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20 Jewish men’s and women’s college basketball players to watch in 2023-24

(JTA) — A standout at perennial powerhouse Duke. An Israeli WNBA prospect with a twin sister in the Israeli Defense Forces. A member of the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Those are just a few of the compelling stories from the best Jewish basketball players in the NCAA this year. Many are Israeli, with an eye on the situation back home.

“Trying to stay on top of school and basketball and also knowing everything going on at home was hardest the first week, and it still is hard,” said Romi Levy, a senior at the University of South Florida.

Here are 10 men and 10 women to watch, in alphabetical order, as the NCAA season begins on Monday.

Lior Berman shown in action during a game against Morehead State. (Auburn Athletics)g

Lior Berman, Auburn

The 6-foot-4 guard looks to build off a season in which he played a key role off the bench for the Tigers. Berman has also bonded with coach Bruce Pearl — one of the sport’s most outspoken Jewish coaches — who got Berman a full scholarship for the first time this past offseason.

Camilla Emsbo, Duke

A graduate transfer from Yale, the 6-foot-5 Emsbo did not play last year due to injury. In three seasons at Yale, Emsbo was a two-time All-Ivy League selection, scored 1,092 points and finished in the top 10 in program history in rebounds and blocks. If at full strength, Emsbo — who would’ve played in the 2023 Maccabiah Games had she been healthy — will be an impact player in the ultra-competitive Atlantic Coast Conference.

Jaclyn Feit, Franklin & Marshall (Div. III)

The 6-foot-3 Maccabiah Games veteran from North Carolina enters her senior year following a standout season in which she averaged 9.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game.

Spencer Freedman, New York University (Div. III)

Now in his sixth year of college hoops, the graduate student and former three-star recruit played four years of basketball at Harvard and enters his second season with NYU. The 6-foot guard garnered Third Team All-America honors from last year after averaging 17.0 points and 5.6 assists per game.

Lior Garzon, Oklahoma State 

The 6-foot-1 senior forward from Raanana, Israel, spent two seasons at Villanova before transferring to Oklahoma State last year, where she averaged 10.8 points and 3.5 rebounds per game, shooting 41% from 3-point range. The WNBA hopeful has talked about the differing styles of play in Israel and the United States.

Yarden Garzon shoots a free throw in a game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind., Jan. 26, 2023. (Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

Yarden Garzon, Indiana

The younger Garzon sister played a pivotal role for the top-10 Hoosiers, starting in all 32 games and averaging 11.1 points per game. She talked to the Hoosier Network earlier this year about the anxiety of having a twin sister in the Israeli army.

Benny Gealer, Stanford

After starting his freshman year as a walk-on, the 6-foot-1 guard earned a scholarship ahead of this season. The lone high schooler on the 2022 Maccabiah Games gold medalist USA team (who is also a member of the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame) made 12 appearances off the bench for the Cardinal last season.

Adara Groman, University of New Hampshire

A three-year key cog in the Wildcats rotation, the 5-foot-8 guard is coming off a career-best season in which she started 27 games and averaged 8.2 points per game.

Lilah Grubman, Yale

After missing her freshman season with a torn ACL, the sophomore guard is one of JTA’s student athletes to watch this season. She was a two-time conference player of the year at Syosset High School in New York, where she scored over 1,000 points and led her team to four consecutive undefeated conference championships. She’s not the first Jewish basketball star to come out of that same school — WNBA icon Sue Bird played there in the ninth and tenth grades.

Yarin Hasson, University of Southern Indiana

A member of the national champion UConn Huskies team last year as a freshman, the 6-foot-9 forward played just 11 minutes across 11 games. But Hasson, who boasts a 7-foot-1 wingspan, transferred to a less competitive league and is now a potential breakout candidate as a sophomore. The former member of the Israeli under-18 national team played for Maccabi Rishon Lezion’s junior team, winning the 2014 Israel Cup and 2016 National Championship.

Raziel Hayun, Manhattan College

The 6-foot-4 guard who averaged 4 points per game last year as a freshman hails from Eilat, the southern Israeli coastal city.

