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Israeli star Deni Avdija is poised for a big year as new NBA season begins

(JTA) — As the NBA’s only Israeli player, Deni Avdija has had a lot on his mind as his home country navigates a war with Hamas.

But as the new NBA season tips off on Tuesday, the 22-year-old is poised for his most impressive year yet on the court.

On Monday, Avdija and the Washington Wizards agreed to a four-year, $55 million contract extension that will keep him in D.C. through the 2027-2028 season.

“Deni has many of the characteristics that we value in the players who represent our organization,” said Wizards general manager Will Dawkins. “He has a team-first mentality, works hard on his craft, competes with toughness and is committed to improving the community.”

Avdija, who grew up on Kibbutz Beit Zera in northern Israel, enjoyed his best season last year, averaging 9.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 0.9 steals in 76 games. He started 40 games for Washington, equalling his starts from his first two seasons combined.

The former No. 9 draft pick is still working on establishing a consistent offensive approach, but his defense has earned applause. Avdija also racked up double-digit rebounds 15 times last season, including a career-high of 20 during a January game against the Chicago Bulls.

“It’s rare to find young players who embrace the defensive end as enthusiastically as Avdija has,” Wizards reporter Josh Robbins wrote in The Athletic.

Avdija has also become one of the more outspoken Jewish players in all of sports on issues relating to Israel and antisemitism.

During a flare-up in violence in Israel last year, Avdija wrote “Am Yisrael Chai” (“the Jewish people live”) and drew Stars of David on his sneakers. The year before that, Avdija called attention to Holocaust remembrance day on his shoes.

Avdija has also shared Hanukkah traditions with his teammates, spoken at the team’s Jewish Heritage Night and attempted to grow the NBA’s popularity in Israel.


Beyond Avdija, there are a few other Jewish players and storylines to watch in the 2023-2024 NBA season.

Two new faces have joined the Jewish basketball scene — one who is new to the NBA and one who is new to Judaism.

Sacramento Kings big man Domantas Sabonis is in the process of converting to Judaism. Sabonis, 27, has been studying with Los Angeles rabbi Erez Sherman and has been involved with the local chapter of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in Sacramento.

Rabbi Mendy Cohen is dwarfed by 7-foot-1 Kings center Domantas Sabonis, who attended Chabad of Sacramento’s Purim party on March 7, 2023. (Courtesy of Chabad of Sacramento)

“He loves [Judaism] and really wants to be a part of it,” Sabonis’ wife Shashana Sabonis (née Rosen) said earlier this year. Shashana grew up in Los Angeles, where she went to Jewish day schools. The couple was married by a Reform rabbi in August 2021.

Sabonis would immediately become the best Jewish player in the NBA. He’s a three-time All-Star who led the league with 12.3 rebounds per game last season while averaging 19.1 points.

Amari Bailey, whose Jewish heritage comes from his mother, was drafted 41st overall by the Charlotte Hornets in the NBA Draft this past summer.

A former five-star recruit who played at Sierra Canyon High School — the prestigious private school where LeBron James sent his son to play basketball — Bailey declared for the draft after a stellar freshman season at the University of California Los Angeles, where he was named to the Pac-12’s All-Freshman team.

The 19-year-old, who was born in New Orleans and grew up in Chicago, personally identifies as Jewish, his agent Bernie Lee confirmed to the Forward without providing more detail.

Bailey is expected to spend a sizable chunk of his rookie season with Charlotte’s G-League affiliate, the Greensboro Swarm.

Speaking of the G League — the equivalent of the NBA’s minor league — Ryan Turell, who is seeking to become the first Orthodox Jew to play in the NBA, is expected to spend his season with the Motor City Cruise, the G League affiliate of the Detroit Pistons.

Ryan Turell signs a kippah after a game in Detroit. (Andrew Lapin)

Turell, 24, was drafted by the Cruise before last season, where he played in 31 games and averaged 4 points and 1.7 rebounds. Jewish fans turned out in full force to support Turell, who wears a kippah when he plays. He was also recently featured in an Amazon Prime documentary about G League players.

