Meet Davit Blatt, American star basketball coach and oleh to Israel since 1979, the hero of last week's victory of the Israeli Maccabiah team in the Euroleague championship, after an intense game at the Final Four.
Blatt, a Boston native born in 1959 and a 1981 Princeton graduate, played at the 1981 Maccabiah on Team USA, winning a Gold Medal at the games, after which he decided to abandon his American career, make Aliyah and make Israel his new home.
Among his many career highlights and awards as a basketball coach in Europe and with Maccabi Tel Aviv, Blatt has been named the "Coach of the Year" in Russian Super league (2005) with his team Dynamo St. Petersburg; Champion of Italian league (2006) and Italian Cup (2007) with Italian group Benetton Treviso; Israeli League champion (2002, 2003, 2011, 2012), and Israeli cup (2002, 2003, 2011, 2012, 2013); Israeli League "Coach of the Year" (1996, 2002, 2011); Champion at Adriatic League with Russian team in Spain (2007); a copper medal with Russian team at European Championship in Lithuania (2011); a copper medal with Russian team at the London Olympics (2012).
Why did you decide to make Aliyah (immigrate) to Israel?
"I came for the first time upon the invitation of my basketball team to Gan Shmuel. I had an amazing experience here, and fell in love with this country. After graduating in the States in 1981, I decided to come back and pursue a professional basketball career in Israel."
Who was the person who convinced you to make Aliyah?
"No one," he laughs. "No one convinced me to immigrate to Israel or persuaded me to choose to live here. I had to make that move on my own – and it was the most meaningful decision I made in my life. I was young, and had just graduated - I wanted to work, and make a living and came here. It wasn't a problem. I had the opportunity to get paid and to play basketball which I love. My love for Israel, and my Zionism, has grown stronger here, from the life experience I acquired here. I learned to love Israel as a result of my strong ambition to succeed in life here.”
Can an American Jew make his dream come true in Israel?
"Of course. And more than that, Israel offers limitless opportunities. As an American Jew, you have the option of living in the Jewish homeland. This is in addition to all the other opportunities available here to succeed. It's more than one can ask for."
Anything else you want to add?
"I promise anyone arriving here from the States, that their impression of what happens here in Israel, will forever leave a mark on them, whether they decide to make Aliyah or not. It's a country open to everyone."