,000 spectators in Paris including 7,000 from Israel, watched the national side win the championship for the third time. Brody said: “It inspired French Jews to put yarmulkes on their heads, to place Israeli flags on their cars and to drive up and down the Champs Elysees.

In 2004, the Israeli side beat an Italian team by 44 points.

They went on to win a fifth championship in Russia.

Two years ago in Milan, over 10,000 Jews from Israel and Europe were present when the side beat Spanish Real Madrid to net their sixth championship.

“We are on the map! And we are staying on the map – not only in sports, but in everything.

Tal Brody is an Ambassador of Goodwill for the State of Israel.

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