Tag Archives: Basketball

Jews of the Week: Isaiah Kenan & Larry Weinberg

Portland Trail Blazers and AIPAC

Larry Weinberg

Lawrence Jay Weinberg (1926-2019) was born in New York City. He fought valiantly with the US Army in World War II, earning a Purple Heart, Combat Infantry Badge, and the Bronze Star. He was horribly injured in a battle in France, and spent a year in recovery. After university studies, Weinberg founded the Larwin Company, a housing developer. Two decades later, having merged with another company, it had become the top housing developer in the country, building over 8000 residential units a year. Meanwhile, Weinberg was also the founder of Com-Air Products, a manufacturer of jet engine parts. In 1970, Weinberg teamed up with two other prominent Jewish businessmen to bring an NBA team to Portland. They succeeded, and five years later, Weinberg became president of the Portland Trail Blazers. The team won its first NBA Championship in 1977. Weinberg continued as president until selling the team to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in 1988. By that point, Weinberg had also become a major force within AIPAC, the “pro-Israel Lobby” in Washington, and had served as its president for several years.

Isaiah “Si” Kenen

AIPAC was founded by Isaiah Leo Kenen (1905-1988). Kenen was born to a Russian-Jewish immigrant family in Canada. He studied philosophy at the University of Toronto, and went on to become a journalist for the Toronto Star. In 1926, he moved to Cleveland, where he took up the study of law and was admitted to the bar in 1933. Some years later, he became president of the Cleveland Zionist District, and during this time worked for the Jewish Agency. After 1948, he served in Israel’s delegation to the United Nations. In 1951, he was asked to lobby Congress for some financial aid for Israel to deal with the huge influx of Jewish refugees it was receiving, especially the nearly 1 million Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews expelled from Arab countries. (While the world focuses on Palestinian refugees, the plight of Jewish refugees continues to be ignored.) Kenen’s lobbying team would transform into AIPAC in 1959, and has worked hard to draw American support for Israel ever since. AIPAC has become a powerful lobbying group (once ranked as the second most powerful), which has unfortunately brought with it a great deal of negative publicity, not to mention being implicated in wild conspiracy theories. Today, AIPAC has more than 100,000 members, and has been called “the single most important organization in promoting the US-Israel alliance.” Their yearly conference draws some 18,000 supporters, along with a host of renowned speakers. This year’s conference will take place in Washington DC starting March 24th.

The Mizrahi Project: Remembering the Jewish Refugees

Words of the Week

I am convinced that it is true that God created this earth but it is also a fact that only an Israel can keep this earth from dying.

– Tashbih Sayyed, Pakistani-American scholar

Jew of the Week: Mickey Berkowitz

Israel’s Greatest Athlete

Moshe Berkowitz (b. 1954) was born in Kfar Saba, Israel. At the young age of 11, he joined the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball youth club. Within a few years, he made the junior team, and at just 17 years old, was already playing on the senior team in the Israeli Basketball Premier League. The same year, he took the Israeli under-18 team to the FIBA (International Basketball Federation) European Championship finals, and was the overall leading scorer of the whole tournament. Shortly after, he led the national team to a gold medal in the 1974 Asian Games in Tehran. This came at a time when Israel was still reeling from the devastating Yom Kippur War, and Berkowitz became a symbol of Israeli strength, success, and vitality. He has since been credited with playing a key role in re-inspiring Israeli youth in the wake of the war.

In 1975, Berkowitz took a short break to play a year of college basketball in the US (with the top-seeded UNLV Runnin’ Rebels). Returning to Maccabi, he transformed the team into a top contender, and in 1977 led Maccabi to its first FIBA European Cup. The team won the championship again in 1981, with Berkowitz scoring the winning shot. He also played on five European All-Star teams, and made history when his Maccabis beat the NBA champion Washington Bullets in 1978, becoming the first FIBA team to ever beat an NBA team. Back home, too, Maccabi was an unstoppable force, with Berkowitz leading the club to 16 national league championship titles and another 13 Israeli State Cups. After a silver medal at the 1979 EuroBasket (and being voted the tournament’s MVP), Berkowitz got flooded with offers from the NBA. However, he was unable to break his Maccabi contract and was forced to stay in the Israeli league. In 1991, Berkowitz was voted among FIBA’s 50 Greatest Players of all time, and more recently made the list of 50 Greatest EuroLeague Contributors. He officially retired in 1995 and wrote a bestselling autobiography. Last year, Berkowitz was inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame alongside Shaquille O’Neal and several other greats. In the run-up to Israel’s 70th birthday, he was voted the nation’s greatest athlete. Despite being ranked the 35th most famous Israeli, and once being hailed as “king of Israel”, Berkowitz always carried himself with utmost humility and was a natural role model. Two of his sons continue to play pro-basketball in Israel today.

Words of the Week

The thought, the inspiration, and the culture of the Jews has been one of the vital dominants in world history. There are none of the arts or sciences which have not been enriched by Jewish achievements.
– Winston Churchill