Lastly, former University of Maryland star Abby Meyers is currently playing for the London Lions of the Women’s British Basketball League, the top tier of British women’s basketball. Meyers had been selected by the Dallas Wings in the first round of the WNBA Draft in April but was quickly cut from the team. She signed a few short-term contracts with the Washington Mystics, ultimately appearing in nine games before being waived in August.

Meyers, who won a gold medal at the 2022 Maccabiah Games in Israel, told JTA earlier this year that she had received support from Maryland’s Jewish community.

The post Israeli star Deni Avdija is poised for a big year as new NBA season begins appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Flip through the digital edition of the Summer 2024 print magazine from The Canadian Jewish News

We’ve produced a collection of feature articles four times a year since 2022. A special edition of this magazine will appear in mid-September—with reflections on the Jewish year that was. And in December, look out for a reimagined publication with a name of its own. Get future copies delivered to your door as a thank-you […]

The post Flip through the digital edition of the Summer 2024 print magazine from The Canadian Jewish News appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Top US Official Calls Hamas Leader Sinwar a ‘Psychopath,’ ‘Messianic’ as Ceasefire Talks Swirl

Yahya al-Sinwar, head of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip, attends a meeting with people at a hall on the seashore in Gaza City. Photo: Yousef Masoud / SOPA Images/Sipa via Reuters Connect

A senior US official said that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar is the Palestinian terrorist group’s ultimate decision maker and has little interest in reaching a ceasefire deal with Israel, in testimony before a US Senate subcommittee hearing on Tuesday.

“At the end of the day, there’s one guy 10 stories below the ground: a psychopath, messianic in his own belief that he has established himself in history, and [he believes that] there’s a sunk cost of having lost thousands of fighters and carnage in Gaza,” said Barbara Leaf, the US assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs.

Sinwar, the top Hamas official in Gaza and the mastermind behind the terrorist group’s Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, has reportedly been hiding in Hamas’ extensive network of underground tunnels during Israel’s ongoing military campaign in the coastal enclave.

Leaf’s comments echo others made by Biden administration officials.

In April, a US official told reporters that Sinwar is single-handedly holding up any progress on a potential hostage deal.

The senior Biden administration official said that while Hamas’ political bureau has shown some willingness to compromise on the terrorist group’s most hardline positions, Sinwar’s maximalist demands continuously win out.

“Sinwar has made the decision he’d rather hold [the hostages seized by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7] than secure a ceasefire, and that’s just the truth of the situation,” the official said.

Leaf, in her testimony on Tuesday, said that Qatar — where many top Hamas political officials are based — has been “squeezing” the group — though to little effect, according to a report from Axios.

“There’s a cadre of political officials of Hamas in Doha, and boy do they squeeze them, I can assure you they squeeze them,” Leaf said.

Israel has described Hamas’ response to the new US ceasefire proposal as total rejection. But efforts to secure an agreement are still continuing, according to mediators in Qatar and Egypt, backed by the United States.

The Axios report added that Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed Bin Abdul Rahman al-Thani met on Tuesday in Doha — Qatar’s capital — with senior Hamas officials in an attempt to reach a breakthrough in the talks about the hostage and ceasefire deal.

Egypt and Qatar — which along with the United States have been mediating between Hamas and Israel — said on June 11 that they had received a response from the Palestinian groups to the US plan, without giving further details.

The post Top US Official Calls Hamas Leader Sinwar a ‘Psychopath,’ ‘Messianic’ as Ceasefire Talks Swirl first appeared on

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Blinken Confirms US Pausing Bomb Shipment to Israel After Netanyahu Calls for End to ‘Inconceivable’ Weapons Halt

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken hold a joint news conference in Jerusalem, May 25, 2021. Photo: Menahem Kahana/Pool via REUTERS

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday confirmed the US was still withholding a shipment of bombs to Israel, hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for Washington to remove restrictions on arms deliveries to the Jewish state and asserted that the top American diplomat had assured him the Biden administration was working to lift any halts on weapons.