Romi Levy lost high school friends in the Hamas attacks of Oct. 7. (South Florida Athletics)

Romi Levy, University of South Florida

After three years at Auburn, the 6-foot-5 junior enters her first season at USF. A 2021 SEC All-Freshman Team selection, Levy missed her sophomore year due to an ACL tear. She returned last winter, averaging 6.7 points and 4.2 points per game, flashing the ability to connect from 3-point distance. She lost some of her high school friends during the Re’im music festival terrorist attack by Hamas on Oct. 7. Her cousin, one year younger and like “a little brother,” was called into the army. “Trying to stay on top of school and basketball and also knowing everything going on at home was hardest the first week, and it still is hard,” Levy told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Lola Mullaney, Harvard

A two-time All-Ivy League Second Team player who has played in the Maccabiah Games, Mullaney enters her senior year with career averages of 14 points and 3.4 rebounds per game across 832 appearances — all but one of which she started.

Shirel Nahum, UC Irvine

The Raanana native, who is expected to play a key role off the bench as a freshman this winter, represented Team Israel at the last two FIBA U18 Women’s European Championships. She at first considered playing professionally in Israel instead of playing for a U.S. college team. “Being far from home isn’t easy, especially with the time difference, makes it tough to talk with your [friends and family,]” she told JTA. “In the beginning, everything was new and different, including the language, but then I started getting used to it a little bit and now am getting better all the time.”

Ofri Naveh, West Virginia

The 6-foot-6 wing played with Team Israel at the FIBA U18 European Championship this summer and is a rare scholarship player at a top Division I school. He’s a native of Neot Golan, a moshav in the Golan Heights.

Blake Peters shoots in a game against the Harvard Crimson at Lavietes Pavilion in Allston, Mass., Feb. 25, 2023. (Erica Denhoff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Blake Peters, Princeton

Dubbed “the most interesting man in the NCAA tournament” by last winter, the 6-foot-1 sharpshooter enters his junior year with momentum after helping the Tigers to the Sweet 16. Peters averaged 6 points per game and broke out in the second round of the tournament with a 17-point outburst against Missouri.

Maddie Plank, Davidson

The 5-foot-11 redshirt junior guard transferred to Davidson last year after two years at Princeton — where she played briefly with former Jewish Tigers star Abby Meyers. (The two also played together at the Maccabiah Games.) Plank averaged 5.9 points per game across 30 appearances (21 starts) in her debut season with the Wildcats.

Michael Rabinovitch, Holy Cross

Could this be the 6-foot-10 forward’s breakout year? The senior appeared in just 26 games over his first three seasons but remains an intriguing prospect with his size. He made several Jewish friends while playing in the Maccabiah Games last year. “A lot of my friends that I made at the Maccabiah Games actually stayed over there to play professionally,” he told Spectrum News 1. “So, they were there during the outbreak of war. A lot of them have made their way back here, but some of them are stuck over there.”

Ben Shtolzberg, UC Santa Barbara

Look for the 6-foot-4 guard, who transferred from Creighton, to crack the Gauchos’ regular rotation. Shtolzberg appeared in 17 games last winter, scoring 25 points across 98 minutes of action. He told a scouting website that he wants to be remembered as “an example for my community,” since there are so few Jewish basketball players in the pro ranks.

Danny Wolf drives during a game against the Brown Bears at the Pizzitola Sports Center in Providence, R.I., March 4, 2023. (Erica Denhoff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Danny Wolf, Yale

Likely the tallest Jewish college basketball player, the 7-foot Wolf also made JTA’s list of student athletes to watch this year for his oversized potential. He helped Team Israel win silver at the 2023 FIBA U20 European Championships this summer, averaging 17.7 points and a tournament-best 12 rebounds per game.

The post 20 Jewish men’s and women’s college basketball players to watch in 2023-24 appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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On Explosive Northern Front, Hezbollah Lurks; IDF Conducts Precise Defense

UN peacekeepers (UNIFIL) patrol in the village of Khiam, near the border with Israel, in southern Lebanon, July 12, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Aziz Taher

JNS.orgAs Israel prepares for the strong possibility of a resumption of war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli Defense Forces is also currently in a heightened state of alert and preparedness along the border with Lebanon, responding to the continuous threats posed by Hezbollah.

Since Oct. 7, the IDF has deployed significant military resources, including artillery, tanks and engineering corps, along the Lebanese border, striking Hezbollah anti-tank missile squads and other terrorists whenever they are detected, either after an attack or preparing for one.

