The funny thing is that after playing college basketball, I had no strong desire to keep playing and fulfill my dreams of being a professional. I was ready to be like any other college grad and trade in by beer stein for a pay check. I was afraid of having to live outside America and becoming a selfish basketball player. Selfish ball players are the only ones who make more money. This was widely known from the past players who always complained about the other Americans who took all the shots. One day, I was approached by a coach telling me that I could use my Jewish heritage to obtain a Israeli Passport giving me better chances of playing in Europe, especially Israel. (Side-note: As an American basketball player, we are limited in certain countries of how many of us, Americans, can be on one team at once. Having a foreign passport allows me not to be American, but use foreign status, which for me equals more opportunity and money). Long story short, I follow this information, find myself at the Israeli Embassy in Beverly Hills and begin my process of being true Jew, an Israeli citizen. Not only that, I’m now in talks with an agent and my first contract; pending Israeli citizenship. Oh, how things can happen so fast! While I’m two weeks away from new boundaries and a big step in my life, I become ill with one of the most devastating things, Mononucleosis. Now, I’m out for one month without any exercise or my grossly enlarged spleen could erupt and possibly kill me. Like I said, oh how things can happen so fast! Now thoughts of a blown opportunity quickly came to mind, but hence the value of a signed contract. While I already had a signed contract pending citizenship status before the Mono, I was saved from being denied becoming a professional. The team told me to take my time, get healthy and get over to Israel to join the team.
Who would’ve thought my first year of pro ball would be in, “The Land of the Big Nose.” Having semi-hatred of my religion as a child due to the jokes I took from friends, made me come to realize that I was going there for a reason. I would now see the stereotypes up close and personal, but also truly find out what being Jewish is all about. I do my initial research and find out I’m playing in a town called Rishon Lezzion. Five minutes from many beautiful beaches and ten minutes from the hustle and bustle of the capital Tel-Aviv (Most Israeli’s recognize Jerusalem as the capital, but if it were a question on Jeopardy…the official answer would be, What is Tel-Aviv? Beyond this is the uprising of the Lebanon and the Gaza Strip heaving missiles over the border to destroy the Land of Jews, Israel. This was a bit much to contemplate for leaving the country for the first time. I’m used to Taco Bell and Jagerbombs, not FizzyBubbla and ballistic missles. This was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, although my family and I were scared for my well-being. For those that know me, I’m a pretty big target. After my mono passed and I had doctor clearance… next thing I know, I’m in First Class on EL AL Airlines ready to go live in Israel and play professional basketball.
Stinky armpits, stereotypical looking terrorists, no English….I’m not in America anymore. I’m really on my own now. Not knowing whose waiting for me or what do to, I wait like an idiot with the masses of people in the airport waiting area. I quickly notice that I do not look like anyone else around me. I guess it hit me that I didn’t know too much about anything outside America. While I thought all Jewish people looked like me, I found out that there now was a true difference between Israeli’s and just Jew’s. The Israeli Jew is somewhat model-looking: olive tan, beautiful eyes, slim, extreme party-goers. The Los Angeles Jew is somewhat not model-looking: huge nose, extremely hairy, pale skin, deep pockets. Standing 6’9, tatted up, pale white…I look like none of those. Yet, I’m hoping this will help whoever is finding me, find me. As you read before, I was becoming a citizen, not just your regular traveller. So after rechecking my documents my instructions were to head to the Office of the Interior. As I enter this quite serene office, they take a look at my American papers and after 45 minutes, I was handed a whole bunch of documents in Hebrew and about $1500 cash. I almost forgot that the benefits of being a Jew are terrific. I actually was going through a program called, “Aliyah,” also known as the “Law of Return.” Any American child born from a Jewish mother has the right to return to his native land of Israel. You are offered a free trip to Israel to do extensive touring and partying or do it like me and become full blown Israeli (Of course I was abusing this privilege in the name of basketball). Beyond the benefits they offer is a per diem cash allowance. Mine came out to just about $1,500/month. After I’m kicked out the office, $1500 in my wallet and about 150 lbs. of baggage, I still don’t know who is picking me up. A man approaches me, sizes me up and says in a Zohan voice, “Awww you must be Dahhhhstin, come with me!” Out of the airport and into my new apartment I went.