The Biden administration is “continuing to review one shipment that President [Joe] Biden has talked about with regard to 2,000-pound bombs because of our concerns about their use in a densely populated area like Rafah. That remains under review,” Blinken said at a news conference at the US State Department.

However, he added, the administration is committed to making sure “that Israel has what it needs to effectively defend itself.”

Blinken’s remarks came after Netanyahu posted a video online earlier in the day in which he lamented that the US recently paused a weapons shipment to Israel and threatened to block more but said Blinken told him that Washington was seeking to end any halts on arms deliveries.

“When Secretary Blinken was recently here in Israel, we had a candid conversation. I said I deeply appreciated the support the US has given Israel from the beginning of the war,” Netanyahu said.

“But I also said something else. I said it’s inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunition to Israel,” he continued. “Israel, America’s closest ally, fighting for its life, fighting against Iran and our other common enemies.”

The Israeli premier then asserted that Blinken told him the issue would be addressed.

“Secretary Blinken assured me that the administration is working day and night to remove these bottlenecks,” Netanyahu said. “I certainly hope that’s the case. It should be the case. During World War II, Churchill told the US: ‘Give us the tools; we’ll do the job.’ And I say, ‘Give us the tools, and we’ll finish the job much faster.’”

Following Netanyahu’s comments, both the White House and the US State Department refuted his apparent claim that Washington was withholding more than a single shipment of bombs.

“Everything else is moving as it normally would move, and again, with the perspective of making sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself against this multiplicity of challenges,” Blinken said.

The White House echoed Blinken’s comments, saying that only one shipment of 2,000-pound bombs had been withheld and nothing else.

“We genuinely do not know what he’s talking about,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “We just don’t.”

Jean-Pierre added that the US and Israel have been having discussions about the release of the shipment but that there was no update at this time.

“There are no other pauses, none,” Jean-Pierre said. “No other pauses or holds in place.”

On Monday, unconfirmed reports in both Israeli and German media said that during Netanyahu’s meeting with Blinken in Jerusalem last week, the Israeli premier urged the US to return the frequency of its arms shipments to the level immediately after Oct. 7, when the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas launched the war in Gaza with its massacre across southern Israel. According to the reports, Blinken said that Washington would remove all restrictions on weapons transfers to Israel in the coming days.

Netanyahu also reportedly warned Blinken that the slowing of aid and the perception of America’s weakened support for Israel benefits Iran and its terrorist proxies across the Middle East, including Hamas, emboldening them to intensify attacks against Israel and potentially resulting in a broader regional war.

The Biden administration has been under intense pressure from Democrats, especially those on the progressive left, to condition if not outright withhold US military support for Israel. Critics of Israel have argued the Israeli military campaign in Gaza has killed too many civilians and led to a humanitarian disaster in the Palestinian enclave. Israel has said Hamas is to blame for starting the war, stealing aid, and intentionally placing its operation centers inside or underneath civilian sites.

Hamas started the war with its surprise invasion of Israel on Oct. 7, when the terrorist group murdered 1,200 people and kidnapped over 250 others as hostages. Israel responded with its ongoing campaign aimed at freeing the hostages and destroying Hamas, which rules Gaza.

In recent months, the Biden administration has become increasingly critical of Israel’s operations both in public and private, pressuring Jerusalem to change its military strategy and seek a ceasefire.

The issue came to a head last month, when Biden announced that it would cease a bomb shipment to Israel and threatened to halt more weapons deliveries if the Israeli army launched an offensive in Rafah, a city in southern Gaza and Hamas’ last major military stronghold.

I made it clear that if they go into Rafah – they haven’t gone in Rafah yet – if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities — that deal with that problem,” Biden told CNN.

Israeli officials and experts have said operating in Rafah is essential to eliminating the last remaining Hamas battalions. Netanyahu said the Jewish state appreciates US support but “will stand alone” if necessary.

The post Blinken Confirms US Pausing Bomb Shipment to Israel After Netanyahu Calls for End to ‘Inconceivable’ Weapons Halt first appeared on

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