This low-intensity conflict when compared to Gaza has resulted in some 90 casualties for Hezbollah and nine Israeli casualties—six military personnel and three civilians.

Several Israeli homes and military bases have sustained heavy damage from Hezbollah strikes since Oct. 7, and tens of thousands of Israeli residents from areas near the border with Lebanon remain evacuated, displaced from their homes by the threat of the Radwan Hezbollah elite terrorist unit.

In response, the IDF has employed a defensive-responsive posture aimed at protecting Israeli territory from Hezbollah’s aggression but not escalating the situation into a full-scale war front at this time.

Its approach is characterized by a reactive rather than proactive stance. Operations are tailored to respond to specific threats and attacks from Hezbollah, avoiding initiating aggression. This goal remains to protect civilian lives and property, as well as to make sure that Hezbollah cannot surprise the north as Hamas did the south. Still, the decision of any expanded war efforts in Lebanon remains up to the war cabinet.

Hezbollah’s tactics, meanwhile, involve embedding its operations within Lebanese civilian areas; using southern Shi’ite villages as bases of attack; firing anti-tank missiles at Israeli northern homes and military positions; and continuing to pose a serious and persistent threat.

The question of whether the Radwan unit, which has murder and kidnap squads much like Hamas’s Nukhba unit, could breach the Israeli border and conduct attacks has no clear answer at this time, although the IDF is present at the border in large numbers and has proven effective at detecting Radwan unit movements in real-time.

Hezbollah’s terror tactics not only endanger Lebanese civilians but are designed to complicate the IDF’s response—a familiar use of human shielding that Hamas employs as well in Gaza.

In this explosive situation, the IDF currently exercises restraint in its counterstrikes, relying on precise intelligence to target terrorist threats while minimizing civilian casualties and collateral damage.

UNIFIL ineffective in curbing provocation

The role of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in challenging Hezbollah’s flagrant violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which bans Hezbollah from operating in Southern Lebanon, is nonexistent.

Worse yet, Hezbollah has been actively using UNIFIL as human shields, launching attacks on Israel in some cases from tens of meters from UNIFIL positions.

UNIFIL’s ineffectiveness in curbing Hezbollah’s activities is self-evident, highlighting the limitations of international peacekeeping forces in such scenarios.

Despite this, the IDF continues to remain in contact with UNIFIL and has been transmitting its concern over Hezbollah’s destabilizing activities with no tangible results.

So far, Israel’s policy on the Lebanon border is a delicate balance between essential defense and cautious restraint. But it remains unclear how long this can continue since northern residents will not return to a persistent Hezbollah threat to their lives in the new, post-Oct. 7 reality, and the IDF cannot remain fully deployed in the north indefinitely.

The result is a paradox that appears to suggest difficult decisions in the future by the Israeli war cabinet if the north is to be sustainable and its residents granted a new sense of security.

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The Determination of Israel’s Reservists

IDF soldiers are seen at rest stop near the border with Gaza. Photo: Reuters/Jim Hollander

JNS.orgWho is the Israel soldier? They can be of any age and profession. It may have been a long time since they held a weapon. Many of them are at Tze’elim, one of the IDF’s largest bases, just across the border from Gaza on yellow sand.

When I meet them, they are waiting, as the brief ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was still holding. A short time later, Hamas broke the truce, attacked Israel with rockets, and the fighting began again.

These soldiers are older and more emotional than you would imagine. Their intentions are clear: “Never Again.” The Oct. 7 massacre will never be permitted to reoccur. Israel must be freed from the nightmare of Hamas.

In Tze’elim, rows of barracks and numerous disorderly tents house thousands of soldiers of all kinds. We meet with a group of them from Brigade 252. They are soldiers from the miluim—the reserves. They have completed their three-year military service—or two years, if they are women—but they all keep their “miluim bag” under the bed. If the phone rings, as happened on Oct. 7, they rush to the front, whether they are in Tel Aviv or traveling in Japan, whether they are left-wing or right-wing, professors or taxi drivers. They tear themselves away from the operating room and the shop, the lawyer’s office and the bus they drive.

Commander A. is thin, with gray hair and a kind smile. He is religious. On the morning of Oct. 7, he was in synagogue without a telephone. Someone told him “something never seen before is happening.” A. rushed to his collection point in the south and has yet to return home.

