Some of you might be wondering where I've been since I wrote my first blog (on the other hand, of course, some of you may not have been wondering at all!). Truth is that I've had a bunch of posts in Hebrew but haven't taken the time to update my English blog.
Since my last post on Oct. 12, a lot of water has gone under the bridge. The basketball season is in full swing, some of the Euroleague (EL) referees continue to do whatever they want on the court mechanics-wise and the EL isn't looking too hot. CSKA Moscow and Panathinaikos of Athens are clearly head and shoulders above everyone.
Maccabi Tel Aviv is a weak 4-2 in the Euroleague - not only do they not look particularly good (they were shellacked 87-67 last night in the Israeli league by B'nei Hasharon - and it wasn't even that close), but they are a very gray team with little or no athleticism. OK, you can't have Anthony Parker (now starting with Toronto) all the time, but at least get a player who can create some excitement, make a big play, climb above the rim. Hapoel Jerusalem - playing without a 5 and clearly outclassed by Maccabi at this stage - has Timmy Bowers, ex Mississippi State, who while they don't always win, he gets his 6'4"-self way above the rim and gets the crowd going. The best Maccabi can do in terms of athleticism is Will Bynum, the Chicago high school legend out of Georgia Tech, who can also make more turnovers than Pillsbury.
But, I'm coming back to refereeing! Before you all get too excited, let me make it clear that I'm coming back to referee (drum roll please)..........American football! Yes, Israel has a regular tackle league, with four teams playing 8 on 8. I went to a game the other night in Tel Aviv to see the locals play Jerusalem's "Big Blue", and I have to say I was pretty impressed. Except for the Jerusalem team, which is made up mostly of Americans, the other teams are made up of young Israelis, who for the most part learned their football watching NFL all these years on Middle East TV or now on Fox Sports International.
Their fundamentals were rather exceptional - there was one false start the entire game (a lot less than most NFL teams) and a couple of encroachment penalties, and that was it. There were also some great open field tackles. A new immigrant to Israel, Eric Amkraut, who was formerly at Rutgers, has coached the teams and they've done the whole thing right. Even before they donned pads, Eric had them working on fundamentals - stances, cadences, lining-up, rules, blocking, tackling, etc. Doesn't matter that Jerusalem won 48-6 (Tel Aviv had the ball close on 3 occasions and didn't score). Steve Leibovitz, a long-time Jerusalemite from Queens, who in his other life heads up the Israel Broadcasting Authority's English News department, deserves all the credit for putting this together. Originally, Steve set up the flag football league and then spearheaded an effort to establish "Kraft Field" (yes, as in Bob Kraft, owner of the NE Patriots), which with its new synthetic grass, hosts 50 baseball and football games every week. I think this Jerusalem Post article covers the subject better than I ever could.
Of course, I couldn't resist and this Saturday night I'm refereeing in the "Chanukah Bowl" between Jerusalem and Haifa. I haven't refereed football for about 30 years, since doing varsity high school games in Seattle, but it should be a lot of fun. They are actually expecting about 500 people to show up at the "Kraft".