Tag Archives: London

Jew of the Week: Ezer Weizman

Ezer Weizman (1924-2005), the nephew of Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann, was born in Tel Aviv and raised in Haifa. In his youth, he joined the Haifa Aviation Club and was flying planes by age 16. At 18, in the midst of World War II, he enlisted in the British Royal Air Force and served in Africa and India. After the war, Weizman lived in London and studied aeronautics. It was there that he joined the Zionist paramilitary group, Irgun. Weizman returned to Israel to fight in the Independence War. He was one of Israel’s very first fighter pilots, co-founded its air force, and participated in the first air force mission. He continued working for the army after the war, and in 1958 became the commander of the Israeli Air Force. He modernized the IAF, personally trained its pilots, and transformed it into the powerful and feared juggernaut that it is today. In 1967, Weizman was the IDF’s chief of military operations, and helped persuade the Israeli government to launch a preemptive strike against its aggressors. He directed the surprise attack on Arab air forces on the first day of the Six-Day War, totally destroying their air power and thus securing Israel’s lightning victory. (It has been said that the Six-Day War was won by the Israeli air force in the first six hours!) In 1969, Weizman – now a major general and deputy chief of staff – retired from the military and joined the Gahal political party (the precursor of Likud). He served as a Minister of Transportation and later as Defense Minister. He oversaw the development of Israel’s Lavi fighter jet, and the critical 1978 campaign in Lebanon (Operation Litani). Meanwhile, Weizman also became an important peace negotiator. He spoke Arabic fluently, and grew close to Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, who went so far as to call Weizman his “younger brother”. Not surprisingly, Weizman played a key role in Israel’s 1979 peace treaty with Egypt. He later founded his own party, Yachad, and sat on the Knesset between 1984 and 1992, serving as Minister for Arab Affairs and Minister of Science and Technology. A year after leaving the Knesset, Weizman was elected Israel’s seventh president. By this point, he had built a reputation as a dove, and worked hard to promote peace. He was credited with making the office of president more relevant in Israeli society, and was praised for his warmth and concern for all of Israel’s citizens, including Arabs and Druze. After being reelected to a second term, Weizman resigned as president in 2000, and passed away five years later. He has been voted the 9th greatest Israeli of all time.

Words of the Week

There are free men with the spirit of a slave, and slaves whose spirit is full of freedom. He who is true to his inner self is a free man, while he whose entire life is merely a stage for what is good and beautiful in the eyes of others, is a slave.
Rabbi Avraham Itzhak Kook

Jew of the Week: Abe Saperstein

Abraham Michael Saperstein (1902-1966) was born in London and grew up in Chicago, the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants. From a young age, Saperstein was fascinated with sport, and played on his high school’s baseball, basketball, football, and boxing teams. Forced to drop out of university to support his struggling family, Saperstein never lost his dream of an athletic career, despite being just 5’3″ tall, and being a Jew in a time of rampant anti-Semitism. While working as a playground supervisor, Saperstein was given an opportunity to play for a semi-pro basketball team. He did well, and soon became the team’s coach, manager, and booking agent. In 1926, Saperstein founded his own basketball team, the Harlem Globetrotters.”Harlem” was not for its geographical location – it was based in Chicago – but because it was an all-black team. At the time, most sports leagues were for whites only, with separate leagues for black people. Basketball in particular was considered a “white sport”, with black players banned from the NBA. Saperstein and his original five players made just $8 (split evenly between them) in their first game. Throughout the difficult years of the Great Depression, Saperstein was the team’s coach, manager, driver, publicist, and even substitute player! The team was once described as “Four clean-limbed young colored men and a squat bandy-legged chap of Jewish extraction”. To make ends meet, the team had to play just about every night. Since most hotels did not allow black guests, Saperstein often snuck his players into his own room. The team quickly built a reputation for “ball-handling wizardry” and showmanship. In 1948, the Globetrotters played against the all-white NBA champions, the Minneapolis Lakers. To everyone’s shock, the Globetrotters won. A year later, they won a rematch. This proved once and for all that black players were just as good (if not better) than white players. The following year, the first black player (a former Globetrotter) was signed to an NBA team, finally breaking basketball’s colour barrier. That same year, the Globetrotters played in Madison Square Garden, the first time a basketball game sold out at MSG. Saperstein then established two more basketball teams in the US, as well as an international one. He also founded and owned several baseball teams. His ultimate wish was to own an NBA team, but he was thwarted time and again. Instead, he started his own competing league, the American Basketball League (ABL). To make it more exciting, Saperstein added a new line to the court and invented the three-point shot. The ABL did not last long, but the NBA soon adopted the three-point shot into its own league, forever changing the game. Saperstein was both a visionary and a tireless labourer. He took just one day off a year – Yom Kippur – and died of a heart attack while at work. Saperstein has been credited with revolutionizing basketball, making sports more entertaining, and most importantly, playing a key role in ending athletic racial segregation. One former player said the Globetrotters had “done more for the perception of black people, and the perception of America, than almost anything you could think of.” The Globetrotters still put on 450 shows a year, and have played over 26,000 exhibition games, in over 120 countries, making them one of the most popular and well-known basketball teams of all time.

Words of the Week

He that waits upon Fortune, is never sure of a dinner.
– Benjamin Franklin

The 1950 Harlem Globetrotters team, with Saperstein at right