On Oct. 7, the reserves were immediately thrown into the battle to retake the kibbutzim that had been attacked and massacred by Hamas terrorists. They hunted down the Hamas men who remained and collected the wounded and dead Israelis in the fields and on the roads. A. closes his eyes. He has seen hell.

The 252 was then sent into the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, home to 50,000 inhabitants who serve as human shields for what is essentially a massive rocket launching pad. The reservists were trained in a mock-up of a Gaza city. They practiced how to enter, shoot, exit, climb, attack and go through tunnels full of TNT. They trained against ambushes, snipers and RPGs.

A. says that, when they went into Beit Hanoun itself, “We had to quickly learn a lesson: Beit Hanoun’s ambush is in his heart, not its outer circles. The terrorists let you enter easily. There’s a row of houses, two or three more, and that’s where Hamas is waiting for you—where you don’t expect it, in civilian structures.”

A. explains, “If we decide to destroy a structure and there are civilians inside, we warn the civilian population. … There are precise rules for evaluating whether we have to act, whether it’s essential because if we don’t act, the lives of soldiers or Israeli civilians are in danger. We try to stop Hamas’s continuous use of human shields by moving the civilians out completely.”

A. is happy to say, “Of civilians killed in Ben Hanoun, the number is zero.”

Israeli soldiers, however, were killed. Maj. Moshe, a 50-year-old engineer who works in high-tech, explained, “An army generally advances on a territory that, once occupied, is the starting point of your next step. But here, through the tunnels under the ground, suddenly you find the enemy shooting at you from behind.”

Thus, great efforts were made to locate the tunnels. “With the use of sophisticated instruments, and also sometimes suffering unexpected explosions given that Hamas’s specialty is to mine everything with large quantities of explosives, we quickly understood that the tunnels were a very sophisticated network, not holes of various sizes dug here and there, but an enormous spider web that converged on the urban center.”

“The structures used by Hamas, which they protected with human shields, included a mosque, a school, a hospital, a public swimming pool, civilian homes, children’s rooms, even their beds. There were weapons everywhere,” he says.

As a result of the truce, Moshe states, some of the evacuated civilians have begun to return. “We can block them,” he says, “but not attack them or approach them. There is a truce.”

Nonetheless, I point out, three soldiers were wounded two days ago in an attack. “True,” Moshe replies, “and we returned fire. If we are in danger we respond.” He notes that some of the returnees are Hamas terrorists, “but we are in a truce, we act according to the rules of defense.”

“We have two ways of being at war: offensive and defensive,” he continues. “The offensive is much easier: You face the enemy. You can move. Defense is unnerving, even dangerous, especially when there are civilians around.”

However, he says, there is much to do, even during a truce. “For example, we had completely dismantled the explosive systems inside a building, and then we realized that everything had been mined again.”

Hamas, he says, is “easier to deal with than endure while you can’t move. So, we wait for orders. The mission is to destroy Hamas and bring the kidnapped people home. That and nothing else.”

Now that the soldiers are back at war, the humanitarian issue is certainly important to them; not because of what the Biden administration tells them, but because that is what an Israeli soldier is.

First and foremost, however, they are Jews who know exactly what was done to their people on Oct. 7 and will continue their war of justice and survival. One of them tells me, “Yes, I feel when we fight, feel it physically, that our kidnapped citizens are not far away, and I fight for them too with all my heart. This is the most just war of all time.”

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The Moral Bankruptcy of IfNotNow

IfNotNow supporters at a rally in New York City. Photo: IfNotNow via Facebook.

JNS.orgA few days ago, I attended a webinar entitled “Jews for Ceasefire,” presented by the young Jewish anti-Zionists of IfNotNow. It was hosted by an earnest young woman named Gen (IfNotNow activists often don’t use their surnames), who began by reaffirming what the group calls its main goal: to “end American support for Israeli apartheid.” She went on to emphasize that all the positions taken by IfNotNow are “deeply grounded in Jewish tradition.” To prove the point, she called on Rabbi Monica Gomery, who led a prayer and enthusiastically praised the group’s work.

Next up was Noa, a young woman who said, “I’m going to root us in the moment.” “The moment,” however, did not include Hamas’s Oct. 7 genocidal attack on Israeli civilians. Noa said nothing whatsoever about it. Instead, she presented a litany of alleged Israeli abuses inflicted on Palestinians. Her omission appeared to be deliberate, as it helped portray the IDF’s defensive military operations in Gaza as an unprovoked act of aggression.

