Tag Archives: Yom Kippur War

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

Jew of the Week: Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen (Credit: CBC)

Leonard Cohen (Credit: CBC)

Leonard Norman Eliezer Cohen (1934-2016) was born in Montreal, the grandson of a Lithuanian rabbi and a Polish immigrant who founded the Canadian Jewish Congress. Cohen grew up very close to his Jewish community, and attended Montreal’s Jewish Herzliah High School, where he was first inspired to take up poetry by a teacher. While studying at McGill University, he published his first set of award-winning poems. His second book of poetry found even more success, and was seen as an important work in Canadian literature, with one critic calling Cohen “the best young poet in English Canada.” Cohen moved to a small island off the coast of Greece and wrote prolifically, publishing several more books of poetry and novels. One of his later books – a Literary Award winner – was inspired by the Hebrew Bible and consisted of 50 poems that Cohen called “prayers”. Meanwhile, Cohen started recording music in the 1960s as poetry did not bring the income he hoped for. His first album was a big hit in the US and UK. It was his seventh album that had his most famous song, “Hallelujah”, which Cohen went through some 80 drafts writing, and “banging his head on the floor”. The song was inspired by various Biblical scenes, including the stories of Samson and Delilah, and King David and Batsheva. It would be covered by over 200 artists in dozens of languages, and become the subject of a whole book and BBC documentary. In 1994, Cohen entered a period of five years of seclusion during which time he was ordained a Zen Buddhist monk. However, he never abandoned his Jewish roots, and said, “I’m not looking for a new religion. I’m quite happy with the old one, with Judaism.” Cohen was known to keep Shabbat throughout his career, even while on tour. In his 2009 concert in Tel-Aviv, Cohen spoke Hebrew and ended the concert with Birkat Cohanim, the priestly blessing. During the Yom Kippur War, Cohen went to Israel to volunteer at a kibbutz before going to the front lines himself to entertain Israeli soldiers, saying he will “stop Egypt’s bullets”. In his 1972 Jerusalem concert he was so emotional that he had to walk off stage at one point. The crowd started singing to bring him back and a teary-eyed Cohen felt like “the entire audience turned into one Jew”. All in all, Cohen produced 15 albums (the last of which was released just three weeks ago), 13 poetry books, and two novels. He won a plethora of awards – including multiple Junos and Grammys, the Order of Canada, and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – and inspired countless musicians, poets, and artists. He has been hailed as one of the most influential songwriters and greatest musicians of all time. Sadly, Cohen passed away earlier this week.

Words of the Week

There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.
– Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen performing for the IDF, with Ariel Sharon looking on.

Leonard Cohen performing for the IDF, with Ariel Sharon looking on.