Tag Archives: Israelis

Jew of the Week: Deni Avdija

The NBA’s Next Big Star?

Deni Avdija
(Credit: Maccabi.co.il)

Deni Avdija (b. 2001) was born in Kibbutz Beit Zera in Israel to a Serbian-Muslim father and an Israeli-Jewish mother. His father was a professional basketball player who had moved to Israel to play for Ramat HaSharon, and then several other clubs. The elder Avdija fell in love with the country and people, and settled in Israel permanently. Deni grew up playing basketball, too, and joined the youth club of Maccabi Tel Aviv when he was 12. At just 16, he signed with Maccabi’s senior team, making him the youngest player ever in the Israeli Basketball Premier League. He went on to win three championships with the team. In the last season, he was the league MVP—setting another record as the youngest player ever to win that prize. He was also the MVP at the European Basketball Without Borders tournament in 2018, and the MVP at the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders Global Camp last year. Avdija earned yet another MVP at the Under-20 FIBA European Championships last year, when he led Israel’s team to the gold. (Though he is eligible to play for Serbia, he has chosen to represent his birth country Israel on the international stage.) After spending a few months with the IDF this past year while basketball was on hold due to COVID, he was drafted by the NBA’s Washington Wizards and signed a rookie contract. He made his NBA debut in a preseason game against the Brooklyn Nets, making a huge splash with 15 points and 2 assists, and going 100% in field goals and threes. The announcer at the game called him the “Mensch off the Bench”, to go along with his other title, “the Israeli sensation”. Some predict he may become the NBA’s next big star. Avdija recently did a public menorah-lighting during Chanukah. He hopes to highlight his proud heritage in the NBA, and to show all “the great things about Israel”.

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Words of the Week

When sheep have no leader, they huddle together and imitate each other out of fear. And I’m not talking about sheep.
– Rabbi Aharon Feldman

Jew of the Week: Yossi Cohen

The Real James Bond

Yosef Meir Cohen (b. 1961) was born in Jerusalem to a religious-Zionist family with deep roots in the ancient city. He is a 9th-generation Israeli, and his ancestors were among the founders of the Mea Shearim neighbourhood, one of the first outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls. Cohen grew up studying in yeshivas and was a member of the Bnei Akiva religious-Zionist youth movement. After completing his military service in the IDF as a paratrooper, he spent some time studying in London. Returning to Israel in 1982, he joined the Mossad and quickly made a name for himself. He was the only religious officer in the Mossad at the time, and originally worked as a spy recruiter and handler. Over the years, he also led a number of daring spy missions which are, of course, all classified. Cohen was awarded the Israel Defense Prize, given to those distinguished individuals who are recognized for playing an instrumental role in keeping the Jewish State safe. By 2011, Cohen had risen to deputy director of the Mossad. Two years later, he was appointed Netanyahu’s national security advisor. In 2016, he took over Israel’s top spy job, becoming Mossad’s director. His task was to clean up the organization, restore its prestige (after some high-profile failures) and, most importantly, end the threat from Iran. It was Cohen who oversaw the stunning 2018 operation to raid Tehran’s nuclear archives. And it was Cohen who oversaw last week’s devastating assassination of Iran’s nuclear chief. Back in 2016, he similarly took out Hamas’ terror chief in a complex operation in Tunisia. Over the past four years, Cohen has transformed the Mossad into, by some counts, the world’s second-largest intelligence agency (after the CIA). He presides over a network of an estimated 7000 agents. Meanwhile, thanks to Cohen’s diplomatic wisdom and his fluency in English, French, and Arabic, he has also served as Netanyahu’s chief negotiator, and was behind the Abraham Accords that brought peace between Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain. He is working to bring more peace agreements with neighbouring countries, including Oman and Saudi Arabia. Last year, The Jerusalem Post ranked Cohen as the most influential Jew in the world. Netanyahu has said that he believes Cohen alone to be capable of leading the nation in the future. Despite being a grandfather, Cohen still runs marathons. All of this, combined with his gracefulness and charm, is the reason he has been described as Israel’s James Bond.

Words of the Week

The thing about smart people is that they seem like crazy people to dumb people.
– Stephen Hawking

Jew of the Week: Raphael Mechoulam

“Godfather of THC”

Raphael Mechoulam

Raphael Mechoulam (b. 1930) was born in Bulgaria to a wealthy Sephardic-Jewish family. The family was forced to flee the country due to rampant anti-Semitism, ultimately surviving the Holocaust and settling in Israel in 1949. During his IDF service, Mechoulam worked as a chemical engineer and helped to develop insecticides. Falling in love with scientific research, he continued to study chemistry after his military service, earned his Master’s from the Hebrew University, then his PhD from the Weizmann Institute. After studies at the Rockefeller Institute in New York, Mechoulam returned to Israel to teach at both of his former universities. His primary field of research is cannabis. In fact, it was Mechoulam who first discovered, isolated, and synthesized THC, the primary active ingredient in cannabis. He would later discover and synthesize other important cannabinoids (a term he coined). Mechoulam was one of the pioneers of medicinal cannabis, and has said that medicinal cannabis could probably replace “ten to twenty percent of all pharmaceuticals”. More recently, he discovered endocannabinoids—molecules similar to THC that are naturally produced by the body, playing a key role in immunity and in regulating human emotions. All in all, Mechoulam published over 350 scientific papers. In 2016, he received a lifetime achievement award at Harvard’s School of Medicine. He was also the subject of an eye-opening documentary called The Scientist. Now a nonagenarian, Mechoulam continues to do research at his Jerusalem lab.

Words of the Week

Jewish time sees us as travellers on the road to a destination not yet reached; wayfarers on a journey begun by our ancestors, to be continued by our children.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, z”l