Following Noa, there was a testimonial from a young man named Boaz. He made what appeared to him to be a confession that his grandfather helped perpetrate the “nakba.” What he meant was that his grandfather was a soldier in Israel’s War of Independence. For Boaz, his father’s participation in Israel’s successful effort to prevent a second Holocaust was a source of shame, not pride. As he explained, he was trying to work through his guilt. A poster behind him bore the slogan, “Palestine will be free,” a popular euphemism for that second Holocaust.

After Boaz’s self-flagellation came the highlight of the webinar—an appearance by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). Tlaib has been an ally of IfNotNow for some time. In fact, the group’s leadership began collaborating with Tlaib before she was elected to Congress. During her presentation, Tlaib referred to them as her “siblings.”

Sporting a t-shirt that said, “Justice from Detroit to Gaza”—a slogan that falsely connects Israel to police brutality controversies in the U.S.—Tlaib declared that Congress must demand a ceasefire in Israel’s war against Hamas and “stop funding war crimes.” Like her IfNotNow supporters, Tlaib conveniently made no mention of the Oct. 7 attack or the hostages held by Hamas.

It apparently did not bother the leaders of IfNotNow that the House of Representatives had just censured Tlaib for her genocidal call to free “Palestine from the river to the sea.” Indeed, IfNotNow leaders repeat the same call in their training sessions. That training also endorses the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement that seeks to economically strangle Israel, as well as the so-called “right of return,” which aims to demographically eliminate the Jewish state.

It seems that IfNotNow leaders are unperturbed that Tlaib has characterized Hamas’s rampage of crimes against humanity as justified “resistance” to an “apartheid state.” These Jews, it appears, are perfectly happy to align themselves with someone who supports murdering large numbers of Jews. They are also unbothered by the fact that Tlaib posted a video on social media that says, “Joe Biden supported the genocide of the Palestinian people”—a genocide that is not happening. One of IfNotNow’s campaigns calling for a ceasefire is entitled, “No Genocide in Our Name.” Having erased Hamas’s genocidal attack, IfNotNow appears to have fabricated one.

In addition, IfNotNow has officially endorsed Tlaib’s statement, “You cannot claim to hold progressive values yet back Israel’s apartheid government.” To them and other young Jews who clasp hands with Tlaib and her compatriots, condemnation of Israel is the sine qua non of being a progressive, and a policy of racist exclusion must be imposed on any Jew who doesn’t get with the program. IfNotNow looks to Tlaib to lead the way, even though, like antisemites throughout history, she is happy to exploit them and eventually discard them once they have outlived their usefulness.

Most tellingly, IfNotNow has been unfazed by Tlaib’s open antisemitism, such as her claim that American supporters of Israel “forgot what country they represent,” clearly invoking the “dual loyalty” libel. She has also engaged in antisemitic conspiracy theories, talking about the “people behind the curtain” who are exploiting victims “from Gaza to Detroit.”

Worst of all, Tlaib is the only member of Congress to call for an end to the Jewish state. It should not be surprising that IfNotNow is fine with that, as they proudly state that they take no position on Israel’s right to exist.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has perfectly and accurately described such people as “Hamas’s useful idiots.”

The origins of IfNotNow’s ideology are obvious. Like Tlaib and many other “social justice” ideologues, IfNotNow divides people into two groups: Oppressors and the oppressed. Depending on your racial or ethnic identity, you by definition belong to one or the other. There are no gradations, no nuance and only one permissible narrative. Thus, decades of genocidal Arab violence go unmentioned, including the Oct. 7 massacre. There is only Israeli oppression and Palestinian “resistance.”

It would be a mistake to believe that IfNotNow is an inconsequential outlier. They have nine chapters across the United States and an office on K Street in Washington, D.C. The webinar I attended had more than 1,600 attendees.

They also have powerful friends and an enormous amount of money. According to NGO Monitor, IfNotNow has received grants from the wealthy Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Tides Foundation, the New Israel Fund’s Progressive Jewish Fund and the Foundation for Middle East Peace.

All that, plus support from a member of Congress. It seems that racism, hate and support for genocide pay off.

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