It’s eleven o’clock at night and we arrive at my beautiful two bedroom apartment all to myself. Knowing I’m tired, the man who picked me up, who is the manager of the team, let me get a good night’s rest before practice the next day. Unaware of how crazy jet lag is, I’m wide awake and can’t believe I’m in another country. I unpack a few things, check the apartment out and manage to fall asleep around one in the morning. Luckily, they wouldn’t let me play until I took a physical and did all my paperwork. That bought me two days time to get over jet lag and come to my senses that I’m not in California anymore. The weather seemed to mimic our weather, near perfect! Running around town for a few days wore me out. I wasn’t Bar Mitzvah’d as a teenager and only went to Temple for a few years in my life, therefore my Hebrew…well I knew none. So as the manager handled all my papers and business, I tried to pick up a few words in Hebrew. Except for the constant hocking a Jew needed to speak Hebrew, I learned nothing. This task I would have to endeavor on my own. With paperwork cleared and my health in good standing, I was finally able to meet everyone and be apart of my first professional team: Maccabi-Rishon.
I could write forever about my first season and first time living in another country, but that’s what books are for. Instead I will recap a few things that stood out during my nine months in the Holy Land:
-Learned that Middle East/European women act like American men…they want it more than us.
-Coca-Cola in bottles is way better then Coke in a can.
-Kosher lifestyle is tough…especially when 99% of the supermarkets are Kosher.
-Israel weekends start at 3 p.m. Friday (Shabbat) and end Saturday night..their Sunday is our Monday.
-During Pesach (Passover), a two week event in which there is only unleavened bread in markets, Dominos and McDonalds bow down to this..serving pizza with unleavened crust and burgers with unleavened buns….oh yeah…no cheese…that’s not Kosher.
-During Yom Kippur, when the sun goes down…no cars or buses are allowed on the road until sun up. It is said that if you are caught doing this…rocks and etc. will be thrown at your vehicle. In some places…you can be killed for violating this.
-Citizenship requires all men and women to serve in the Israeli army for three years starting at 18, becoming a citizen at 23 I owed 6 months. Still worried about this!
-They really do Disco, Disco everynight until the sun comes up!
-Since half the country is in the armed forces, you carry your weapon from the base to home, even if that means stopping for a Felafel on the corner. That’s right, thousands of 18 year-old’s carrying a rifle.
-I was banging a girl that lived in the West Bank…never knowing for sometime I was in the West Bank aka Arab territory.
-Yes, Hummus is used on everything like Mexicans and jalapenos.
-I’m not allowed in Lebanon because I hold a Israeli Passport.
-Got pulled over wasted at 4 a.m., told the cop to let me go because I was horny and my girl was at home waiting to fuck me. He let me go.
There were many other memories that couldn’t be thought of at this moment due to my stoner brain. Israel is by far one of the best places I’ve lived on this planet. The women, food, life, partying, beaches, the people all make it such an amazing place. After playing there for 9 months, I was able to go back to Israel for the 2009 Maccabiah Olympics. This time I was able to tour the country and see parts of Israel I’d never seen: Masada, Western Wall, Dead Sea, etc. We beat Israel in the Gold Medal game…funny thing is, I could’ve played for either team. Damn right I choose USA. I’m proud to be a citizen of Israel and also learned to be proud of being Jewish while I was scared of it my whole life. When you find yourself in an environment where everyone is like you, it’s easier to love and fight for what you believe. It’s a shame that the media, people and others bash on Israel. A quiet nation with a big heart just trying to do what you and I do everyday, LIVE!